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What Is Mental Health? And Why Is It Important?



What Is Mental Health? And Why Is It Important?

We live in a world where it is fairly standard to have a primary care physician and seek out medical care when we fall ill or are injured. If this is common practice, why is it less common to address mental health concerns and understand our own personal needs? What will it take to normalize seeking support and mental health treatment?

Just like physical health, we have a spectrum of mental health. Mental health includes the components of our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. This means our own thoughts, feelings, and behaviors are directly affected by and influence our mental health. It informs how we relate to others and our ability to care for ourselves. It also informs our own emotional and mental capacities and personal relationships. It is present in each life stage, from childhood to adolescence to adulthood, and the condition of our mental health can be impacted at any of these stages.[1]

As a social worker, I am trained in assessing the biopsychosocial aspects of a person; looking at the biological, psychological, and social factors that make up the whole of a person. Just as each unique individual has their own genetics, experiences, and perspectives; each person has their own composition of mental health. This individuality is what creates such beauty in our world, however, as humans, we like to categorize and label. We are more comfortable with absolutes, thinking in black and white, and certainties. This can often result in us rejecting what falls outside of the norm and the things that we do not understand. It is this that can make openly discussing mental health difficult.

Stigma can be described as a fear of having someone view you in a negative way due to a specific characteristic about yourself. It is human nature to want to avoid fear and isolation. Our survival instincts instruct us to avoid these circumstances basically at all costs, but let us normalize being human. Being human suggests that we all struggle. We struggle amid pandemics, natural disasters, with employment, finances, parenting, and in relationships. Sometimes we get a fever or get sick. And sometimes we struggle with our mental health.

The National Institute of Mental Health cites that 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. live with a mental illness[1] and the World Health Organization estimates that 1 in 4 people worldwide will be affected by a mental health disorder within their lifetime.[2] However, it is estimated that less than 40% of people with mental health concerns will receive consistent treatment throughout a calendar year.[3] The reality is, you don’t have to suffer from even a severe illness to fall into the category of overlooking your own mental health.

With the rates of people experiencing mental health concerns it seems prudent to normalize the discussion of mental health. But what are the causes of people not receiving consistent treatment? Why is there stigma associated with mental health and illness in general? We already discussed how it’s human nature to want to avoid being cast out as the other, to abide by the norm. But if the statistics tell us anything, it is actually pretty normal to struggle with your mental health, to struggle in relating to others, yourself, and understanding your own needs.

What struggling with your mental health looks like, is as unique as each individual person. We all have heard taglines associated with mental health: anxiety, depression, bipolar. But how do we break these words down into symptoms and truly understand their meanings? How do we stop responding to outdated preconceptions about mental health and treatments? How do we ensure that each individual person is able to explore and tend to their own needs without the fear or stigma of others responding without understanding?


My answer to that is education and exploration.


*My name is Kara Gately and I am a social worker working in a rural health clinic at Plumas District Hospital as a mental health professional providing psychotherapy and addiction treatment services. My passions include social justice, mental health, and promoting fair treatment and well-being for all. Please join the exploration and education in each publication as we explore topics related to mental health and health education.




[1] “Prevalence of Mental Health,” National Institute of Mental Health, January 2019, https://nimh.nih.gov/health/statistics/mental-illness.shtml

[2] Ahmedani, B.K. (2011). Mental Health Stigma: Society, Individuals, and the Profession. Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics, 8(2), 41-46.

[3] Ahmedani, B.K. (2011). Mental Health Stigma: Society, Individuals, and the Profession. Journal of Social Work Values and Ethics, 8(2), 41-46.

[1] What Is Mental Health?” MentalHealth.gov, May 28, 2020, https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-health

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