What is Mental Health or Emotional Health?
Mental or emotional health refers to your overall psychological wellbeing. It includes the way you feel about yourself, the quality of your relationships, and your ability to manage your feelings and deal with difficulties.
Good mental health isn’t just the absence of mental health problems. Being mentally or emotionally healthy is much more than being free of depression, anxiety, or other psychological issues. Rather than the absence of mental illness, mental and emotional health refers to the presence of positive characteristics. Similarly, not feeling bad is not the same as feeling good. While some people may not have negative feelings, they still need to do things that make them feel positive in order to achieve mental and emotional health.
People who are mentally and emotionally healthy have:
- A sense of contentment.
- A zest for living and the ability to laugh and have fun.
- The ability to deal with stress and bounce back from adversity.
- A sense of meaning and purpose, in both their activities and their relationships.
- The flexibility to learn new things and adapt to change.
- A balance between work and play, rest and activity, etc.
- The ability to build and maintain fulfilling relationships.
- Self-confidence and high self-esteem.
These positive characteristics of mental and emotional health allow you to participate in life to the fullest extent possible through productive, meaningful activities and strong relationships. These positive characteristics also help you cope when faced with life’s challenges and stresses.
The Role of Resilience in Mental and Emotional Health
Being emotionally and mentally healthy doesn’t mean never going through bad times or experiencing emotional problems. We all go through disappointments, loss, and change. And while these are normal parts of life, they can still cause sadness, anxiety, and stress.
The difference is that people with good emotional health have an ability to bounce back from adversity, trauma, and stress. This ability is called resilience. People who are emotionally and mentally healthy have the tools for coping with difficult situations and maintaining a positive outlook. They remain focused, flexible, and creative in bad times as well as good.
One of the key factors in resilience is the ability to balance stress and your emotions. The capacity to recognize your emotions and express them appropriately helps you avoid getting stuck in depression, anxiety, or other negative mood states. Another key factor is having a strong support network. Having trusted people you can turn to for encouragement and support will boost your resilience in tough times.
Understanding Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety is the body’s natural response to danger, an automatic alarm that goes off when you feel threatened, under pressure, or are facing a stressful situation.
In moderation, anxiety isn’t always a bad thing. In fact, anxiety can help you stay alert and focused, spur you to action, and motivate you to solve problems. But when anxiety is constant or overwhelming, when it interferes with your relationships and activities, it stops being functional – that’s when you’ve crossed the line from normal, productive anxiety into the territory of anxiety disorders.
Common Anxiety Disorders
There are six major types of anxiety disorders, each with their own distinct symptom profile: generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder (anxiety attacks), post-traumatic stress disorder, social anxiety disorder and phobias. Helpguide.org offers an entire article on each type of anxiety disorder.
If constant worries and fears distract you from your day-to-day activities or you’re troubled by a persistent feeling that something bad is going to happen, you may be suffering from generalized anxiety disorder (GAD). People with GAD are chronic worrywarts who feel anxious nearly all of the time, though they may not even know why. Anxiety related to GAD often shows up as physical symptoms like insomnia, stomach upset, restlessness, and fatigue.
Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is characterized by unwanted thoughts or behaviors that seem impossible to stop or control. If you have OCD, you may be troubled by obsessions, such as a recurring worry that you forgot to turn off the oven or that you might hurt someone. You may also suffer from uncontrollable compulsions, such as washing your hands over and over.
Panic disorder is characterized by repeated, unexpected panic attacks, as well as fear of experiencing another episode. Panic disorder may also be accompanied by agoraphobia, which is a fear of being in places where escape or help would be difficult in the event of a panic attack. If you have agoraphobia, you are likely to avoid public places such as shopping malls or confined spaces such as an airplane.
Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is an extreme anxiety disorder that can occur in the aftermath of a traumatic or life-threatening event. PTSD can be thought of as a panic attack that rarely, if ever, lets up. Symptoms of PTSD include flashbacks or nightmares about what happened, hyper-vigilance, startling easily, withdrawing from others, and avoiding situations that remind you of the event.
If you have a debilitating fear of being seen negatively by others and humiliated in public, you may have social anxiety disorder, also known as social phobia. Social anxiety disorder can be thought of as extreme shyness. In severe cases, social situations are avoided altogether. Performance anxiety (better known as stage fright) is the most common type of social phobia.
A phobia is an unrealistic or exaggerated fear of a specific object, activity, or situation that in reality presents little to no danger. Common phobias include fear of animals such as snakes and spiders, fear of flying, and fear of heights. In the case of a severe phobia, you might go to extreme lengths to avoid the thing you fear. Unfortunately, avoidance only strengthens the phobia.
Treatment Options for Anxiety Disorders
Anxiety disorders respond very well to treatment – and often in a relatively short amount of time. The specific treatment approach depends on the type of anxiety disorder and its severity. But in general, most anxiety disorders are treated with behavioral therapy, medication, or some combination of the two. Sometimes complementary or alternative treatments may also be helpful. If you suspect that you or maybe a loved one suffers from an anxiety disorder, check out our Getting Help page.
Understanding Mood Disorders
Mood disorders are a real medical disorder. Anyone can feel sad or depressed at times. However, mood disorders are more intense and harder to manage than normal feelings of sadness. Life events and stress can expose or worsen feelings of sadness or depression, making the feelings harder to manage.
Sometimes, life’s problems can trigger depression. Being fired from a job, getting divorced, losing a loved one, death in the family, and financial trouble, to name a few, all can be difficult and coping with the pressure may be challenging. These life events and stress can bring on feelings of sadness or depression or make a mood disorder harder to manage.
Common Mood Disorders
Bipolar disorder, also known as manic depression, is characterized by cycling mood changes. Episodes of depression alternate with manic episodes, which can include impulsive behavior, hyperactivity, rapid speech, and little to no sleep. Typically, the switch from one mood extreme to the other is gradual, with each manic or depressive episode lasting for at least several weeks. When depressed, a person with bipolar disorder exhibits the usual symptoms of major depression. However, the treatments for bipolar depression are very different. In fact, antidepressants can make bipolar depression worse.
Dysthmia is a type of chronic “low-grade” depression. More days than not, you feel mildly or moderately depressed, although you may have brief periods of normal mood. The symptoms of dysthymia are not as strong as the symptoms of major depression, but they last a long time (at least two years). These chronic symptoms make it very difficult to live life to the fullest or to remember better times. Some people also experience major depressive episodes on top of dysthymia, a condition known as “double depression”. If you suffer from dysthymia, you may feel like you’ve always been depressed. Or you may think that your continuous low mood is “just the way you are.” However, dysthymia can be treated, even if your symptoms have gone unrecognized or untreated for years.
Many medical illnesses (including cancer, injuries, infections, and chronic illnesses) can trigger symptoms of depression. People diagnosed with chronic illnesses must adjust to the demands of the illness itself, as well as to the treatments for their condition. The illness may affect a person’s mobility and independence, and change the way a person lives, sees him or herself, and/or relates to others. For these reasons, a certain amount of despair and sadness is normal. In some cases, a chronic illness may actually cause depression.
Sadness or downswings in mood are normal reactions to life’s struggles, setbacks, and disappointments. Many people use the word “depression” to explain these kinds of feelings, but depression is much more than just sadness.
Some people describe depression as “living in a black hole” or having a feeling of impending doom. However, some depressed people don’t feel sad at all – they may feel lifeless, empty, and apathetic, or men in particular may even feel angry, aggressive, and restless.
Whatever the symptoms, depression is different from normal sadness in that it engulfs your day-to-day life, interfering with your ability to work, study, eat, sleep, and have fun. The feelings of helplessness, hopelessness, and worthlessness are intense and unrelenting, with little, if any, relief.
Certain medications prescribed for various medical conditions do cause such feelings as sadness, despair, and discouragement. And those are feelings that are often associated with depression. Other medicines prescribed for medical problems can trigger mania (excessive elation and energy) that’s usually associated with bipolar disorder.
Medications that cause mania or depression appear to alter brain chemicals in some way. And even though the drugs may be necessary to treat the condition, the side effect is hardly acceptable.
Treatment Options for Mood Disorders
Just as with anxiety disorders, mood disorders are also very treatable. Depression is commonly treated with antidepressants and psychotherapy. Electroconvulsive Therapy (ECT) may be considered in certain cases. Antidepressants can help optimise or correct the functioning of the brain’s neurotransmitters, leading to the relief of symptoms. Psychotherapy is most effective for treating mild to moderate depression. Frequently used in combination with antidepressants, this form of treatment addresses the negative thoughts, beliefs and behaviours that contribute to depression. Common forms of psychotherapy include cognitive-behavioural therapy (CBT), psychodynamic psychotherapy and interpersonal therapy. If you suspect that you or maybe a loved one suffers from a mood disorder, check out our Getting Help page.