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Mental Health: The Basics

Van Gogh image from Britannica Image Quest and rights cleared for educational use.

According to the World Health Organization, Mental Health is defined 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.”

Even the healthiest of adolescents have tough times. Even the best adjusted have periods of depression, anxiety and despair.

Every culture has to address psychological health it is a universal human requirement. No matter where we are from, what school we attend, what we do for a living all of us have to understand how to attain and sustain mental health.

Mental Illnesses are medical disorders of brain functions.  They have many causes and result from complex interactions between a person’s genes and one's environment.

Mental illnesses include:

Having mental illness is not a choice or moral failing.  The fact is, mental illnesses occur at similar rates around the world, in every culture and all socioeconomic group. Like any other medical condition, mental illness requires treatment.

  • 20% of youth ages 13-18 live with a mental health condition. That's 1 in 5 teens.
  • 10% or more of adolescents experience concurrent depression.
  • 8% or more of adolescents have long term anxiety

At times, any person may feel "crazy" and/or out of control. Mental illness is not defined by short term experiences of symptoms but more frequently the long term symptoms.

Each mental illness has its own set of symptoms but some common signs can include the following

  • Excessive worry or fear
  • Feeling excessively sad or low
  • Confused thinking or problems concentrating and learning
  • Extreme mood changes, including uncontrollable “highs” or feelings of euphoria
  • Prolonged or strong feelings of irritability or anger
  • Avoiding friends and social activities
  • Difficulties understanding or relating to people
  • Changes in sleep habits or feeling tired and low energy

Not getting help often has more to do with the stigma of being seen as crazy. In reality, taking steps to get help for yourself or someone you know is like taking your epi-pen or asthma inhaler with you when you go on a hike in the woods. Not crazy, smart.

Remember, having mental illness is not a choice or moral failing.  Mental illnesses occur at similar rates around the world, in every culture and all socioeconomic group. 

Mental illness–whether it is mild, moderate or severe–is almost always treatable. 

Taking steps to get help for yourself or someone you know can be hard, but it is very important.

  • Talk to a trusted adult
  • Talk to the school counselor
  • Talk to the school nurse
  • Talk to a trusted teacher
  • Talk to a trusted family member
  • Talk to your physician

Do not sit in silence or pain. Know that you are not alone.

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