Did you know that May is Mental Health Awareness Month?
In the past decade, conversations around mental health have evolved and the stigma surrounding mental health has lessened5. Once considered taboo, discussing mental health is far more common in personal and professional situations. While conversations have evolved, there is still some confusion around what mental health is and why mental health is important.
What is mental health?
The U.S. Department of Health and Human Services explains that mental health includes emotional, psychological, and social well-being. Mental health affects how we think, feel, and act, and it also determines how we handle stress and make decisions1. Simply, good mental health is the ability to feel a range of emotions (positive and negative), cope with change and uncertainty, and maintain relationships with others2.
What is mental illness?
The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI) uses the terms “mental health conditions” and “mental illness” interchangeably. The NAMI defines mental illness as a condition that affects a person’s thinking, feeling, behavior or mood3. The most common mental health conditions include:
- Anxiety Disorders
- Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder (ADHD)
- Bipolar Disorder
- Borderline Personality Disorder
- Dissociative Disorders
- Eating Disorders
- Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder
- Posttraumatic Stress Disorder
- Schizoaffective Disorder
The NAMI explains that a mental health condition does not result from one single event. Instead, research suggests that it’s a combination of multiple life events, as well as genetics, environment, and lifestyle influence.
The connection between physical health and mental health
Did you know that your body responds to your thoughts, even if you don’t realize it at the time? This is called the mind/body connection4. As an example, if you experience stress, anxiety, or are upset about a situation, you may experience a racing heart or high blood pressure. You may also notice that your body is tense, or you begin getting headaches from the stress you’re experiencing or thinking about. Over time, if those emotions are experienced frequently and the fight or flight response is happening more often, the risk for heart conditions like heart disease can increase.
On the flip side, good mental health leads to positive impacts on your physical health. For example, not only is working out good for physical health but when you exercise endorphins (the feel-good hormone) are released which can improve your mood6. A self-care routine that helps you manage stress and take care of yourself can lead to positive mental and physical health.
Are there blood tests for mental health?
A healthcare provider can help you determine if you have a mental health condition and figure out next steps. While a blood test can’t be used to directly determine mental illness, a blood test can initially help evaluate if something else is happening in your body that may be contributing to your mental health. Additionally, if you are prescribed medication for certain mental health conditions, you may need frequent blood work to help determine the appropriate dosage initially, as well as routinely monitor the levels in your system.