I’m sure by just reading the title, you may already have an image in your head about what mental health is. To be honest, before having the opportunity to intern at United Way of East Central Iowa (UWECI), I believed it meant either you had a diagnosed mental illness or you had optimal mental health; that is not the case.
Research tells us mental health is a continuum from optimal mental health to being mentally unwell or ill, and individuals can move back and forth depending on numerous factors. Risk and protective factors related to relationships, access to resources and services, and the trauma and toxic stress experienced in childhood can all affect how someone identifies themselves on this continuum.
My involvement with the Mental Health and Behavioral Health Condition Report gave me the opportunity to examine Adverse Childhood Experiences (ACEs), anxiety and depression, substance use and abuse, behavioral health, and the links between each of these topics in the scope of mental wellness. The most surprising wake-up call for me was looking at all the research I came across and realizing there is a silent mental health crisis with an estimated 1 in 5 adults in the U.S. experience mental illness. For youth, 1 in 5 children ages 13–18 have, or will have, a serious mental illness.[i]
Mental health is just as important as other areas of behavioral, social, and physical wellness. Research shows a strong relation to the occurrence, treatment, and course of chronic diseases (like cancer, cardiovascular disease, and asthma), with having mental disorders, particularly depression.[ii] It is concerning when anxiety disorders are the most common mental disorder in the U.S., and the World Health Organization estimates that by the year 2020, depression will be the runner up to heart disease as the leading cause of disability in the world.[iii]
As a graduate student intern at UWECI, I have been fortunate enough to have a platform where I can research this topic at great length and connect to a world of knowledge outside the classroom. My view of mental health, and how individuals and communities can better understand it to respond effectively with preventative efforts, appropriate supports, and compassion, has evolved as I dive deeper into my own studies in public health.
I recommend anyone who wants to learn more about current mental health needs on a local, state, and national level; how it impacts individuals in our community; and what we are doing to address these needs by reading our Mental Health and Behavioral Health Condition Report when it comes out in June.
[ii] Chapman, Daniel P, Geraldine S Perry, and Tara W Strine. “The Vital Link Between Chronic Disease and Depressive Disorders.” Preventing Chronic Disease 2.1 (2005): A14.
[iii] “Depression: A Global Crisis.” World Federation for Mental Health, http://www.who.int/mental_health/management/depression/wfmh_paper_depression_wmhd_2012.pdf.