Mental health – everyone has it; however, not many people stop to think about the condition of their mental health. Our physical health usually is the first thing to get treatment – got a pain, get it checked out. Mental health is the last ailment to get checked because it’s last on the list of what could possibly be wrong.

Mental health and mental illness are increasingly being used as if they are the same thing, but they are very different. Everyone has mental health, just like everyone has physical health. The World Health Organization says, “There is no health without mental health.” In the course of a lifetime, not all people will experience a mental illness, but everyone will struggle or have a challenge with mental well-being (their mental health) just like we all have challenges with our physical well-being from time to time.

When we talk about mental health, we’re talking about our mental well-being; our emotions, our thoughts and feelings, our ability to solve problems, overcome difficulties, and social connections and an understanding of the world around us.

A mental illness is an illness that affects the way a person thinks, feels, behaves or interacts with others. There are many different mental disorders and they have different symptoms that can impact a person’s life in different ways.

Health isn’t like an on-off switch – there are different degrees of health. People move on a continuum ranging from great or good health to so-so health to illness or disability.

For example, some people have good health and have no problems going about their lives. Some people experience serious health problems and their poor health has a negative impact on their life. Some people have serious health problems that last for a long time, and others have serious health problems that resolve very quickly. Most people fall somewhere in the middle but they are generally in good health when the occasional problem may come up. Mental health is the same way.

Just as someone who feels unwell may not have a serious illness, people may have poor mental health without a mental illness. We all have days when we feel a bit down, or we’re stressed out, overwhelmed by something that is happening in our lives. An important part of good mental health is the ability to look at problems or concerns realistically.

Good mental health isn’t about feeling happy and confident 100 percent of the time and ignoring any problems. It’s about living and coping well despite the problems.

Just as it’s possible to have poor mental health but no mental illness, it’s entirely possible to have good mental health even with a diagnosis of a mental health issue. That’s because mental illnesses (like other long problems) are often episodic, meaning there are times or episodes of ill health and times of good health or better health, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Many factors contribute to mental health problems including biological factors such as genes or brain chemistry, life experiences such as trauma or abuse, and a family history of mental health problems.

Early warning signs if you or someone you know may be struggling with mental health issues include eating or sleeping too much or too little, pulling away from people or usual activities, having low or no energy, feeling numb as if nothing matters, having unexplained aches and pains, feeling helpless or hopeless, abusing drugs or alcohol more than usual, feeling confused, forgetting, feeling on edge, upset, worried or scared, yelling or fighting with family and friends, experiencing severe mood swings, persistent thoughts and memories you can’t get out of your head, hearing voices or believing things that aren’t true, thinking of harming yourself or others and the inability to perform daily tasks such as caring for children or getting to work or school.

Positive mental health allows people to: realize their full potential, cope with the stresses of life, be a productive worker and make meaningful contributions to their communities.

Ways to maintain positive mental health include getting professional help if you need it, connecting with others, staying positive, being physically active, helping others, developing coping skills and, very important, getting enough sleep. When you’re rested the world just looks better.

National Suicide Prevention Lifeline: (800) 273-8255 and the Veterans Crisis Lane: (800) 273-8255, press 1.

“I can’t change the direction of the wind but I can adjust my sails to always reach my destination.” Jimmy Dean

Rita Overfield is an advocate for the National Alliance on Mental Illness of Park County. Call (307) 250-2978 or (307) 272-3998

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