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Do you remember the last time you weren’t feeling well? Maybe you scraped your knee, had a nasty stomach bug, or even caught the dreaded coronavirus! After a few days, when your body fights hard, you make your way to recovery! Sometimes it’s simple to tell when you fall sick. What happens when you can’t see what’s wrong?
When we talk about health, we usually jump straight into working on our physical health and treating any symptoms we see or feel. However, we often overlook a key player in being healthy overall – mental health. Hold on… before we go too far, what is mental health, really?
Table of Contents
What is mental health?
Simply put, when we say mental health, we’re talking about our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. At every stage of life, from childhood to adulthood, mental health can shape the way we think, feel, and act!
Your brain, made up of its many millions of neurons, can interpret information from our environment and pass on signals in the form of chemical and electrical messages. Within the complex circuitry of the brain resides the mind – a hub that helps us carry out mental tasks and remain cognitively, emotionally, and socially healthy!
The network of the mind has the responsibility, in part, to control different kinds of information, like our thoughts, emotions, memories, and even our imagination! It helps us make healthy decisions and find ways to connect with others. The mind plays a big role in how we cope with the stresses of everyday life, determines how productive we are, and shapes our overall well-being.
Understanding Mental illness
Just like our body can get sick, so can our brain! Our mental health is regulated in the way that the mind’s network sends information. A shift or disruption in the wiring of the mind can be a sign of poor mental health. When neurons cannot communicate well with each other to do their job, there’s a ripple effect that can cause important brain functions to malfunction. This can lead to mental illnesses – disorders that impact our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
Everyone experiences a shifting set of feelings, from happy to sad to nervous and more! For people with mental illnesses, difficult emotions like sadness and loneliness can stay for a long time and even strain important parts of our lives. When you hear or read about mental illnesses, it might feel very distant from you. Many people believe that mental illnesses are quite rare and they expect to never really deal with them. That isn’t quite right. Mental illness doesn’t tend to discriminate – it can happen to anyone, regardless of age and gender.
It is estimated that nearly one in five Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year. In addition, disorders like depression, anxiety, and PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder) are among the most common health problems in the United States. The symptoms of these problems can range from loss of motivation and changed sleeping patterns to overwhelming feelings of fear, extreme mood swings, and even disturbances in thought and perception.
Mental illnesses have many different causes that are often linked to the interaction of physical, social, and environmental factors. For some people, their genetic makeup might make them more likely to experience a mental illness. For others, their experiences. Even social factors, like where we live, the kind of stress we take on, and whether or not we have a strong support system of friends and family, have a huge impact on the experience of mental illnesses.
Just like you can recover from a physical ailment like a broken bone, people can and do recover from mental illnesses! Recovery can look different for different people, but it generally includes hope, healing, having a community of people to care for you, and a sense of empowerment. Having structural support, like access to social and psychiatric services, financial assistance, and housing, is also important to help people on the road to recovery. The sooner people have access to help, the better their outcome of recovery is!
The ties between physical and mental health
It’s important to care for the things that take care of you – your health is no different! Mental health and physical health can ebb and flow, and they both tend to influence each other. Scientists are trying to understand how these two components feed into each other to impact a person’s quality of life.
It’s difficult to have mental health without physical health and vice versa! A significant portion of the world’s population experiences chronic physical conditions, in which long-term physical conditions can’t be cured but are managed with medications or changes to behavior , like diabetes. Studies have found that patients with such conditions are at higher risk for developing poor mental health. The reverse also seems to be true. If you experience poor mental health, then you also have a risk of developing chronic physical conditions. Caring for your physical health, in many ways, creates opportunities to increase protective factors and reduce risk factors that affect your mental health.
We’re familiar with how improving our nutrition and increasing physical activity can aid our physical health. Making sure we get a balanced diet lets us have all the components to keep the human body functioning well! It also does so much more than that – it gives us energy, helps us grow, and, scientists speculate, it can even affect our mood! Food isn’t the only thing that can have an effect on our mental health. Turns out, a lot of research is also looking into exercise as a treatment for mental illness . Exercising can help improve your mood and reduce symptoms like depression and anxiety. It can also help you sleep better, increase your self-confidence, and even improve your memory!
Taking care of your health by looking after yourself through food and exercise offers all the benefits without any risk of side effects !
Chronic physical condition – A long-term physical condition that can’t be cured but is managed with medications or special behaviors
Cognition – The mental activity to take in information through senses, thoughts, and experiences
Depression – A serious, but common, medical illness that negatively affects how you feel, think and might act
Diabetes – A chronic condition that impacts how your body turns food, specifically blood sugar (glucose), into energy
Mental Health – A person’s social, emotional, and psychological well-being
Mental Illness – Health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking, or behavior
Mood swings – A sudden or rapid change in your mood
Neurons – Specialized cells of the brain and nervous system
Psychiatry – A branch of medicine that deals with the diagnosis, prevention and treatment of mental illnesses or disorders
Flesch Kincaid Grade Level: 9.1
Flesch Kincaid Reading Ease: 57.1
About Mental Health. (2021, November 23). https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/learn/index.htm
Connection Between Mental and Physical Health. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2022, from https://ontario.cmha.ca/documents/connection-between-mental-and-physical-health/
Maintaining Your Mental Health. (n.d.). CMHA Toronto. Retrieved November 12, 2022, from https://toronto.cmha.ca/maintaining-your-mental-health/
Mental health: Strengthening our response. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response
Might Lifestyle Choices Reduce the Risk of Depression? (n.d.). Frontiers for Young Minds. Retrieved November 12, 2022, from https://kids.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frym.2019.00137
Muscling Up on Mental Illness: How Exercise Can Help Both Body and Mind. (n.d.). Frontiers for Young Minds. Retrieved November 12, 2022, from https://kids.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frym.2019.00035
Nutrition and Mental Health—How the Food We Eat Can Affect Our Mood · Frontiers for Young Minds. (n.d.). Retrieved November 12, 2022, from https://kids.frontiersin.org/articles/10.3389/frym.2020.00115