Here at the Mental Health Association in New York State, a common question among our staff recently has been, “How do we define Mental Health?”

For a long time, in an effort to combat stigma and ensure access to affordable care, mental health advocates have made efforts to align mental health with overall physical health.  Unfortunately, in doing so, the focus has been on mental illness.  This is not surprising, as even in the healthcare community, attention is more often given to the concept of disease rather than prevention and/or wellness.  On the other hand, as people with lived experience, we want to make clear that recovery is possible and that people with mental health problems are productive employees, good citizens, caring parents and loving partners.

So, back to the question, “How do we define mental health?” We want to talk more about Mental Health as a continuum that defines us every day — it is illness, wellness and all of the space in between.  To better understand Mental Health, we must discuss the development of coping skills to deal with stressors, and the importance of self-care and making healthy lifestyle choices.

Why is this important?  Consider this:  the median time between the onset of mental illness (when symptoms first appear) and when an individual gets appropriate treatment is 10 years.  During that time, a person is likely experiencing periods of increased symptomology and periods of wellness.  Mental Health and recovery are dependent on an individual’s ability to recognize and manage where he/she is each day on the continuum between wellness and illness and take care accordingly, an important piece to quality of life.

By closing the 10 year gap between first symptom onset and when appropriate treatment is received means individuals are recognizing symptoms for what they are. They are also getting appropriate help to manage symptoms as they appear, and in the long term decreasing the chance of crisis and leading to better overall outcomes.

Amy Molloy, Training and Program Specialist

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