What is Mental Health, Anyway?

Our mental health is constantly changing

Mental health describes our state of being, both emotionally (how we feel) and cognitively (our ability to think clearly or process information).

Though we often tend to think of health in terms of our physical body, it is actually impossible to discuss health without addressing mind and brain health. This is because our state of emotional and cognitive being colors everything: How we think, how we feel and act, and how we deal with stress and relate socially.

Just as everyone occasionally gets a cold, the flu, injuries, cuts, scrapes and bruises, our mental health, too, is constantly changing. Our brain is our control center, and our mental health fluctuates depending on the way our brain is processing the experiences we’re having and the environments we’re exposed to.

Even as powerful as our minds are, we don’t have to let our thoughts and feelings run our lives. Understanding the relationship between what we think, feel and how we (re)act is key to understanding and managing mental health challenges.

Through struggle comes strength, new perspectives

As many as 1 in 5 teens will experience a mental health challenge, and research indicates that only about half of even those with acute problems will get the help they need. But suffering in silence can lead to deteriorating physical health, unhealthy coping habits, and even suicide, the second leading cause of death for 15-24 year olds.

The good news is that if you feel like your mental health is challenged right now, there are a wide variety of things — from meditation to social support to cognitive behavioral therapy — that can help get you back to living the life you want to live. In fact, many young people who have been through an episode of depression, anxiety or psychosis find they are stronger, more resilient, and even more in tune with their body and/or spiritual being after that experience.

Once we learn to identify the signs and what it feels like when we start to feel bad, the quicker and easier we can deploy our personal toolbox of things (whether that’s exercise or eating better or therapy) to start feeling better.

Up next:

This is your brain on stress.

How history class can feel like a warzone.

The smart technology in your head.

The discovery of neuroplasticity changed everything. What it is, and why it matters.

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