The Importance of Mental Health

Advances in Mental Health research and practice over the past 50 years confirm, "There can be no health without mental health".

"Mental health disorders are a serious and expensive health problem. People of all ages, from all cultures and socio-economic status are affected. Currently major depression ranks as the fourth cause of disability worldwide." (The Chair of World Mental Health Day, L. Patti Franciosi, PhD)

"For centuries the illnesses of the mind have been treated as a social issue, separate from any physical health issue. Mental health disorders frequently occur with medical disorders - such as heart disease, diabetes, cancer and neurological disorders. An individual's medical issues and life circumstances do not affect just one area of the body- but the body as a whole, each having an effect on the other." (The World Federation for Mental Health)

No one is immune from mental illness it crosses all social, cultural and economic boundaries. About 60 million Americans experience mental health problems in any given year.

One in 17 people live with the most serious mental illnesses. On average, people with serious mental illness live 25 years less than the rest of the population. One reason for the shortened life span is that less than a third of adults and less than half of children with a diagnosed mental illness receive treatment.

Half of all lifetime cases begin by age 14, but 10 or more years may pass between the onset of symptoms and getting help. One reason for the delay in treatment is the stigma that is wrongly associated with mental illness, which the U.S. Surgeon General has identified as a barrier to care.

The suicide rate for individuals serving in the military services has been the highest in over 25 years. According to the Department of Veterans Affairs, two years ago the number of Iraq and Afghanistan war veterans seeking treatment for post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) increased by 20,000—almost 70 percent.

How do you cope with stress?

Do you feel like there are too many pressures and demands on you? Are you losing sleep worrying about work? Are you eating on the run because your schedule is just too busy? If you answered yes to any of theses questions, you're not alone. Everyone experiences stress at times - adults, teens, and even kids. But there are things you can do to help manage the stress that's unavoidable.

Stress is simply a fact of life and we all respond to stress in ways that affect us and the environment. Because of the overabundance of stress in our modern lives, we usually think of stress as a negative experience, but stress can be a neutral, negative, or positive experience. The events that trigger stress are called stressors, and they cover a whole range of situations - everything from actual physical danger to starting a new job.

We naturally respond to and adapt to different stressors in our lives. When our bodies are working properly, we may have an enhanced ability to perform well under pressure. Ongoing or long-term events in our lives, like coping with a divorce or moving to a new neighborhood or school, can cause stress. Long-term stressful situations can produce a lasting, low-level stress that's hard on people causing a person to feel exhausted, depressed and can cause other problems and health issues.

What are some signs of stress overload?

  • anxiety or panic attacks
  • a feeling of being constantly pressured, hassled, and hurried
  • irritability and moodiness
  • physical symptoms, such as stomach problems, headaches, or even chest pain
  • allergic reactions, such as eczema or asthma
  • problems sleeping
  • drinking too much, smoking, overeating, or using illegal drugs
  • sadness or depression

Visit Kids Health for information about childhood stress and stress in adolescence.

What can you do to help deal with stress?

"Managing stress is all about taking charge: taking charge of your thoughts, your emotions, your schedule, your environment, and the way you deal with problems. The ultimate goal is a balanced life, with time for work, relationships, relaxation, and fun – plus the resilience to hold up under pressure and meet challenges head on." Visit Help Guide to learn healthy ways to cope with stress and deal with stress overload.

What can you do to for yourself or someone you know who may need help?

The first step is to educate yourself and those around you. Small steps count. Visit and browse information about different diagnoses and courses of treatment. Learn symptoms as warning signs.

If you see cause for concern, discuss the symptoms with your healthcare provider. Early identification is often key to recovery. Treatment works — but only if a person gets it. Treatment may involve combinations of medication, cognitive behavioral therapy, interpersonal therapy ("talk therapy"), peer support groups or community services. Diet, exercise, sleep and social support networks also play a role in a person's recovery.

For more information about mental health diagnosis, treatment, and support:

National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) -  National Alliance on Mental Illness

National Institute of Mental Health - National Institute of Mental Health