Mental health is an integral and essential component of health. The WHO constitution states: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” An important implication of this definition is that this is more than just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities.
It is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.
Mental health is fundamental to our collective and individual ability as humans to think, emote, interact with each other, earn a living and enjoy life. On this basis, the promotion, protection and restoration of that can be regarded as a vital concern of individuals, communities and societies throughout the world.
Determinants of mental health
Multiple social, psychological, and biological factors determine the level of mental health of a person at any point of time. For example, violence and persistent socio-economic pressures are recognized risks to mental health. The clearest evidence is associated with sexual violence.
Poor mental health is also associated with rapid social change, stressful work conditions, gender discrimination, social exclusion, unhealthy lifestyle, physical ill-health and human rights violations.
There are specific psychological and personality factors that make people vulnerable to mental health problems. Biological risks include genetic factors.
Mental health promotion and protection
Mental health promotion involves actions that improve psychological well-being. This may involve creating an environment that supports that.
An environment that respects and protects basic civil, political, socio-economic and cultural rights is fundamental to mental health. Without the security and freedom provided by these rights, it is difficult to maintain a high level of mental health.
National mental health policies should be concerned both with mental disorders and, with broader issues that promote that. Its promotion should be mainstreamed into governmental and nongovernmental policies and programmes. In addition to the health sector, it is essential to involve the education, labour, justice, transport, environment, housing, and welfare sectors.
Specific ways to promote mental health include:
- early childhood interventions (e.g. providing a stable environment that is sensitive to children’s health and nutritional needs, with protection from threats, opportunities for early learning, and interactions that are responsive, emotionally supportive and developmentally stimulating);
- support to children (e.g. life skills programmes, child and youth development programmes);
- socio-economic empowerment of women (e.g. improving access to education and microcredit schemes);
- social support for elderly populations (e.g. befriending initiatives, community and day centres for the aged);
- programmes targeted at vulnerable people, including minorities, indigenous people, migrants and people affected by conflicts and disasters (e.g. psycho-social interventions after disasters);
- promotional activities in schools (e.g. programmes involving supportive ecological changes in schools);
- interventions at work (e.g. stress prevention programmes);
- housing policies (e.g. housing improvement);
- ·violence prevention programmes (e.g. reducing availability of alcohol and access to arms);
- community development programmes (e.g. integrated rural development);
- poverty reduction and social protection for the poor;
- anti-discrimination laws and campaigns;
- promotion of the rights, opportunities and care of individuals with mental disorders.
Mental health care and treatment
In the context of national efforts to develop and implement health policy, it is vital to not only protect and promote the well-being of its citizens, but also address the needs of persons with defined mental disorders.
Knowledge of what to do about the escalating burden of mental disorders has improved substantially over the past decade. There is a growing body of evidence demonstrating both the efficacy and cost-effectiveness of key interventions for priority mental disorders in countries at different levels of economic development. Examples of interventions that are cost-effective, feasible, and affordable include:
- treatment of depression with psychological treatment and, for moderate to severe cases, antidepressant medicines;
- treatment of psychosis with antipsychotic medicines and psychosocial support;
- taxation of alcoholic beverages and restriction of their availability and marketing.
A range of effective measures also exists for the prevention of suicide, prevention and treatment of mental disorders in children, prevention and treatment of dementia, and treatment of substance-use disorders. The mental health Gap Action Programme (mhGAP) has produced evidence based guidance for non-specialists to enable them to better identify and manage a range of priority mental health conditions.
WHO supports governments in the goal of strengthening and promoting mental health. WHO has evaluated evidence for promoting that and is working with governments to disseminate this information and to integrate effective strategies into policies and plans.
In 2013, the World Health Assembly approved a “Comprehensive Mental Health Action Plan for 2013-2020”. The Plan is a commitment by all WHO’s Member States to take specific actions to improve mental and to contribute to the attainment of a set of global targets.
The Action Plan’s overall goal is to promote mental well-being, prevent mental disorders, provide care, enhance recovery, promote human rights and reduce the mortality, morbidity and disability for persons with mental disorders. It focuses on 4 key objectives to:
- strengthen effective leadership and governance for mental health;
- provide comprehensive, integrated and responsive healthy mental and social care services in community-based settings;
- implement strategies for promotion and prevention in health; and
- strengthen information systems, evidence and research for health.
Particular emphasis is given in the Action Plan to the protection and promotion of human rights, the strengthening and empowering of civil society and to the central place of community-based care.
In order to achieve its objectives, the Action Plan proposes and requires clear actions for governments, international partners and for WHO. Ministries of Health will need to take a leadership role, and WHO will work with them and with international and national partners, including civil society, to implement the plan. As there is no action that fits all countries, each government will need to adapt the Action Plan to its specific national circumstances.
Why is mental health important for overall health?
Mental and physical health are equally important components of overall health. For example, depression increases the risk for many types of physical health problems, particularly long-lasting conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and stroke. Similarly, the presence of chronic conditions can increase the risk for mental illness.2
Can your mental health change over time?
Yes, it’s important to remember that a person’s mental health can change over time, depending on many factors. When the demands placed on a person exceed their resources and coping abilities, their health could be impacted. For example, if someone is working long hours, caring for a relative, or experiencing economic hardship, they may experience poor mental.
How common are mental illnesses?
Mental illnesses are among the most common health conditions in the United States.
- More than 50% will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime.3
- 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year.4
- 1 in 5 children, either currently or at some point during their life, have had a seriously debilitating mental illness.5
- 1 in 25 Americans lives with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.6
What causes mental illness?
There is no single cause for mental illness. A number of factors can contribute to risk for mental illness, such as
- Early adverse life experiences, such as trauma or a history of abuse (for example, child abuse, sexual assault, witnessing violence, etc.)
- Experiences related to other ongoing (chronic) medical conditions, such as cancer or diabetes
- Biological factors or chemical imbalances in the brain
- Use of alcohol or drugs
- Having feelings of loneliness or isolation