An Overview of Mental Health

By Anjum Khan, MA, PMP, PMI-ACP

The total well-being of a person encompasses the whole of that person, and that means both the mind and the body. The mind is the control seat of the human brain for decision-making processes and cognitive functions, for conscious and unconscious awareness, for emotions, reasoning, memory, and will—basically for all our mental capabilities, and even body movements. With such a key role in our daily lives, the mind also needs caring and nurturing.

So what is mental health?

The American Psychiatric Association (APA) defines mental health as “the foundation for emotions, thinking, communication, learning, resilience and self-esteem.” The World Health Organization (WHO) states that:

“Mental health is an integral and essential component of health… Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

What does this mean?

From childhood through adulthood, our feelings, thoughts, behaviors (actions and reactions) are heavily dependent on mental health. From the decisions and choices we make to the lifestyle and relationships we have, mental health plays a vital and crucial role in how healthy and successful (or unhealthy and debilitating) these aspects of our lives are, at any stage of our lives. Given this, it is important to understand what factors impact one’s mental health.

According to WHO and APA, there are multiple contributing factors that can potentially affect mental health: biological/genetic factors, socio-economic status or drastic changes to this, early life history of abuse and violence, unhealthy lifestyles, and even stress and poor physical health. Considering that there is such a range of potentially risky factors, from genes to environment, this means that anyone is at risk of developing a mental health illness, regardless of one’s gender, age, income status, or race.

What is mental illness?

Mental illness (or disorder) is defined by the APA as,

“…health conditions involving changes in emotion, thinking or behavior (or a combination of these). Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.”

The National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH) further defines mental illness in two categories:

1. Any mental illness (AMI) is defined as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder. AMI can vary in impact, ranging from no impairment to mild, moderate, and even severe impairment; and

2. Serious mental illness (SMI) is defined as a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder resulting in serious functional impairment, which substantially interferes with or limits one or more major life activities. The burden of mental illnesses is particularly concentrated among those who experience disability due to SMI.

Regardless of how mental illness is defined or categorized, one thing is clear: it definitely impacts the quality of life in some way. Mental illnesses are common worldwide, strongly linked with premature death, and impair normal functioning—leading to disability. But it is often an “invisible disability.” Some examples of mental illness include: depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, schizophrenia, dementia, and developmental disorders including autism.

Some facts: poor mental health is common and rapidly increasing

Based on The State of Mental Health in America 2021 report:

  • 19 % adults had a mental illness (over 47 million Americans, or every 5th person)

  • 13.84 % of youth (age 12-17) reported suffering from at least one major depressive episode, with 60% not receiving any treatment

  • There was an increase in suicide and suicide ideation in both adults and youth

For the state of Nevada, it continues to rank the worst in mental health matters:

  • Highest overall prevalence of mental illness and lowest rate of access to care

  • 12.7 % (the highest) of youth have severe major depression

  • Suicide is the second leading cause of death for age group 10-34

Is there help?

YES! Mental health issues are common and nothing to be embarrassed about. There is help. Whether the mental illness is mild or severe, short-term or chronic, treatment and support are available, and in many cases, full recovery is possible. The APA clearly states that, “Mental illness is nothing to be ashamed of. It is a medical problem, just like heart disease or diabetes…and…is treatable.”

There is no doubt that mental health plays a vital role in our general health and well-being. We all desire a good life, and “Good health is an important prerequisite for a good life.”


1. World Health Organization (WHO). “Mental health: strengthening our response.” March 30, 2018. Accessed November 20, 2020.

2. Farlex Partner Medical Dictionary. S.v. "mind." Accessed November 25, 2020.

3. American Psychiatric Association (APA). “What is Mental Illness?” Accessed November 19, 2020. Cited with Permission

4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). “Learn About Mental Health.” January 26, 2018. Accessed November 23, 2020.

5. Adam Felman. “What is mental health?” Medical News Today. April 13, 2020. Accessed November 19, 2020.

6. National Institute of Mental Health (NIMH). “Mental Illness.” November, 2020. Accessed November 25, 2020.

7. The World Bank. “Mental health.” April 02, 2020. Accessed November 20, 2020.

8. Marquez, Patricio. Shining a light on mental illness: An “invisible disability”. 2015. 10.13140/RG.2.1.4438.4086. Accessed November 30, 2020.

9. Maddy Reinert, Theresa Nguyen and Danielle Fritze. The State of Mental Health in America 2021. Mental Health America. 2020. Accessed November 25 2020. Cited with Permission

10. Government Offices of Sweden. New Measures of Wellbeing. Ministry of Finance. August 1, 2017. Accessed November 24, 2020.

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