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What is Mental Health?

May is Mental Health Awareness Month. The definition of medical health is clear, and it can be measured by specific criteria. For example, your family doctor or nurse may take your pulse, blood pressure, or temperature. Medical tests might include a bone density X-ray, blood and/or urine test, mammogram, EKG, or MRI to measure your functioning in specific biological areas. The results are usually shown with concrete descriptions or numbers, as well as a statement about if your results are within or outside of normal limits. Such test results are examples of “hard science” which has concrete results.

The definition of mental health, however, is less concrete and clear, and is in the arena of “soft science”. There are no hard and fast numbers to measure the existence and severity of depression or post-traumatic stress disorder, like there are with medical tests. There are criteria, surveys, and tests that can be done to generally determine if there is a mental illness or not.

Mental health is defined as a state of emotional and psychological wellbeing in which you are able to use your cognitive and emotional capabilities, function in society, and meet the ordinary demands of your everyday life. Clinicians in the mental health profession help you to deal with the achievement and maintenance of your psychological wellbeing in the areas of your thinking, feelings, actions, and relationships.

Mental illness can involve any of a variety of conditions characterized by impairment of a person’s normal cognitive, emotional, or behavioral functioning. Mental illness can be caused by social, psychological, biochemical, genetic, or other factors, such as infection or head trauma. Depending on the nature of a particular mental illness, treatment could include counseling, medication, or some combination of the two.

Our culture tends to minimize, stigmatize, or ignore signs of mental illness. In the past, this has resulted in some people not getting the assistance they require, and then suffering needlessly. If you suspect that you or someone you know has mental illness, whether it is mild, moderate, or severe, help is available. Here is one of my mottos. “Why suffer if you don’t have to?” If you need assistance with improving or maintaining your mental health and overall sense of wellbeing, please call me for an appointment at 512.687.3436.

~Linda Eldredge, Ed.D., Psychologist

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