Mental health 101
To take control of our emotional health, we have to understand it. Learn about mental health, what influences it and ways to protect and improve it here.
The mental health continuum
Your mental health experiences are valid. Mental health can range from feeling good and thriving to unhealthy situations or conditions that can negatively impact our quality of life and overall wellness if left unaddressed. We all experience a range of mental health experiences and move throughout this continuum throughout our lives.
This is where we want to be on the continuum: we’re feeling good, balanced and able to cope with the challenges that come our way through work, school or relationships.
At this point on the continuum, we’re having to do some work to keep things balanced, cope in healthy ways and meet the demands of work, school or home life. But, overall, we’re making it work.
Emotional struggles are impacting work, school or relationships. While our instinct might be to just suck it up and push through the pain, it’s important to acknowledge we’re struggling, find ways to take care of ourselves and reach out for help if we need it.
Mental health challenges are really interfering with our quality of life and ability to get things done. We may be struggling with untreated mental health conditions like depression and it’s critical to reach out for help before things get worse.
What impacts our mental health?
Where we are on the mental health continuum–from thriving to distressed–is influenced by a number of factors. Some we can control and others we can’t. Understanding the difference can help us influence and improve our well-being.
Factors that we can’t always control:
Upbringing/early life experiences
Past trauma or difficult experiences
Other people’s perception of us
Other people’s treatment or mistreatment of us
Access to quality mental health care
Factors that we can often control:
Our perceptions of mental health and help-seeking
Coping strategies (healthy or unhealthy approaches)
Self-esteem and sense of purpose
Self-care routines including nutrition, sleep, exercise and mindfulness
Stress levels and how we manage stress and anxiety
Relationships with friends and family members (support network)
Willingness to talk openly about our thoughts and feelings
Mental health challenges
Our emotional struggles can be caused by a range of challenges. Naming and reflecting on them can help to manage and overcome them, and this isn’t something we have to face alone.
Some tough feelings can be good for us (for example, fear can keep us alert and safe). Other times, feelings like anxiety, anger and sadness interfere with enjoying our lives. Whether we can pinpoint the root of our feelings or not, what’s important is to not ignore them.
We all face bumps in the road. Break-ups, loss, financial problems or discrimination can create emotional hurdles that take some work – and support – to overcome or manage.
Trauma is an intense emotional response to overwhelming events like violent acts, sexual assault, natural disasters or ongoing abuse. The effects don’t always show up immediately and can last for years.
Mental Health Conditions
We all experience feelings like anxiety or loneliness. But when thoughts, feelings or behaviors become severe and last for weeks or months, they’re diagnosed as treatable medical conditions. Click the link to learn more about mental health conditions and how they’re treated.
Unaddressed mental health conditions or trauma can lead people to substance misuse, self-injury or thinking about suicide. It’s important to look for those warning signs, and if you or someone you know are having thoughts of suicide, reach out for help immediately. Call anytime for a free, confidential conversation: 1-800-273-TALK (8255).
Ways to support your mental health
Just like with our physical health, there are actions we can take to feel our best, deal with challenges that come our way and manage mental health conditions like depression.
Self-care means taking care of ourselves. Sleep, nutrition, exercise, mindfulness practices (see below), recharging or doing something we enjoy. Our mental and physical health are connected, so the best self-care strategies support our minds and bodies.
A form of self-care, mindfulness helps us be present in the moment, find calm and quiet, and accept challenging thoughts and feelings. Practices include meditation, breathing exercises, yoga and journaling, and what works best differs from person-to-person.
Coping strategies are how we try to overcome, minimize or avoid mental health challenges. Some are healthy (seeing friends, mindfulness practices) others not (drug or alcohol misuse, self-injury). Mental health professionals can help with strategies.
We are not alone, and simply talking about our feelings can make them less overwhelming. Supporting friends who are struggling also boosts our mental health. So cultivate a strong support network, even if it’s just one special person you can be honest with.
Mental health care
Mental health professionals, like counselors and psychologists, are trained to help with our emotional challenges including relationship issues, work stress, loss, mental health conditions and substance misuse. Check out our help-seeking page for more.
How to help a friend
Friends and family are often the first to notice when someone is struggling. It’s crucial to trust those instincts and take action. Our “For a Friend” page includes common warning signs and tips for starting a conversation and being supportive.