By Dr. Aslam
What Is Mental Health?
Mental health is the combination of our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Our Mental Health affects our mental processing (how we think), our mood and our behavior (how we feel, and act). Based on our thinking and behavior, our mental health will determine ‘how’ we handle stress and ‘make choices’. Our mental health evolves as we progress through all our stages of life from childhood to adulthood. Throughout our lives we need to pay attention to and understand that by controlling our thinking and using coping tools (ie: medication, meditation, exercise, nutrition etc.) and strategies (ie: journaling, awareness of distorted thinking patterns, behavioral self-analysis etc.) that we control our mood and behavior.
Factors that contribute to our Mental Health
Many factors contribute to our mental health, such as biologic/genetic (such as genes or brain chemistry) and environmental factors (such as life experiences, family history, trauma or abuse. Medical studies recognized that many psychiatric disorders tend to run in families, suggesting and supporting potential genetic roots. Disorders studied include autism, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), bipolar disorder, major depression and schizophrenia. Environmental factors, such as emotional and psychological trauma is the result of extraordinarily stressful events that shatter your sense of security, making you feel helpless and vulnerable. Traumatic experiences, for example, often involve a threat (real or perceived) to life or safety; an event or situation that leaves you feeling overwhelmed, frightened and isolated, even if it doesn’t involve physical harm.
What to look for … early Warning Signs
Experiencing one or more of the following feelings or behaviors ‘may’ (operative word) be an early warning sign of an existing or emerging mental health problem:
• Eating or sleeping too much or too little
• Isolating: pulling away from people and usual activities
• Low or no energy; excessive undisciplined energy
• Feeling numb or like nothing matters
• Having unexplained aches and pains
• A sense of helpless or hopeless more than usual
• Feeling unusually confused, forgetful, on edge, angry, upset, worried, or scared
• Being quick to yell at or fight with family and friends
• Experiencing mood swings that cause problems in relationships
• Having persistent thoughts and memories you can’t get out of your head
• Hearing voices or believing things that are not true
• Thinking of harming yourself or others
• Inability to perform daily tasks like taking care of yourself, others or getting to work or school
How to deal with our Mental Health
No one ‘wants’ to feel unwell. Talking to your doctor or other health professional (psychologist, social workers, counselors etc.) about problems with your thinking, your mood or your behaviors is an important first step.
Positive mental health allows people to realize their full potential, to cope with the stresses of life, to connect with others, and to staying positive.
Mental Health Professionals
Mental Health professions include medical professionals (ie: psychiatrist, nurse practitioners etc.) and allied health professionals (ie: psychologist, social workers, counselors etc.). All legitimate mental health care professionals hold advanced degrees, will be licensed in the states they practice in, and will have met strict professional guidelines/disciplines in their particular area of expertise (ie: Board Certification, Licensed Clinical Social Worker etc.) to meet governmental legal standard to obtain licensure. Many will also belong to National Organizations that set practice standards and quality measures (ie: American Psychiatric Association, American Psychological Association, National Social Worker Association etc.). Below is a quick distinction between some of the different mental health professional’s primary area of focus (not to say that a more full range of scope of service may be offers <ie: psychiatrist who offer both medication management ‘and’ psychotherapy>)
• Psychiatrist: a medical practitioner (Medical Doctor: MD or DO) specializing in the diagnosis and treatment of mental illness
• Psychologist: a professional (Ph.D., Psy.D or depending which state a Masters only) who evalu-ates and studies behavior and mental processes
• Clinical Social Worker: a professional (MSW) who help individuals, families, and groups restore or enhance their capacity for social functioning
Mental Health Treatment options
There are many different treatment options available. There is no treatment that works for everyone – individuals can chose the treatment, or combination of treatments, that works best.
• Psychotherapy – Psychotherapy is the therapeutic treatment (individual, group, family) provided by a trained mental health professional. Psychotherapy explores thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, and seeks to improve an individual’s well-being. Psychotherapy paired with medication is the most effective way to promote recovery. Examples include: Cognitive Behavioral Therapy, Exposure Therapy, Dialectical Behavior Therapy, etc.
• Medication – Medication does not outright cure, however, it may help with the management of symptoms. Medication paired with psychotherapy is the most effective way to promote recovery.
• Case Management – Case management coordinates services for an individual with the help of a case manager. A case manager can help assess, plan, and implement a number of strategies to facilitate recovery.
• Hospitalization – In a minority of cases, hospitalization may be necessary so that an individual can be closely monitored, accurately diagnosed or have medications adjusted when severe mental health issues temporarily worsens.
• Support Group – A support group is a group meeting where members guide each other towards the shared goal of recovery. Support groups are often comprised of nonprofessionals, but peers that have suffered from similar experiences (ie: Alcoholics Anonymous)
• Complementary & Alternative Medicine – Complementary & Alternative Medicine (CAM), refers to treatment and practices that are not typically associated with standard care. CAM may be used in place of or addition to standard health practices.
• Self Help Plan – A self-help plan is a unique health plan where an individual addresses his or her condition by implementing strategies that promote wellness. Self-help plans may involve addressing wellness, recovery, triggers or warning signs.
• Peer Support – Peer Support refers to receiving help from individuals who have suffered from similar experiences.
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