Mental health is important during every part of our lives. Here’s what it means and how to take better care of yourself.

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Mental health plays a fundamental role in our overall health and well-being.

Although the topic often goes unaddressed and is clouded in shame, learning what it is and how to improve it can positively impact both individuals and communities.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes [their] own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to [their] community.”

The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services notes that mental health encompasses your emotional, psychological, and social well-being.

The state of your mental health affects your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors. It also affects how you navigate life, relationships, work, school, and other daily activities.

An endless number of factors can affect your mental health, including but not limited to:

  • biological factors (e.g., genetics, hormones, chemicals)
  • where you live
  • your job and finances
  • physical health problems
  • mental health conditions
  • learning disabilities
  • how you were raised
  • trauma and abuse
  • social and human rights injustices
  • previous and current relationships
  • other life experiences

Simply put: If you have a brain, you have mental health. That’s why it’s necessary for us to take care of our mental health starting as early as possible.

Positive mental health can help you navigate life more confidently and feel secure within your relationships, career, and more.

Research in 2020 suggests that signs of good mental health include:

  • an ability to cope with stress
  • self-management strategies
  • social skills
  • presence of significant relationships with loved ones
  • physical and sexual health
  • a sense of the meaning of life
  • a sense of quality of life

If your mental health is in a generally healthy state, you may also experience:

You’ll also be able to take care of yourself — your hygiene, nourishment, etc.

What is a mental health condition? The WHO defines mental health disorders as “a combination of abnormal thoughts, perceptions, emotions, behavior, and relationships with others.”

Mental illnesses are extremely common. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), tens of millions of people are affected each year.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) notes that more than 50% of people in the United States will be diagnosed with a mental health condition during their life.

There are several types of mental health conditions that people may have. Some of the most common include:

Conditions like these are, for example, categorized under the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition (DSM-5) in the United States, or the global standard International Classification of Diseases, 11th revision (IDC-11) published by the WHO.

If you’re concerned about your mental health, the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI) recommends looking out for the following signs and symptoms of mental illness:

  • difficulty regulating emotions
  • difficulty doing daily activities
  • isolation from loved ones and events
  • excessive feelings of sadness, fear, or worry
  • hallucinations or delusions
  • heavy or frequent substance or alcohol use
  • changes in appetite
  • changes in sex drive
  • changes in energy or sleep habits
  • difficulties getting out of bed in the morning
  • issues with learning or paying attention in school
  • thoughts of suicide

If you relate to any of the signs on this list, try not to stress. Rest assured that you’re not alone and help is available.

If you’re experiencing suicidal thoughts, help is available

You can access free support right away with these resources:

  • 988 Suicide and Crisis Lifeline.Call or text the Lifeline at 988 for English or Spanish, 24 hours a day, 7 days a week.
  • The Crisis Text Line.Text HOME to the Crisis Text Line at 741741.
  • The Trevor Project. LGBTQIA+ and under 25 years old? Call 866-488-7386, text “START” to 678678, or chat online 24/7.
  • Veterans Crisis Line.Call 988 and press 1, text 838255, or chat online 24/7.
  • Deaf Crisis Line.Call 321-800-3323, text “HAND” to 839863, or visit their website.
  • Befrienders Worldwide.This international crisis helpline network can help you find a local helpline.
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Whether or not you feel mentally well, it can be beneficial to work on your mental health. Consider trying these tips for maintaining and improving your mental well-being.

Establish a self-care routine

Self-care can have a positive impact on your mental health.

Self-care means something different to everyone, but you can start taking better care of yourself by trying the following things:

  • regularly exercising
  • staying hydrated
  • sleeping well
  • engaging in mindfulness practices (like meditation, breathing exercises, and journaling)
  • practicing gratitude and positive thinking
  • building healthy connections and relationships

Learn more about mental health

Mental health education can remind us that we’re not alone in our experiences and help reduce stigma associated with conditions.

Some organizations to look into include:

You can also follow mental health professionals (or Psych Central) on social media. They share educational and entertaining content that highlights everything from symptoms of certain conditions to relatable memes about living with ADHD.

Seek therapy

Want to better understand why you are the way you are, unpack childhood trauma, or get evaluated for mental health conditions? Consider scheduling an appointment with a qualified mental health professional.

A therapist or primary care doctor may be able to guide you toward the resources, diagnoses, and treatment you need to attain better mental health.

Seeing a mental health professional isn’t just for addressing concerns, though. They can also help you reach your goals, teach you valuable life skills, and offer personalized tips to maintain mental and emotional wellness.

It’s important to note that access to mental healthcare may be affected based on factors like:

  • location
  • identity
  • insurance coverage
  • stigma
  • care inequality

For example, Black adults are more likely to need mental healthcare but only 1 in 3 will receive it.

Therapists offering sliding scale payment plans and inclusive telehealth services may help to bridge this gap.

Ask for help

There’s no shame in asking for help. Reaching out to friends, family, mental health professionals, organizations, or hotlines can lead you toward the mental well-being you’re seeking.

Here are some resources to contact if you’re concerned about your mental health:

No matter the problem you’re currently facing, trust that you’re never alone. Support is always available and relief is within reach.

Positive change and relief could be as close as a call or text away.

Mental health is defined as emotional, social, and psychological well-being — and it’s a crucial part of your overall health.

Good mental health might enable people to easily navigate work, relationships, and life with a generally positive outlook.

Mental health conditions may affect a person’s ability to function and navigate life. Signs of mental illness range in severity but may include:

  • challenges managing your emotions
  • poor quality of sleep
  • prolonged intense sadness or fear
  • an inability to take care of yourself
  • thinking about suicide

Whether or not you have a mental health condition, it’s possible to improve your mental health. Some strategies include practicing self-care, learning more information about mental well-being, seeing a mental health professional, and asking for help.

And remember that support is always available, whenever you want or need it.