What is Mental Health?
What is mental health? Mental health is how we think, feel and act in order to face life’s situations. It is how we look at ourselves, our lives, and the people we know and care about. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, evaluate our options, and make choices. (US Dept of Health and Human Services, www.hhs.gov)
Consider these mental health facts:
- 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)
Seeking Mental Health Counseling
Despite these statistics, many people feel uncomfortable seeking counseling. Here are some reasons identified by David Vogel, Stephen Wester and Lisa Larson in the Fall 2007 Journal of Counseling & Development:
Social stigma – people make negative judgments about individuals seeking mental help.
Seeking help is actually a sign of strength, of courage to take charge of your life. Mental help is also completely confidential.
Treatment fears – people expect that counseling will be invasive: the counselor will treat them harshly, try to control them, medicate them, or hospitalize them.
You are in charge of your own treatment. It is important that you feel 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 at any time with your counselor as well as any concerns about medication.
Fear of emotion – many people feel unwilling or afraid to express their emotions and are fearful that counseling would make them do this.
The reality is that we all experience emotion all of the time, whether we want to acknowledge the emotion or not. When emotions are not acknowledged, 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 relief 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 person’s 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.
Self-disclosure – many people prefer to conceal personal information, especially from a stranger.
This is actually one of the factors that makes 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 very strict 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.
Self-esteem – fears of embarrassment, inferiority or incompetence prevent people from going to professional counselors.
These exact 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. A counselor can hear you in a way that is meaningful and compassionate. A counselor 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 a 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 simply talking about emotional stress can produce significant reduction in 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 really need is someone to listen. This is where a counselor or therapist can be helpful. If you’re struggling with an issue or just 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 good 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. This 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 feelings of depression, foggy thinking, fatigue, 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 and it can be helpful to understand. For example, some people “feel” and experience things more intensely than others. This is 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 major decision or get through a life situation or work with a therapist for more ongoing treatment.
Need more help about your mental health.
Ready to improve your mental health? Contact one of our counselors for help. Our therapists in Houston are available for face to face sessions or online therapy sessions in Texas. To get started now give us a call to schedule an appointment at 832-559-2622 or schedule an appointment online. Helping you feel better is our priority.
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