What is mental health?

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social health and well-being. It is important at every age. According to the WHO (World Health Organization), mental health is “… 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.” It is important to note that the WHO stresses that mental health “is not just the absence of a mental disorder.”

Why is it important?

Mental Health is important because it affects us every day, in almost everything we do. It impacts how we function, interact with others, and how we feel about ourselves and our lives.  Furthermore, it can have a profound impact on our bodies and physical health as well.

What can be done to improve mental health?

For children and adults, learning how to identify and understand our emotions is a vital component in improving mental health. Emotions are not bad – however, we need to better teach people to identify and understand their emotions and most importantly, what to do with them.  We also must teach and develop personal coping skills so that one can process and use their emotions in a healthy and productive manner.

There are several key things we can all do to improve and maintain our mental health which includes keeping a regular schedule, especially ensuring adequate sleep. Getting regular exercise (even low intensity like walking counts) every day. Try to reduce the amount of time you sit for, as they say, “sitting is the new smoking”! Try and eat a healthy well-balanced diet with lots of fruits and vegetables. Connecting with others and helping others can also improve our mental health. Lastly, don’t be afraid to get professional help if you need it!

How someone can get help if they need it?

It doesn’t always feel like it, but there is help everywhere.  A few national resources that are available to anyone are the National Suicide Hotline (1-800-273-8255), Textline (741741), and online chat. The National Alliance of Mental Illness (NAMI.org) is a great resource not just for those who are struggling with their mental health, but also for their families.  For the LGBTQ+ population, Trevor Project has a hotline (1-866-488-7386), Textline (678678), online chat and multiple other online resources too.

Individuals should also contact their healthcare provider to learn more about the resources that they offer.  At Kaiser Permanente, our mental health resources include a wide range of services for all ages from medication management, individual therapy, group therapy, wellness phone coaching and in-person classes through our Center for Healthy Living as well as numerous online services. 

There are also people around you that are there to help, whether it’s a teacher, a coach, a religious leader or spiritual counselor, a supervisor at work or an Employee Assistance Program.

Kaiser Permanente also has a great website called FindYourWords.org which provides resources and help for those wanting to help someone else or those looking for help themselves. 

Mental Health Tip!

One of my favorite exercises to recommend to patients is gratitude. Thinking of three things you are grateful for every night before you go to bed has been shown to significantly improve your mood. It doesn’t have to be anything outrageous, you can be grateful for having a bed to sleep in, or for your bad day being over, or for the amazing thing that happened to you that day. But, remember just three! No more, no less, even if every night it’s the same three and kids can do it too. Try it for a week, see how you feel!

Ashley Zucker

MD, Chief of Psychiatry , Kaiser Permanente, San Bernardino

Responses contributed by Ashley Zucker, MD, Chief of Psychiatry at Kaiser Permanente in San Bernardino.


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