Just like physical health, mental health takes many forms. Generally, mental health refers to our ability to cope with our life, work, relationships, parenting, and physical health issues. This includes being able to make good choices and manage everyday emotions like worry, excitement, boredom, confusion, and fear.
How well people cope depends on many things. Sometimes, we handle a stressful event with ease, even though we may have never experienced it before. We may face that same kind of event years later, in different circumstances, and feel distress and sadness. But as painful as some experiences are, worry, grief, sadness, and stress are all normal reactions.
How well we cope depends on:
- What we learned from adults as we grew up.
- The resources we have available — like enough money to pay for a car repair.
- How sturdy we feel under pressure; some people feel easily frustrated, others thrive on challenges.
- How long the event or circumstance might continue; chronic circumstances can be tiring.
- Physical health; it’s harder to cope when you don’t feel well.
- Whether we have experienced the circumstance before.
- Our physical reaction to things; some people get so sad that they feel ill or shaky.
Mental health is affected by how the chemistry in our body works, too. The brain has chemicals that help us think and change how we feel and react. These are partly genetic, like the color of our eyes or our height. Brain chemistry can also change during certain times in life due to hormones, nutrition, drug or alcohol use, physical conditions, trauma, and medications.
Mental illness can be the result of changes in brain chemistry that don’t get better once the problem that triggers the changes goes away. Other times, a problem seems to create more challenges and those can keep the sad, excited, anxious, or confused feelings from getting better.
Therapy can help you to sort out your options and resources or learn new ways to manage these feelings. Medication can help to rebalance brain chemistry, so that the physical part of the feelings gets better and you feel better. Therapy and medication together can be very helpful because these can help us to think about our problems differently, so that you are able to feel better and make more positive life and behavior choices.