Frequently Asked Questions

What is mental health?

Mental health refers to the overall way people meet the demands of life. Although there is no single definition of mental health, the following characteristics are widely considered attributes of mentally healthy people:

  • They feel comfortable with themselves. They have tolerant, easy-going attitudes, can laugh at themselves, and can accept their own limitations. In short, they have self-respect.
  • They feel comfortable with other people. They are able to give and receive love, consider the interests of others, respect the many differences they find in people, and have satisfying personal relationships.
  • They are able to meet the demands of life. They can handle life’s challenges and stressful events. They make use of their abilities, set realistic goals, and find satisfaction in simple, everyday pleasures.
What is a mental illness?

People with mental illnesses (also called mental disorders) have health conditions that cause changes in a person's thinking, mood, and behavior.  Many mental illnesses are caused by biochemical disturbances in the brain and others are triggered by exposure to an extremely stressful event.  Many factors can put a person at greater risk of a mental illness, while other factors can be protective. There are many classifications of mental disorders, such as mood, anxiety, sleep, eating, and personality disorders.

How do I know if I or someone I know needs help?
If your behaviors, thoughts, or feelings interfere with daily functioning, you may want to visit your primary care physician, who may refer you to a therapist or psychiatrist. Such behaviors can include withdrawal, crying spells, substance abuse, outbursts of anger, or changes in sleeping or eating patterns.
How should I act around someone with a mental illness?
You can nurture an environment that builds on people’s strengths and promotes good mental health.
For example:
  • Avoid labeling people with words like “crazy,” “wacko,” “loony,” or by their diagnosis. Instead of saying someone is a “schizophrenic” say “a person with schizophrenia.”
  • Learn the facts about mental health and share them with others, especially if you hear something that is untrue.
  • Treat people with mental illnesses with respect and dignity, as you would anybody else.
  • Respect the rights of people with mental illnesses and don’t discriminate against them when it comes to housing, employment, or education. Like other people with disabilities, people with mental health needs are protected under Federal and State laws.
Can someone with a severe mental illness hold a job?
Employers who have hired people with mental illnesses report good attendance and punctuality, as well as motivation, quality of work, and job tenure on par with or greater than other employees. Studies by the National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) and the National Alliance for the Mentally Ill (NAMI) show that there are no differences in productivity when people with mental illnesses are compared to other employees. Productivity is maximized when there is a good match between the employee’s needs and working conditions, whether or not the individual has mental health needs.
Can children have a mental illness?
A report from the President's New Freedom Commission on Mental Health showed that in any given year 5-9 percent of children experience serious emotional disturbances. Just like adult mental illnesses, these are clinically diagnosable health conditions that are a product of the interaction of biological, psychological, social, and sometimes even genetic factors.Behavior problems can be symptoms of emotional, behavioral, or mental disorders, rather than merely attention-seeking devices. These children can succeed in school with appropriate understanding, attention, and mental health services.
Can mental illnesses be prevented?
Prevention and early intervention activities refer to those that can prevent (lead to a reduced number), delay the onset of, or lessen the severity of a mental illness. The concepts of risk and protective factors, risk reduction, and enhancement of protective factors (also sometimes referred to as fostering resilience) are central to most evidence-based prevention programs. >Both risk and protective factors operate in multiple life domains. These include individual, family, school, peer, and community, as well as workplace and society. Further, risk and protective factors vary with the age and developmental stage of the individual. Some risk factors are fixed, while others can be changed by interventions.


Prevention of Mental Disorders - A 2004 report from the World Health Organization, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse, in collaboration with the Prevention Research Centre of the Universities of Nijmegen and Maastricht

Prevention of Mental Disorders and Substance Abuse Among Children, Youth, and Young Adults: Research Advances and Promising Interventions - Institute of Medicine

  • Between 14 and 20 percent of young people have mental, emotional and behavioral (MEB) disorders. MEBs include depression, conduct disorder, and substance abuse.  This report captures a number of interventions have been proven to be effective in reducing risk for children exposed to serious adversities, such as maternal depression and family disruption. Poverty is also a powerful risk factor and its reduction would have far-reaching effects for multiple negative mental, emotional and behavioral outcomes.  Early interventions can be effective in delaying or preventing the onset of such disorders.

Guide to Community Preventive Services - free access to proven prevention strategies

Wisconsin Clearinghouse for Prevention Resources - holds annual Prevention Conference

Source: SAMHSA's ADS Center

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