It is Mental Health Awareness month, and I began to contemplate what mental health means to me.

Mental health and wellness is the state at which one feels, thinks, and behaves. Mental health can be viewed on a continuum, starting with an individual who is mentally well and free of any impairment in his or her daily life, while someone else might have mild concerns and distress, and another might have a severe mental illness.

Everyone has “stuff” that they keep contained in a tightly sealed plastic bag. There are some who occasionally can’t help but let the “stuff” leak, and there are those with the bag wide open.

However, in our society, we still tend to stigmatize those who let their “stuff” leak out instead of helping them, understanding them, or simply not judging them. Just as we all know someone with cancer, we all know someone with a mental health disorder.

Mental health is just as vital as physical health. In reality, the two coexist and should not be treated separately. There are many mental health disorders that exacerbate physical concerns or disorders, and vice versa.

For instance, someone who suffers from chronic migraines might also suffer from an anxiety disorder. Obesity contributes to the severity of symptoms of depression. Poor anger management is associated with high blood pressure. Behind every medical illness, it is possible to find a mental health concern as well.

It is also possible that a boost to mental health can alleviate symptoms of a medical condition. As an example, those who receive art therapy or pet therapy in hospitals are shown to have a speedier recovery than those without, as well as a decrease in severity of symptoms experienced.

A holistic approach for individuals needs to be the standard. Physicians, nurses, dentists, psychiatrists, psychologists, mental health counselors, and other mental health professionals need to collaborate to provide a complete treatment plan. A medical doctor who doles out prescriptions for irritable bowel syndrome also can refer the patient to a therapist for stress management. A dentist whose patient is suffering from extreme anxiety can have a mental health professional onsite or have one to whom to refer the patient. A psychologist can suggest that his patient see a specialist for any symptoms that can be contributing to his or her eating disorder.

As reported by the National Institute of Mental Health, more than 26 percent of the adult U.S. population has a mental health disorder, with over 22 percent of cases being considered “severe.” Mental health disorders include anxiety disorders, attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder, autism, eating disorders, mood disorders, personality disorders, and schizophrenia.

Still, only 1 in 3 individuals will seek treatment for his or her disorder. It’s as if only 1 in 3 individuals who suffered from a high fever or a broken bone sought out a doctor.

We tend to view mental health as something that is an illusion, “all in one’s head,” or that certain disorders are overdiagnosed. Has anyone ever exclaimed that “cancer is overdiagnosed”? Yet, I have heard countless times that attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is being diagnosed too loosely in children and adolescents.

This month is to advocate for the awareness of mental health; however, it should be a consistent concern. Recent events have brought mental health awareness to the surface. We need to know what that means. This does not mean all catastrophic events are caused by those who are mentally ill and therefore we need better treatments. In fact, statistics show that those who are severely mentally ill are more likely to be victimized than to do harm.

It is easy to blame or stigmatize a certain group when events that cannot be understood occur and we grasp for any bit of reasoning we can. But it is neither accurate nor fair. This is the time that we educate ourselves and become properly informed, and develop compassion and understanding.