Improve mental health through prevention and by ensuring access to appropriate, quality mental health services.
Mental health is a state of successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and the ability to adapt to change and to cope with challenges. Mental health is essential to personal well-being, family and interpersonal relationships, and the ability to contribute to community or society.
Mental disorders are health conditions that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, and/or behavior that are associated with distress and/or impaired functioning. Mental disorders contribute to a host of problems that may include disability, pain, or death.
Mental illness is the term that refers collectively to all diagnosable mental disorders.
Why Is Mental Health Important?
Mental disorders are among the most common causes of disability. The resulting disease burden of mental illness is among the highest of all diseases. According to the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH), in any given year, an estimated 13 million American adults (approximately 1 in 17) have a seriously debilitating mental illness. Mental health disorders are the leading cause of disability in the United States and Canada, accounting for 25 percent of all years of life lost to disability and premature mortality. Moreover, suicide is the 11th leading cause of death in the United States, accounting for the deaths of approximately 30, 000 Americans each year.
Mental health and physical health are closely connected. Mental health plays a major role in people’s ability to maintain good physical health. Mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, affect people’s ability to participate in health-promoting behaviors. In turn, problems with physical health, such as chronic diseases, can have a serious impact on mental health and decrease a person’s ability to participate in treatment and recovery.
Understanding Mental Health and Mental Disorders
The existing model for understanding mental health and mental disorders emphasizes the interaction of social, environmental, and genetic factors throughout the lifespan. In behavioral health, researchers identify:
- Risk factors, which predispose individuals to mental illness
- Protective factors, which protect them from developing mental disorders
Researchers now know that the prevention of mental, emotional, and behavioral (MEB) disorders is inherently interdisciplinary and draws on a variety of different strategies.
Over the past 20 years, research on the prevention of mental disorders has progressed. The understanding of how the brain functions under normal conditions and in response to stressors, combined with knowledge of how the brain develops over time, has been essential to that progress. The major areas of progress include evidence that:
- MEB disorders are common and begin early in life.
- The greatest opportunity for prevention is among young people.
- There are multiyear effects of multiple preventive interventions on reducing substance abuse, conduct disorder, antisocial behavior, aggression, and child maltreatment.
- The incidence of depression among pregnant women and adolescents can be reduced.
- School-based violence prevention can reduce the base rate of aggressive problems in an average school by 25 to 33 percent.
- There are potential indicated preventive interventions for schizophrenia.
- Improving family functioning and positive parenting can have positive outcomes on mental health and can reduce poverty-related risk.
- School-based preventive interventions aimed at improving social and emotional outcomes can also improve academic outcomes.
- Interventions targeting families dealing with adversities, such as parental depression or divorce, can be effective in reducing risk for depression among children and increasing effective parenting.
- Some preventive interventions have benefits that exceed costs, with the available evidence strongest for early childhood interventions.
- Implementation is complex, and it is important that interventions be relevant to the target audiences.