What is Mental Health
and Mental Wellness?

Reach Out for Help if You Need It

When you Google mental health, you’ll learn that mental health “includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being.”

But what does this definition really mean? How do you measure your emotional, psychological, and social well-being? It’s not simple. Mental illness isn’t like a broken leg or pneumonia, conditions that always have external symptoms.

Measuring your mental health requires more patience and observing all aspects of your life. In this article, we’ll explore what it means to be mentally healthy and what it might mean to have a mental illness.

This article can help you better understand mental wellness, in general, but it is no substitute for specialized mental health care with a mental health professional that’s created specifically for your unique challenges — the kind of care you’d get from the staff at Mental Health Associates of the Triad or other professional health care providers.

And know this: If you’re thinking about suicide, you are suffering from a mental health crisis. Quit reading now and dial 988 to speak with a mental health expert.

What is mental health, in simple terms?

Let’s start by going back to that definition from above, the one about your emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It came from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

The CDC continues: Mental health “affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make healthy choices.” There’s a lot of information in there, so let’s take a closer look at each aspect of the definition:

Mental health affects how we think, feel and act

This part of the definition explores our outlook on the world around us. This includes our perspective, our interpretation of our surroundings, and the way we feel about ourselves. Our thoughts, feelings, and actions flow, in part, from our perspective.

Someone who has a diagnosed mental illness — or someone who is going through a mental health crisis — tends to see the world differently from most other people. Yet they don’t necessarily know about the gap between their perception and reality. Perception becomes reality.

This is one reason poor mental health can be so dangerous — and so hard to overcome on your own.

Mental health affects how we handle stress

Stress is a normal part of life. Stress can complicate our daily lives, even when we can anticipate it. But mentally healthy people can usually isolate their sources of stress and find ways to manage them.

Someone who has a mental illness, or someone who’s at risk for developing a mental illness, can feel overwhelmed by stress that affects how they live their lives. Stress may affect their choices and how they relate to others.

Mental health affects how we relate to others

Friendships and other relationships take energy. For mentally healthy people, investing time in relationships pays off: It can continue to improve their mental health.

For someone who’s struggling with mental health, the ordinary challenges of daily life may seem too overwhelming, like they’re no longer worth the effort. Surviving the day, by itself, seems challenging enough. Dealing with other people isn’t an option.

 Friends and co-workers may interpret these feelings as apathy or annoyance. Unfortunately, this natural response can exacerbate a precarious mental condition.

Mental health affects how we make healthy choices

Struggling to get through a day, because of mental illness, leaves little room for things like daily exercise, cooking healthy meals, exploring hobbies, and meeting with friends — all things that are part of mental wellness.

In this sense, mental health issues can turn into an avalanche. The symptoms themselves have a way of making the condition worse, and a worsening condition creates more severe symptoms. It’s a hard cycle to break by yourself.

What if I’m having mental health issues?

First things first: If you’re experiencing mental health issues — or if you’re unsure about your mental health status — know that help is available. Help starts with a conversation with a mental health care expert, a conversation in which you can learn about mental health resources and other ways to improve mental health.

People who live in the Greensboro and High Point areas can visit Mental Health Associates of the Triad to speak with a qualified mental health care professional. If you live somewhere else, look for a qualified clinic, or try out an online counseling service. 

And, once again, if you find yourself thinking about suicide, don’t wait for an official appointment and diagnosis. Dial 988 to get emergency mental health care.

A choice of payment options.

The cost of outpatient services may be covered by Medicaid, private insurance, or by fees assessed on a sliding scale. We also serve individuals with no insurance or other financial resources. In this case, an intake counselor will work with you to make a need-based assessment.

How can I improve my mental wellness?

Treatment is necessary to overcome mental illness and navigating a mental health crisis will be more successful when you have a professional to guide you. But there are also ways to improve your mental wellness on your own.

The following strategies apply to people, in general, and shouldn’t be considered a treatment plan for your own specific mental health issues. If you’re struggling with mental wellness, try:

Getting outside

As humans, we’re part of nature, and being in nature can have a positive effect on our mental health. If you’re feeling more stressed or anxious than usual, take a break and go for a short walk. Start a regular exercise routine, if you’re physically healthy enough. If the weather isn’t cooperating, take a break from your routine and look out a window for a few moments.

Taking a social media break

Social media is part of everyday life, and it’s a great way to connect with friends and family. But researchers are also learning about some negative mental health effects of social media. Sometimes, taking a social media break, or simply limiting the number of hours you spend on social platforms each day, can improve mental health.

Exploring a hobby

Have you ever wanted to take cello lessons or write a short story? Maybe you’d rather learn a skilled trade, like plumbing or carpentry? Wherever your interests lie, developing a hobby tends to be good for mental wellness. We’re fortunate to live in a society with lots of opportunities to learn. 

Calling a friend or family member

Humans are a social species. Other people are a big part of our environment. Sometimes, calling a friend or a family member and having an ordinary conversation can improve mental health. Of course, strained relationships can have an adverse effect on mental wellness, so be sure you’re getting in touch with someone you enjoy speaking with.

What happens when mental health goes untreated?

The mental health self-care we discussed in the previous section can help when you’re feeling down or overstressed. But if your symptoms persist, and weeks pass, you could have a more serious mental health problem — one that will need professional treatment.

When left untreated, mental health struggles, such as anxiety and depression, tend to get worse. They can be signs that you have a mental illness, and mental illnesses are more common than you might think. They affect about 1 in 5 Americans, according to the National Institutes of Mental Health.

Left untreated, mental illness can cause physical health problems, unemployment, homelessness, and suicide. 

Mental illness needs treatment, just like a physical illness — such as a heart condition or diabetes — needs treatment. Fortunately, treatment for mental health has grown more effective in recent decades.

Where can I find mental health resources?

In recent decades, our society has advanced with its understanding and compassion for mental health. We have Mental Health Awareness Month each May, and more insurance providers are including mental health in their covered health conditions.

The hyper-connectedness of the internet age has also given more people access to mental health care.

For example, Mental Health Associates of the Triad is building an online resource for mental health education which we invite everyone to check out.

Other websites such as the National Alliance on Mental Health (NAMI), the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), the CDC, and the Mayo Clinic offer resources too.

All these resources can raise awareness and teach general information about mental wellness. This is important. But only an in-person therapist, or one-on-one online therapist, can customize resources for a single patient’s specific needs.

Do stress and anxiety affect mental health?

For most people, stress and anxiety are a normal part of life. In many ways, these experiences can even be a sign of mental wellness.

After all, it’s healthy to respond to new and unexpected situations — like public speaking or becoming a new parent — with some feelings of anxiety and stress. Otherwise, we might not ever get better at performing new types of tasks. 

However, uncontrolled stress and anxiety is not a sign of mental wellness. In fact, it could be a sign of mental illness such as an anxiety disorder.

For people with anxiety disorders, anxiety affects everyday life. They may even base important decisions on their feelings of anxiety.

Is addiction a mental health issue?

Substance abuse disorder, or SUD, is a mental illness. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, people with SUD develop an “inability to control their use of substances such as legal or illegal drugs, alcohol, or medications.”

Addiction is the most severe form of substance abuse disorder. If you’re experiencing this condition, getting help is essential. The idea that overcoming addiction requires only toughness and determination is a myth.

And people with substance abuse disorders are at an increased risk of developing other types of mental illness, like anxiety disorders and depression. They’re also more likely to develop chronic physical illnesses. Don’t wait to seek help.

Can poor mental health lead to suicide?

At its worst, mental illness can be deadly. A suicide takes place once every 11 minutes in the United States, according to the CDC’s numbers from 2020. That year, 1.2 million people in the U.S. attempted suicide, 3.2 million planned a suicide attempt, and 12.2 million adults thought seriously about suicide.

These are tragic numbers. If you’re having a hard time putting such large figures into perspective, that’s understandable. Consider these comparisons:

  • Suicide attempts: 1.2 million is comparable to the population of Dallas
  • Suicide plans: 3.2 million is similar to the population of Los Angeles
  • Serious suicidal thoughts: 12.2million is similar to the population of the state of Pennsylvania

If you’re contemplating suicide, please seek professional mental health help immediately.

How do you ask for help with mental health?

Compared to previous centuries, we’ve made progress as a society when it comes to offering mental health care. Still, a lot of patients feel intimidated about asking for help.

 Mental health, by its nature, is hard to understand because it’s more abstract than most other health problems. Mental illness interferes with our perceptions of reality, so it’s easy to dismiss mental health concerns as simply “feeling sad” or “being down." 

For some people — people who experience occasional periods of mental strain — a change in perspective, a new hobby, or a conversation with a close friend may provide relief. But many, many others will need mental health treatment from a professional provider to recover their mental wellness.

If you’re struggling, take the first step and ask for help. When you do, you can start learning more about managing and overcoming your unique mental health challenges.

Help often begins with a simple conversation. It’s a conversation you can start by contacting Mental Health Associates of the Triad for an outpatient appointment. Or, if you need immediate help because you’re considering suicide or another type of self-harm, call one of the crisis helplines listed on this page.

Mental Health Associates of the Triad offers much more than expert care. You’ll find a wealth of experience, a wide range of services, and a choice of ways to pay for them. Whenever you’re ready to get better, we’re ready to help.

Request an Appointment

You’re Not Alone

In the United States, one out of two people will be diagnosed with a mental illness at some point in their lifetime. 20% will experience mental illness in a given year. 80%  will experience emotional abuse. Today, 1 in 25 Americans lives with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.  

How can we help you?

For those we serve, we are the essential and often-postponed “first step” toward the goal of mental wellness. Whether the concern is for yourself or a loved one, know that we welcome you with deep compassion and respect. What seems frightening or hopeless today can quickly become a path to a brighter, more positive tomorrow.

Whenever you’re ready to take that first step, we’re ready to help.