Mental Health Disorders Guides & Articles

Elizabeth Michael
Last updated:
Brindusa Vanta, MD, DHMHS
Medical Editor

What Is Mental Health?

Mental health is a broad term that refers to an individual's emotional and psychological well-being. A person's specific mental state can affect how they react or behave in all aspects of daily life, ranging from stressful situations to pleasant experiences, such as falling in love. Mental health also plays an important role in an individual's decision-making process and how they coexist with others. 1

Mental health problems can develop for many reasons, and a person's specific mental health state can change from one day to the next. For example, if someone who generally exhibits a positive sense of well-being experiences a traumatic event, they may be at risk of developing a mental health disorder. Alternatively, a person diagnosed with mental illness or a mental disorder may significantly improve their condition with treatments, such as medication or psychotherapy. 2

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), approximately 1 out of 8 people throughout the world have some type of mental health disorder. The term "mental health disorder" pertains to conditions that cause disturbances in a person's emotional state and behavior. 3 Some common mental health conditions include:

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Why Is Mental Health Important?

Maintaining balanced, positive mental health is extremely important. An individual's mental state affects their thoughts, emotions, and behaviors in negative and positive ways. Negative thinking, anxiousness, anger, and depression can weigh a person down and interfere with their daily life. 4

For example, an individual who struggles with a mental health disorder, such as depression, may feel too sad and depressed to go out with friends, socialize, date, or go to work. Someone with anxiety may avoid social situations or struggle to hold down a job due to symptoms such as fear and panic. People with anger issues might have trouble maintaining healthy and positive relationships with friends, family members, and romantic partners.

On the other hand, someone who maintains a happy, positive outlook may be excited to go to work and socialize with friends and loved ones. They also possess the necessary coping skills to calmly deal with disappointments and conflict.

Taking steps to achieve or maintain positive mental health can affect every aspect of life. Having good coping skills and exhibiting a positive attitude and outlook can make it easier for people to get along with others, maintain healthy relationships, and handle the ups and downs of life. 5 It's okay not to be okay. A mental health test can help identify areas that need support.

How Does Mental Health Affect Physical Health?

A person's mental health can affect their physical health in several ways. Research has shown that unbalanced mental health can lead to a variety of illnesses and medical conditions. Individuals with depression may be at risk of developing chronic illnesses, such as cancer, diabetes, arthritis, and cardiovascular disease.

Mental illnesses such as schizophrenia are believed to increase the risk of developing respiratory and other health conditions, and anxiety can cause sleep disturbances and insomnia. Mental health problems can also lead to unhealthy addictive behaviors such as cigarette smoking, which in turn can put individuals at risk for smoking-related health problems. 6

How to Improve Mental Health

Sometimes, people who struggle with issues such as anxiety and depression can improve their mental health naturally by getting enough sleep and taking steps to reduce stress in their lives. Licensed therapists can also help people who are diagnosed with mental health disorders improve their emotional health by talking openly about their feelings and emotions and learning coping skills. 7

Physical exercises, such as jogging, brisk walking, and yoga, can help increase endorphins, also known as the "feel-good" chemicals in the brain. In fact, research has shown that 30 minutes of exercise each day for 3 to 5 days each week might reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. Plus, regular physical exercise is a beneficial tool for getting in shape and losing weight, which can help improve self-esteem. 8

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What Is the Best Treatment for a Mental Health Diagnosis?

The best treatment for a mental health condition depends on the specific symptoms an individual is experiencing and their diagnosed condition. There are several types of mental health treatments available. Some mental health conditions are treated with psychotherapy or mental health counseling. Others may require treatment with prescription medications. In many cases, a combination of medication and talk therapy is recommended.

Health care providers may recommend inpatient treatment at a hospital or long-term residential care center for patients who exhibit signs that they may harm themselves or others. 9 Medications used to treat mental health problems and conditions include anti anxiety medications, sleeping pills, antidepressant drugs, and antipsychotic medications. 10

How to Get a Mental Health Diagnosis

Doctors use physical and psychological tests to diagnose mental health disorders. Following a physical exam, the physician can order tests to determine if a potential underlying medical condition may be contributing to an individual's mental state. Psychological evaluations can help psychiatrists and therapists determine the person's specific mental health condition.

Many mental health disorders exist, and some share similar symptoms. Mental illnesses are diagnosed based on the "class" they fall under. 11 Common mental illness classes include:

How to Cope With a Mental Health Disorder?

The first step in coping with a mental health disorder is for the individual to recognize that symptoms of anxiety and depression are causing significant distress and interfering with their life. Seeking treatment with a trusted therapist and committing to a therapy schedule can help the sufferer learn healthy ways to cope and manage their symptoms.

Taking medication prescribed by a physician can help individuals with mental illness manage symptoms. Getting enough rest, fresh air, and exercise can aid in promoting overall body health and positive well-being.

How to Help Someone With a Mental Health Disorder?

There are many ways to find help treating a mental health problem. Friends, family members, and loved ones of people with mental health disorders can help them by providing unconditional love and support as they navigate the healing process. For example, a friend or loved one of an individual with anxiety can help by accompanying them on trips to the market or other places that may trigger anxiety.

For a person who struggles with depression, friends and family members can offer their support by encouraging them to go out, socialize, and participate in group activities. Other ways people can help include offering rides to appointments, assisting with medications, and making themselves easily accessible via phone or text.