What is Mental Health?

Mental health describes a level of psychological well-being or the absence of a mental disorder. If we were to consider the approach from the perspective of “Positive Psychology”, a state of mental health involves an individual’s ability to enjoy life, create a balance between life activities and to achieve psychological resilience. The World Health Organization (WHO) defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”. In these three different viewpoints of mental health we gain an understanding of mental health being a state of psychological balance which enables a person to find and enjoy a quality of life and one which involves others. Evidence from studies conducted by the World Health Organization suggests that nearly half of the world’s population is affected by some mental illness which impacts on their self-esteem, relationships and ability to function in everyday life. The relationship of mental health to physical health is well documented as is the relationship of mental health to problems such as substance abuse and addiction. It is interesting that our use of the term “mental health” often implies or relates to the presence of symptoms associated with feelings of disharmony, emotional discord, mood imbalance and problems in functioning. Is it possible, that in the common usage of “mental health” our functional definition is the opposite of what the term means.

Interesting in these viewpoints on mental health is an absence of detail about what constitutes a mental disorder. Rather, the focus is on enjoyment of life, the ability to function and a capacity to engage in reciprocal and beneficial relationships with other people. So, if a person is experiencing problems in their psychological health and in their ability to function productively how can they find a way to return to better psychological health?

Finding the Balance

Humans are resilient and have the capacity to cope with stresses, adapt and change. When those abilities are affected the person experiences distress. We are subject to the impact of stresses coming from social, cultural, physical and other aspects of our lives. Additionally, as research moves forward, we are coming to better understand that there are other factors which affect a person’s mental health such as: genetics, specific neurochemical imbalances, differences in a person’s brain function due to physical disease or injury and the impact of negative experiences on the brain such as we see with PTSD or abuse or deprivation.

Treating the Entire Person

When people experience the effects of stressors and cannot cope on their own they may need professional help and supports. This may take the form of counseling or psychotherapy, spiritual and religious guidance, medications or, in situations in which the person endangers themselves or others, an inpatient psychiatric hospitalization may be required. The goal of these approaches is to help the person return to a psychological state where they can cope with life situations in a productive way. People who are emotionally healthy have tools for coping with difficult situations and can maintain a positive outlook and remain focused and flexible. Counseling, psychotherapy, spiritual guidance, appropriate medication and even hospitalization can work in crisis situations to assist a person with creating and using healthy psychological tools to cope with problems and to progress through difficult situations. Clearly, the root issue must be identified to establish long term mental health and for some individuals the course of treatment may be of a longer duration or occur at multiple times throughout their life. The goal is to help each person find a state of psychological well-being and to able to function in their life roles with others in healthy and productive ways.

Treatment is a way to find strength

Dealing with one’s mental health problems without support can be an overwhelming task. Often people will get caught up in non-productive ways such as: substance abuse, overuse of prescription medications, social withdrawal and dangerous and risky behaviors. There is no substitute for the type of help which can restore a person to a sense of well-being and level of comfort with themselves. Taking the step towards recognizing the problem is the first step to psychological and mental health. There are many resources available to assist a person in dealing with their mental health problems; they all require that the person recognize that they are experiencing difficulties in their life and that the current coping strategies they are using are not helpful. Our goals in the treatment programs at Brookhaven Hospital are to assist each person in addressing their life challenges and in achieving greater life satisfaction to restore their mental health and sense of well-being.

Finding the Best Treatment Option

Selecting the best treatment option can be a difficult task. Which physician can offer the best level of care? What treatment program has the best approach? Which medications are the most beneficial? Each decision about treatment can be complicated. But, to simplify the process let’s look at methods you can use to select the best treatment for you or a loved one. You can begin with looking for organizations which meet nationally recognized standards such as those established by the Joint Commission or CARF, two well respected accreditation bodies. Both of those organizations have internet-based resources for consumers. Is the organization state licensed? If so, what type of healthcare facility are they? Is it a licensed hospital or a Residential Treatment Center? Are they certified by CMS to participate in Medicare and Medicaid? If the provider is an individual, are they licensed or board-certified. If you are considering a hospital or treatment center are the mission and values made clear? Do they have a listing of their professional staff? Do they provide you with information about the type of treatment you are looking for? Further to the search for the best treatment options, websites like Health Grades and others offer the consumer reviews of professionals and organizations. If possible, make a visit to the facility and speak with staff. Check out the organization’s website and look for information on accreditation, consumer satisfaction and the results of treatment if available. This information will help you understand how transparent the organization is and to what extent they make information about treatment and their professional employees available to the public. Using the available information on a potential mental health professional or treatment provider will help you in making the best decision for treatment.