Mental Health for Beginners: 10 answers to the most common mental health questions

While understanding and awareness about mental health and its issues has increased in the recent years, we are sure there are still some topics that need clarification. As part of our celebration of World Mental Health Month this October, we asked MindNation’s go-to psychologist Riyan Portuguez RPsy RPm (also known as Your Millennial Psychologist) to answer the 10 most common questions about mental health and wellness:

  1. What is mental health?

Riyan: Mental health is the science of self-love. It’s about honoring your emotions and boundaries, and allowing yourself to receive proper and evidence-based care so that you attain personal growth, maximize productivity, and make significant contributions to your community.

  1. What causes mental health problems?

Riyan: Mental health is a complicated matter, varies from person to person, and occurs from the interaction of the following factors:

  1. Neuro-biological (i.e.chemical imbalances in the brain, genetic predispositions to certain disorders that may be triggered by stress or trauma)
  1. Socio-cultural (i.e. a dysfunctional family life, substance abuse)
  1. Psychological (i.e. severe psychological trauma, neglect)
  1. How can I tell if someone I love has a mental health concern?

Riyan: If your loved one exhibits the following warning signs for two weeks or more, you are right to be concerned:

  1. Significant changes in their behavior, such as extreme angry outbursts or bouts of sadness
  2. Withdrawal from friends and other normal activities
  3. No longer pays attention to grooming and/or personal hygiene
  4. Confused thinking, inability to concentrate, lapses at work
  5. Significant weight gain or loss, loss of appetite or overeating
  6. Talks about doing harm to themselves or to others. Suicidal thinking may be active (i.e. “I want to end my life”) or passive (“I don’t want to wake up tomorrow.”)

When you are in doubt about your friend’s condition, always seek the assistance of a mental health professional. 

  1. How can I tell if I have a mental health problem?

Riyan: The answer is the same as the above, although it can be harder to recognize the warning signs if you are talking about yourself. This is especially true if you are the type of person who is frequently perceived by others as “strong,” or if you are the one always providing help to others. Listen to friends and family and keep an open mind if they express concern about the state of your mental health. 

  1. I feel strong, negative emotions like anger and fear sometimes; does this mean I need to see a therapist as soon as possible?

Riyan: Not right away. Emotions, even the negative ones, are a normal part of life, so go ahead and allow yourself to feel them and to lose yourself in them. Suppressing or dismissing these emotions because they are “bad” will only lead to emotional or psychological disorders. But if you experience negative emotions recurring too often or last more than two weeks, or you feel they are getting stronger or more out of control, then seek help. 

  1. What is the difference between sadness and depression?

Riyan: Sadness is an emotion. It is a response to a specific situation — something happened that made you sad. But you are still able to function (i.e. work, do homework) and experience other emotions (i.e. you feel happy when friends comfort you). It usually goes away after a few days.

On the other hand, depression is a mental illness. It is pervasive sadness — it affects all other areas of your life, like your work and relationships with others. There is also no known or specific trigger — you don’t even know why you feel sad anymore — and it is usually accompanied by feelings of apathy and numbness. 

  1. What is the difference between fear and anxiety?

Riyan: Similar to sadness, fear is an emotion caused by something that is in the present and it is specific — there is an imminent situation that causes you to feel afraid, but you are still able to do normal things like eat, sleep, or work. Once the source of fear passes, you don’t think about it anymore. 

Anxiety is a mental disorder — it is an intense level of fear or worry about something that will occur in the future. You anticipate that something terrible will happen. People with anxiety tend to exhibit the following behaviors:

  1. Unhelpful thinking patterns — i.e. “What if–?” scenarios, “Should” and “Must” statements
  2. Magnification — the source of fear is insignificant but in the person’s mind, it is catastrophic
  3. Overgeneralization — the problem attaches itself to all other parts of their lives (i.e. “I did poorly at work” becomes “I am such a loser”)
  4. Physical symptoms such as hyperventilating and heart palpitations

People experiencing normal fear will also have negative thoughts, but after awhile they will follow these up with questions or narratives that will challenge those negative beliefs and cultivate optimism. For example, someone whose boss gives them a difficult task will worry about doing well, but after some time will figure out strategies to cope. And once the difficult task has been completed, they move on to the next assignment. 

  1. What is the difference between a psychologist, psychiatrist, and therapist? How do I know which is the right one for me?

Riyan: A psychiatrist is permitted to prescribe medicine, so their focus is on treating the neurobiological aspect of mental disorders. Psychologists cannot prescribe medication, and will focus on the patient’s sociocultural factors before diagnosing the illness. They are also therapists because they are the ones who create the interventions or treatment plans for patients. 

Psychologists and psychiatrists work together. If psychologists feel that the physical symptoms of a patient are strong, they may refer the person to a psychiatrist first to lessen the symptoms, then ask him or her to come back to continue with other forms of therapy.  

  1. Is there a way I can prevent mental health problems?

Riyan: Practice healthy lifestyle and self-care habits like eating the proper diet, frequently exercising, and getting enough sleep. Get help whenever you feel overwhelmed by your problems, beginning with talking to friends and family. Don’t be afraid to consult a mental health professional if the need calls for it. 

  1. Is there a cure for mental health problems?

Riyan: If by “cure” you mean it will disappear forever, then the answer is “no.” However, mental health problems are treatable. There are many people who recover, but they need to continuously work with psychologists or monitor their lifestyle to reduce incidences of relapse. 

And always remember that having a mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. It is similar to having eyesight problems — there is no cure for nearsightedness, but you can wear corrective lenses and carry on normally for the rest of your life. 

Do you have other questions or concerns about mental health? Type them in the comments below and we’ll try to address it in future articles. Or you can message MindNation on Facebook Messenger if you need someone to talk to. We are available 24/7; it’s completely FREE and absolutely confidential. 

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