What is mental health?

What is mental health? Mental health means how healthy your mind and thoughts are. Mental health affects how you think and feel. Learn about mental health problems and different kinds of mental illnesses. Understanding what mental health and mental illness are will help you know what to do if you or someone you know are suffering with mental health problems.

female doctor and patient at a table

In the USA, people see mental health as part of the overall health of a person. They know that many people have mental issues. Americans are not embarrassed to talk about mental health. They look for ways to get better.

As with physical illnesses, many mental problems are not serious. But also like physical illness, some mental illnesses and disorders are very serious. They can cause terrible suffering.

What causes mental illness and disorders?

Mental illness and disorders can have many causes. They include:

  • Genetics (the health history of your family)
  • Environment
  • A stressful job or home life
  • Difficult life events
  • The hormones and chemicals in your brain

How do mental disorders show?

Symptoms are the feelings and behaviors you have because of an illness. Disorder means something that is not working in the usual way. There are many different mental disorders and many different symptoms.

The most common symptoms are sadness, fear, anger, confusion, and unusual behavior. With serious mental health disorders, all of the common symptoms are stronger. People are not able to carry on with everyday life. They may not know what is real or not real.

Types of mental illnesses and disorders

The illnesses on this list are some of the most common mental health problems.

Post-traumatic stress disorder

Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder is called PTSD for short. PTSD is a natural emotional reaction to a terrible or stressful event.


Many people can experience mild depression. Mild depression is when you feel sad or you do not feel like doing anything. If this last for more than two weeks, you may have major depression.

Generalized anxiety disorder

Generalized Anxiety Disorder is stronger than normal anxiety. Everyone is anxious sometimes. But anxiety becomes a disorder when it happens almost all the time.


Schizophrenia is a serious mental illness. It affects the way you see the world and the way you behave. 

Adjustment disorder

Adjustment disorder happens when people do not recover from a big change or difficult experience. Doctors often find refugees and immigrants have an adjustment disorder.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is shown by extreme mood swings. Extreme mood swings are when you go from feeling very sad to feeling very happy to the point of being manic.

Eating disorders

Eating disorders happen when you have problems with eating because you have bad thoughts about your body. You may eat too much or too little and go through extreme weight changes.

Substance abuse

Substance abuse is also called “substance use disorder.” It happens when you drink too much alcohol or take too many drugs. Your use of drugs and alcohol hurts your body and affects your life in bad ways.