Mental Health: What It Is & How to Improve it
2020 has been challenging, and you have likely handled obstacles that you were not expecting. A fair amount of these challenges may have been out of your control. Though difficulties are typical, the knockout this year delivered is not. So, here are some tips and tricks to help you better understand and care for your mental health.
What is Mental Health?
When you are searching for a concise mental health definition, it can be hard to find. It is such a comprehensive idea that it’s not easy to label. So, what is mental health? The World Health Organization explains that “Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes their abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and can make a contribution to his or her community.”
The term has carried a stigma of disease or disorder for many years. Now, people are starting to realize that mental health is just as important as physical health. Mental health refers to being emotionally healthy in terms of how we feel, how we think, and how we solve problems.
Sometimes this may mean resolving more serious emotional issues such as panic attacks, depression, or an eating disorder. However, for many, maintaining mental health means working with a trained professional when going through a major life change, decision, stressor, or transition.
Ultimately, this will allow you to move through the situation vs. getting stuck in unhealthy coping patterns (such as overeating, drinking, blowing off steam, worrying, etc.)
Mental Health Statistics: Did you know?
- About one in five adults (age 18 and older) has a diagnosable mental disorder, and about one in four adults, 61.5 million Americans, experience mental illness in a given year. (National Institute of Mental Health)
- Mental illnesses are more common than cancer, diabetes, or heart disease (U.S. Surgeon General’s Report).
- Approximately 18.1% of U.S adults, 42 million people, live with anxiety (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
- Mental illnesses often appear for the first time during adolescence or young adulthood. While they can occur at any age, the young and the old are especially vulnerable. (National Alliance on Mental Illness).
- With proper care and treatment, between 70 and 90 percent of persons with mental illnesses experience a significant reduction of symptoms and an improved quality of life. (National Alliance on Mental Illness)
Mental Health Stigma
Today, mental health is a hot topic that continues to stay in the limelight, making this once-taboo topic more acceptable. However, the term “mental health” still has a stigma attached to it, simply because it is often confused and interchanged with mental illness.
“Mental health‘ refers to being healthy mentally and emotionally, how we feel about our lives, how we think, and how we solve problems,” said Sue Levin, Ph.D., executive director, Houston Galveston Institute, a counseling center for families, couples, individuals and groups.
On the other hand, mental illness is a medical disorder describing a disruption in a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, ability to relate to others, and daily functioning. There’s a wide range of conditions that fall under the medical diagnosis. Some mental conditions are more serious, require more intense treatment, and are categorized by mental health professionals as severe mental illness, such as bipolar disorder and schizophrenia.
Mental Health, a universal issue
According to research and studies, many people will experience a mental health issue, such as depression, during their lifetime.
This is where a counselor or therapist can be helpful. If you’re struggling with an issue or don’t feel like your usual self, a counselor can help you see things objectively; and learn skills to help you cope, make choices or decisions. By reaching out, you may prevent what is currently a life stressor from becoming a full-blown mental illness.
Levin said that sometimes people turn to a friend, and the friend has no experience in the topic. They may judge, make light of the problem, or say something inappropriate that causes the person not to want to talk about their challenges again, which in the long run, can cause additional long-term problems. Yet, counseling does not always have to be about a particular issue.
More and more people realize that seeking counseling or therapy is about learning skills and improving their quality of life. We all feel better when we are heard and understood and have the tools to cope with symptoms and life situations independently. Counseling not only provides hope, but it also provides confidence that you can handle what life has in store for you.
Seeking Mental Health Counseling
Despite the statistics and due to the stigma, many people feel uncomfortable seeking counseling. Here are some reasons identified by David Vogel, Stephen Wester, and Lisa Larson in the Journal of Counseling & Development:
The Social Stigma of Mental Health
People tend to make negative judgments about individuals seeking mental help.
Seeking help is a sign of strength, of courage to take charge of your life. Mental support is also completely confidential.
People expect that counseling will be invasive: the counselor will treat them harshly, control them, medicate them, or hospitalize them.
You are in charge of your own treatment. It’s essential to have a safe and positive connection with your counselor. Your counselor’s role is to listen, understand, and offer alternative perspectives. You have the right to discuss your treatment plan, as well as any concerns about medication.
Fear of Emotion
Many people feel unwilling or afraid to express their feelings and fear that counseling would make them do this.
The reality is that we all experience emotion all of the time, whether we want to acknowledge it or not. When feelings are not recognized, they have a way of controlling us through indirect means. For example, suddenly getting angry at something someone said, having a panic attack for no known reason, experiencing unexplained back pain, neck pain, or digestive problems.
Rather than having your emotions control you, counseling helps you to be in charge. The purpose of counseling is not to make you feel pain but to help you relieve yourself from pain. To let it go. Most people find that it is a huge relief to have someone else acknowledge and hear how their true feelings and worries.
Counseling Won’t Help Enough to Balance Out the Risk.
Some people fear that the benefits of seeking counseling won’t outweigh the risks.
There are certainly risks to seeking counseling, which your counselor can discuss with you. However, according to NAMI, 70-90% of people seeking treatment experienced reduced symptoms and improved quality of life. The benefits of counseling have to with several factors, including your willingness to engage in the process.
The counselor’s role is not to judge or tell you what to do. You set the pace of your therapy experience, and you let the counselor know what you’re comfortable working on and what you’re not. You are in charge and can communicate your needs throughout the process and trust that they will be heard and respected.
Many people prefer to conceal personal information, especially from a stranger.
This is one of the factors that make counseling work so effectively. We all carry around worries, feelings, and shame about ourselves that we never share with anyone. Your counselor is there for one reason only, and that is to help you. There are stringent laws of confidentiality, protecting the relationship with your counselor.
To share your thoughts, feelings, and worries with someone who only wants to understand and support you can be tremendously relieving. Rather than carrying all of that around, you can finally let it go, which can be freeing.
Fears of embarrassment, inferiority, or incompetence prevent people from going to professional counselors.
These same fears can be what holds you back in many other areas of your life as well. Inferiority fears might hold someone back from taking steps towards that dream job, fears of embarrassment might hold someone back from expressing themselves the way they might want to deep down inside.
A counselor is non-judgmental, can hear you in a meaningful and compassionate way, and can help you overcome these fears in all areas of your life so that you can live a more joyful life. Most importantly, a counselor understands what you’re feeling and cares.
Benefits of Mental Health Counseling
More and more people realize that seeking counseling or therapy is about learning skills and improving their overall quality of life. We all feel better when we’re heard and understood, but also when we have the tools to cope with symptoms and life situations on our own. Counseling not only provides hope, but it also provides confidence that you can handle what life has in store for you.
Maintaining good mental health is much like flossing your teeth to prevent cavities. We all face difficult life situations. Good mental health might involve having someone to process and discuss your concerns, as merely talking about emotional stress can significantly reduce the impact of emotional stress.
Sometimes, having someone to talk to isn’t enough. Perhaps you don’t feel understood, or your support system doesn’t have much time available or offers well-meaning advice when what you need is someone to listen. This is where a counselor or therapist can be helpful.
If you’re struggling with an issue or don’t feel like your usual self, a counselor can help you see things objectively, learn skills to help you cope, and make choices or decisions. By reaching out, you may prevent what is currently a life stressor from becoming a full-blown mental illness.
How to Practice Good Mental Health
There are a variety of strategies. Here are some primary ones:
- Connect with others and maintain a sound support system. Don’t try to handle everything on your own. Make time to connect just to connect and time to process current stressors as well.
- Get regular exercise. Physical activity has multiple positive benefits on mental health; it helps to maintain energy when things are tough and discharge stress and emotions (our emotions need release!)
- Eat a balanced diet with plenty of whole foods. A diet heavy in processed foods can also contribute to depression, foggy thinking, fatigue, and low energy. It can also lead to cravings, which can lead to out-of-control eating and shame. Start small by adding one whole food item per day.
- Know your triggers. If things start piling up, take time out for yourself. Sometimes things are easier when you can turn off and take time to recharge.
- Practice meditation or listen to guided imagery or relaxation exercises. Taking time to clear your mind and relax can have profound benefits on physical and emotional health.
- Learn more about your symptoms. You may not be alone in what you’re going through, which can help you understand. For example, some people “feel” and experience things more intensely than others, referred to as the “highly sensitive person.” Just reading about and understanding more about these traits can be very validating and relieving.
- Ask for help when things are tough. You can consult with a counselor for just a few visits to help you make a tough decision or get through a life situation or work with a therapist for more ongoing treatment.
Reach out for the sake of your mental health
Contact one of our Counselors in Houston to learn more about Mental Health Therapy. Our Therapists are always ready to help. Please book an appointment with one of our counselors who can meet with you via phone, Skype, or in-person to discuss any mental health-related question you might have.
To get started now, give us a call to schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online.
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