Mental health is a broad concept that encompasses emotional, psychological and social well-being. It influences cognition, perception and behavior, and determines how an individual handles stress, interpersonal relationships and decision-making.
Your biological makeup may also affect your state of mental health. Some mental disorders are associated with specific genetic and developmental vulnerabilities, while others result from stress or trauma in life.
In general, mental illnesses are characterized by symptoms and feelings that interfere with everyday life. The severity and course of these disorders vary widely. Some may resolve themselves without treatment, while others require medical intervention and ongoing therapy.
Commonly known mental illnesses are depression, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, psychosis and dementia. Other conditions include anxiety, phobias and eating disorders.
Most people with mental illness recover from the condition. The recovery process is based on positive lifestyle changes, medication and psychotherapy. It can take time, but a person will have a more stable and healthy life when they are free of the illness.
During the past century, advances in neuroscience, genetics and psychology led to new research agendas for mental health care. Psychiatric hospitals were closed down and community-based services developed. SSRI-type antidepressants were developed as were mood stabilisers and antipsychotics.
There are several classification systems used to describe mental disorders, including the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM), published by the American Psychiatric Association since 1952. The International Classification of Diseases (ICD) uses a similar approach.
Many mental illnesses are triggered by factors such as drug or alcohol abuse, certain medical conditions, some hormonal changes and some early life experiences. Other things such as traumatic events, relationship breakdown or financial problems can also lead to mental disorders.
If you feel you are struggling with a mental illness, it is important to seek help as soon as possible. You should go to see your GP or another medical professional for an assessment. They can use the information from this to make a diagnosis and refer you to a psychiatrist, psychologist or other specialised service.
Your GP can talk to you about your mental health and help you develop a plan for managing the symptoms of your condition. They will look at your family and work history, ask you about any medications you are taking and assess how your symptoms are affecting your daily life.
It is also important to consider your coping strategies for managing difficult emotions and feelings. For example, if you have a bad habit of drinking or taking drugs to deal with your stress, it is best to stop doing that as this will increase your chances of feeling better.
A good level of self-esteem is another indicator of overall mental wellness. When you have a sense of confidence, it makes it easier to cope with difficult situations and improve your relationships with other people.
Some people have a tendency to develop mental illness as a reaction to traumatic life events or ongoing stress, for example living in a war zone or being the victim of abuse or neglect. However, most people recover from their mental illness and live a normal life.