Mental Health Awareness Month

Understanding Mental Health


Mental health affects every aspect of life from childhood through the last geriatric years. Everyone has it in some form, whether good or poor, because it reflects the mind’s outlook on thinking, feeling and acting.

Understanding Mental Health

The same terms that describe physical conditions as healthy or unhealthy can apply to mental conditions as well. They show up in interesting ways, and they have an effect on a person’s approach to handling stress, making choices and relating to others. The World Health Organization (WHO) describes someone who is mentally healthy as one who has a feeling of well-being that leads to realizing the potential that life has to offer. Signs usually include the ability to enjoy productive work, cope with life’s usual stresses and a desire to contribute to a community. When these conditions are absent, poor mental health produces a less positive outlook and the potential for problems or disorders.

Mental health affects every aspect of life from childhood through the last geriatric years.

Observing Mental Health around the World 

Mental disorders occur across all cultures, and approximately half of them show up before a person turns 14. WHO reports that neuropsychiatric problems are one of the leading causes of disability in young people. Somewhat less than a quarter of the world’s population of children and adolescents has a mental disorder or problem. Early identification of disorders offers the potential for providing help to resolve mental health issues.

Considering the Frequency of Occurrence

Statistics from the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) show that American youth experience a severe mental disorder at a slightly higher rate than the average worldwide. Children in the United States have a lower rate at 13 percent. Some facts that NAMI developed show that mental illness is quite common in the United States.

  • About 1 in 5 adults have an experience with mental illness per year, and it interferes with major life activities for 1 in 25.
  • A little more than 18 percent of adults experienced a mental health problem such as a specific phobia, posttraumatic stress disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder.
  • Almost 7 percent of adults had one or more depressive episodes last year.
  • More than 1 percent of adults have schizophrenia, and nearly 3 percent have bipolar disorder.
  • Adults who have a substance use disorder have a 50 percent rate of experiencing a co-occurrence of mental illness.

The scarcity of mental health professionals in low- or middle-income countries allows only one child psychiatrist for as many as 4 million people. In the United States, help for mental disorders is easier to find. Statistics from the U.S. Department of Labor show the number of professional mental health care providers as of 2014.

  • Clinical and counseling psychologists: 173,900
  • Mental health and substance abuse social workers: 649,300
  • Marriage and family therapists/mental health counselors: 168,200
  • Psychiatrists: 24,820 plus 45,200 psychiatric aids and technicians as of 2016.

These professionals devote their life’s work to helping the more than 46 million Americans recover from some form of mental health disorder, according to the Healthy Place.

Understanding Mental Health Stigma

Prejudice can allow someone who does not understand the facts to assume an opinion that is almost always incorrect. The unfavorable judgments that occur in prejudicial thinking can target anything that seems different. There is no question that stigma exists, and it commonly attaches to someone’s age, gender, race, religion or sexuality.

No one wants to bear a stigma for any reason, and anyone who tries to judge another on personal matters is off limits.

There are many more prejudices that include social class, political affiliation, nationality or even personal characteristics. Some people regard mental illness in this way. Anyone who is the target of prejudice may have to bear a stigma, a label that society sometimes considers as a disgrace that calls attention to someone’s circumstance or condition.

The Healthy Place cites stigma as “a perceived negative attribute that causes someone to devalue or think less of the whole person.” Psychology Today states that misconceptions can form a basis for stigmatizing someone. Misguided views can allow people to see anyone who has mental health problems as unpredictable or even dangerous. Stereotypes in the movies or on television can create images that are inaccurate, but they are hard to erase.

Demystifying Mental Health Stigma

No one wants to bear a stigma for any reason, and anyone who tries to judge another on personal matters is off limits. Age, race, gender, religion, sexuality or mental health problems are private and nobody else’s business. The Mayo Clinic suggests some practical steps for demystifying mental health stigma.

Seeking Treatment

The effects of stigma can make anyone hesitant to seek treatment, but that is the first thing that can make demystifying it possible. People who have heart disease do not hesitate to get treatment, knowing that the benefits can help them return to an active and productive life. The consequences of doing nothing when problems occur can provide the motivation to seek treatment.

Speaking Up

One of the most empowering actions anyone can take is to speak up. It can make bullying and prejudicial people back down, and it gives others the courage to take bold action as well.

Avoiding Isolation

Membership in NAMI provides an outlet to meet people who help educate others about mental illness, and the Veterans Affairs offers programs that may reduce stigma as well. Choosing to spend time alone may seem like a safe refuge from people who have misconceptions about mental health, but there is a better way. Reaching out to people who deserve trust can result in receiving the compassion and understanding that reduces stigma.

Retaining Personal Identity

Mayo recommends avoiding a description of oneself as a personalization of a condition. Just as a person who has a virus does not say “I am the flu,” anyone with a mental disorder can name a condition without becoming it. Stigma can come from within as well as from others, and disallowing any disparaging thoughts or comments can help provide the respect that everyone deserves. The best defense against stigma is treatment, and a mental health professional can provide it.

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