What is mental health?

The state of complete physical, psychological, and social well-being

This article is aimed at young people who have questions about mental health. Since these problems are general and don’t concern only this specific group, this article is also a good starting point for older generations with similar problems.

Every day we face different challenges that we can cope with more or less efficiently. Life can sometimes be exciting and entertaining but there might be other times when we can be overwhelmed with feelings of concern and helplessness, and we feel apathetic or desperate. Sometimes it seems to us that we can’t even understand ourselves.

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What is mental health?

Health is not just absence of a disease, but rather it is the state of a complete physical, psychological, and social well-being. Therefore, there is no health without mental health.

Mentally healthy individuals maintain their mental fitness and are resistant to stress and crisis events that are an integral part of life.

Mental fitness depends on many factors like genetics, the environment, and the individual themselves.

Mental health consists of connections between our thoughts, feelings, and experiences. It is shown that through a positive attitude toward ourselves, others, and the world, as well as through successful coping with everyday challenges, we can maintain our mental fitness. We talk about mental health problems when a person finds it difficult to cope with problems, or has problems with things like self-esteem or sleeping problems.

What is a mental illness / disorder?

A mental disorder is a common name for a broad spectrum of problems with different symptoms. Usually, mental disorders are defined by an unusual combination of thoughts, feelings, behaviour, relationships with others, and difficulties to fulfil everyday tasks, which have an important impact on individual’s functioning in everyday life.

Among young people, the most common mental disorders are depression and anxiety disorders, eating disorders, and substance abuse (alcohol and/or drugs).

Mental disorders / mental illnesses can happen to anyone, because everyone is faced with very stressful situations and life crises. Our reaction to the crisis at hand depends on different factors. We can react to problems with anger or sadness. Some people shut down, others have sleeping problems or problems with appetite, and some can become aggressive or start to abuse drugs or alcohol.

How can we feel better?

It is important to be aware that most of mental illnesses/disorders can be cured successfully. It is also important to discuss our feelings, to express them and not try to suppress them. However, we have to be careful that we express our emotions (e.g. sadness, anger) in a way that isn’t harmful to us and/or others.

In order to feel better, it is important that we seek and maintain activities that please us and we are good at, and that we treat ourselves well and take care of our physical health, socialise with people that make us feel good in their company, and that we don’t run from our problems but rather try to cope with them.

How to help a friend or acquaintance in distress?

If we detect certain signs in a friend or acquaintance that are showing us that they are in distress, we should talk to them. Frequently, an honest conversation by itself can be a relief. It lets the individual in distress know that they are not alone with their problems. In addition, they have the opportunity to express their troublesome feelings during the conversation.

If the problem is too large to solve by ourselves, we can refer the friend to a person that they trust. This can be a teacher, a school counsellor, a family member, or someone that is qualified to offer help professionally. Often when seeking help, we encounter different obstacles. Especially when seeking professional help (a health care professional, doctor, psychologist, psychiatrist). A person in need of help can have fears in asking for help, self-reliance, thoughts of suicide, shame, fear of incomprehension, a feeling of indifference, being uncomfortable with the surrounding environment, not being familiar with systems of help, or the unavailability of support systems. Therefore it is important that we encourage the friend to seek help and that we support them. A way of support can also be to accompany them to the person that can offer help.

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