The Importance of Good Mental Health

What is mental health?

Mental health includes emotional, psychological and social well-being. It can affect how we think, act and feel. Mental health can also determine how we handle stressful situations and how we relate to others. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, maintaining good mental health is crucial at every stage of life.

Why is mental health important?

The CDC reports mental health and physical health are equally important because mental health challenges can contribute to physical health issues. For example, depression can increase the risk for health issues like diabetes, heart disease and stroke. Conversely, chronic physical health conditions can increase the risk for mental illness.

How common are mental illnesses?

According to the CDC, more than 25% of adults in the U.S. live with a mental illness. More than 20% of teens aged 13–18 either currently or at some point during their life have had a seriously debilitating mental illness. Nearly 25% of adults in the U.S. live with a serious mental illness such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder or major depression.

What causes mental health problems?

The CDC reports all racial, ethnic and socioeconomic groups can experience mental disorders. While the exact causes of many mental disorders are unknown, many risk factors have been identified. Those can include biological factors like brain trauma, psychological factors like stressful events and sociocultural factors like poverty. According to the CDC, family history or mental or addictive disorders suggest that genetics can be a factor. However, studies show that many mental health conditions can be attributed to a complex interplay of genetics and environmental factors.

What are some common mental health problems?

Some of the most common mental health conditions include anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, dissociative disorder, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD), post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), schizophrenia and obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD).

How to improve mental health?

One of the largest contributing factors to poor mental health is stress. Stress can cause feelings of fear, anger, sadness, worry, numbness or frustration. It can cause changes in appetite, energy level, desires or interests. Stress can cause problems concentrating or making decisions and difficulty sleeping or nightmares. Stress can bring on physical symptoms like headaches, body pains, stomach problems or skin rashes. The CDC reports stress can also worsen chronic illnesses and mental health conditions and can cause an increase in use of alcohol or illegal drugs or the misuse of prescription drugs.

There are several healthy ways to cope with stress. The CDC recommends taking care of your body with a healthy diet, exercise, regular health appointments and good sleep habits. Avoiding negative news stories and social media can help decrease stress. Meditation, yoga or stretching and deep breaths can also help. Limiting alcohol intake and avoiding drug use is recommended. Perhaps most importantly, connect with others and share how you’re feeling and try to connect with your community. Take time to unwind and take a break from your routine to make time for yourself.

What kind of mental health support is available?

Treatment for people with diagnosable mental conditions is individualized and may include counseling, psychotherapy, medication therapy and rehabilitation. The CDC reports research in genetics and neuroscience is providing new insights and approaches for more effective interventions. Common mental health services include crisis services, support and therapy, substance use support and hospitalization.

Who prescribes medication for mental health?

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors who are able to diagnose mental health conditions, provide therapy and prescribe and monitor medications. Some psychiatrists with additional training specialize in child and adolescent mental health, substance use disorders or geriatric care.

Mental Health Services

What are the four types of mental health services?

The four types of mental health services can be categorized as psychiatric hospitalization, inpatient or residential mental health treatment, outpatient mental health treatment and dual diagnosis treatment, according to the CDC.

What is psychiatric hospitalization?

Psychiatric hospitalization is a mental health service option for when a person with a mental illness cannot remain in their home. Reasons for this can range from the patient deciding this is the best decision for themself to the patient displaying dangerous behavior toward themself or others. Psychiatric hospitalization can allow a patient to be closely monitored and accurately diagnosed, have their medications stabilized or adjusted, and remain under monitoring in the event their condition worsens. Inpatient care can be provided by psychiatric wards within hospitals or at private psychiatric hospitals. Care is generally administered by mental health professionals like psychiatrists, psychiatric nurses and group therapists.

What is inpatient mental health treatment?

Inpatient mental health treatment is a mental health service option that generally lasts no more than 90 days. Residential treatment in a home or home-like setting generally lasts for 90 days or longer. Inpatient mental health programs are offered for patients suffering from mental health conditions and provide care and risk assessment around the clock. This can be critical when a patient poses a serious risk to themselves or others. Patients with acute mood, behavior or thinking disorders or those requiring intense medication that may cause side effects are often placed in inpatient care facilities. Most inpatient treatment facilities are closed-door, ensuring that patients are unable to leave. This is critical for patients with severe symptoms or those experiencing suicidal thoughts or actions.

What is residential mental health treatment?

In contrast with inpatient care, residential treatment is aimed at a longer-term approach to restoring a patient’s well-being and providing a nurturing environment that promotes recovery. Residential treatment is generally less restrictive for patients in need of mental health services. The eventual goal is for the patient to prepare for life after treatment and regain independent function.

What is outpatient mental health treatment?

Outpatient mental health treatment allows patients to receive care without staying in a hospital or other care facility. This treatment option includes services like counseling, group therapy, medical consultations or psychiatric analysis during scheduled sessions. The goal of outpatient treatment is to allow patients to address mental health challenges in an independent setting under the care of professionals. Therapies can include individual, group or family counseling, along with behavioral and interpersonal therapy.

What is dual diagnosis treatment?

About half of Americans who have a mental illness will also have a substance use disorder at some point in their lives. These conditions occur together frequently, according to the CDC, and the interactions of the two conditions can worsen both. While both conditions often occur together, it does not necessarily mean that one caused the other. Medical professionals frequently have difficulty discovering which disorder began first in patients. In fact, researchers believe common risk factors contribute to both disorders, and while mental disorders can lead to substance abuse due to a patient self-medicating, substance use can also change the brain in ways that make them more likely to develop a mental illness. Treatment options for dual diagnosis must address both conditions. Treatments include behavioral therapies and medication. Support groups can also provide emotional and social support.

How are mental health disorders treated?

Mental health care job titles can vary by state, but NAMI provides some context to the various types of providers. They can include therapists, psychologists, counselors, clinicians, clinical social workers and psychiatrists.

What are common medications used to treat mental illness?

Medications such as antidepressants and antipsychotics are often prescribed to treat mental disorders. The CDC reports some mental illnesses respond well to such medications.

What is psychotherapy?

Talking to a mental health professional in a one-on-one or group setting can help patients work through the challenges of an illness and manage its symptoms. Cognitive behavioral therapy is a form of psychotherapy that focuses on helping patients change negative behaviors through patterns.

What are some alternative therapies used to treat mental illness?

Alternative therapies have shown success in treating some conditions like depression. Some examples include acupuncture, herbal remedies, massages, meditation and yoga. Patients are cautioned to consult with their doctor or therapist before taking herbal remedies or supplements that could have an effect on other prescribed medications. 

What are some brain stimulation therapies?

Some patients do not find relief through medication or other therapies. In those cases, providers may recommend brain stimulation therapies. Brain stimulation therapies change the way nerves and brain cells process chemicals and respond to stimuli. Examples of these treatments include electroconvulsive therapy and transcranial magnetic stimulation.  

What are the different kinds of mental health care providers?

Mental health care job titles can vary by state, but NAMI provides some context to the various types of providers. They can include therapists, psychologists, counselors, clinicians, clinical social workers and psychiatrists.

What is a therapist?

Mental health therapists can help a patient better understand and cope with their behaviors, feelings and thoughts. Therapists guide and improve a patient’s ability to overcome challenges and achieve life goals. A therapist can also help diagnose mental health conditions.

What is a psychologist?

A psychologist holds a doctoral degree in psychology or other mental health specialty. Psychologists are trained to evaluate a patient’s mental state through interviews, evaluations and testing. A psychologist can make a diagnosis and provide therapy aimed at helping the patient better understand their mental state and change behaviors. It is important to note that in most cases a psychologist is not licensed to prescribe or monitor medication.

What is a psychiatrist?

Psychiatrists are licensed medical doctors who have completed psychiatric training. Psychiatrists can diagnose mental health conditions, provide therapy and prescribe and monitor medications. A psychiatrist will hold a degree as a Doctor of Medicine and complete residency training in psychiatry.

What is a counselor or clinician?

A counselor is generally a masters-level mental health care professional trained to evaluate a patent’s mental health. A counselor can operate under a number of job titles, including counselor, clinician, therapist or something else, based on the location and treatment setting. It is important to note that this type of mental health care provider generally cannot prescribe or monitor medication.

What is a clinical social worker?

A clinical social worker is trained to evaluate a patient’s mental state and employ therapeutic techniques. Clinical social workers are masters-level mental health care providers, much like counselors, but are also trained in case management and advocacy services. 

Natural Mental Health Treatments

What are some natural mental health treatments?

The National Institutes of Health notes that there are many natural ways to boost mental health, from herbal and natural remedies to alternative therapies. Some alternative mental health treatments include supplements and nutrients, Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT), relaxation therapy, Qigong, gratitude writing, meditation and music medicine.

What are some supplements and nutrients to boost mental health?

The National Library of Medicine lists these popular herbal and natural remedies used in psychiatry:

  • Ginkgo Biloba
  • Melatonin
  • Omega-3 fatty acids
  • S-adenosyl methionine (SAME)
  • John’s wort
  • Valerian

It is important to note that each remedy listed above can treat various illnesses but can also bring about a number of adverse effects or interactions. Anyone considering the use of herbal or natural remedies should consult their physician in advance to prevent serious adverse effects.

What is Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT)?

The American Psychological Association defines Cognitive Behavioral Therapy as a form of treatment that can be effective in treating anxiety, depression, alcohol and drug use, eating disorders and even severe mental illness. CBT at its core was developed with the idea that psychological problems are often rooted in unhelpful behaviors and ways of thinking that can be treated through changes in behavioral patterns. CBT therapists place an emphasis on helping people learn to be their own therapists.

What is relaxation therapy?

According to the Mayo Clinic, relaxation techniques can reduce stress symptoms and improve quality of life, especially for those experiencing poor mental health.

The Mayo Clinic reports practicing relaxation techniques can have the following benefits:

  • Slowing heart rate
  • Lowering blood pressure
  • Slowing breathing rate
  • Improving digestion
  • Controlling blood sugar levels
  • Reducing activity of stress hormones
  • Increasing blood flow to major muscles
  • Reducing muscle tension and chronic pain
  • Improving focus and mood
  • Improving sleep quality
  • Lowering fatigue
  • Reducing anger and frustration
  • Boosting confidence to handle problems

To get the most benefit, use relaxation techniques along with other positive coping methods, such as:

  • Thinking positively
  • Finding humor
  • Problem-solving
  • Managing time and priorities
  • Exercising regularly
  • Eating a healthy diet
  • Getting enough sleep
  • Spending time outside
  • Reaching out to supportive family and friends

The Mayo Clinic lists three types of relaxation techniques, including autogenic relaxation, progressive muscle relaxation and visualization, along with several other techniques.

What is autogenic relaxation?

Autogenic relaxation comes from within and employs visual imagery and body awareness to reduce stress. The repetition of words or suggestions is thought to reduce muscle tension and stress. The technique calls for imagining a peaceful setting then focusing on relaxed breathing. This slows the heart rate and can help focus.

What is meditation?

The Mayo Clinic defines meditation as a type of mind-body complementary medicine that can produce a deep state of relaxation and a tranquil mind. Meditation can bring a sense of calm, peace and balance that can benefit emotional well-being and overall health.

The emotional and physical benefits of meditation can include:

  • Gaining a new perspective on stressful situations
  • Building skills to manage your stress
  • Increasing self-awareness
  • Focusing on the present
  • Reducing negative emotions
  • Increasing imagination and creativity
  • Increasing patience and tolerance
  • Lowering resting heart rate
  • Lowering resting blood pressure
  • Improving sleep quality

Be sure to consult a physician before attempting meditation. In some rare cases, meditation could worsen symptoms associated with certain mental health conditions.

What is Qigong meditation?

Healthline lists Qigong meditation as a traditional Chinese healing process that combines controlled breathing, gentle movement and meditation. Quigong is believed to treat a variety of health conditions like high blood pressure, heart disease, diabetes, chronic fatigue, insomnia and body pain. Research shows the practice of Quigong can improve balance and reduce stress levels.

What is gratitude writing?

According to, gratitude writing is a tool to keep track of the good things in life. Regular journaling about positive experiences can help people prepare and strengthen them for times of stress. It can also improve focus and reduce nighttime stress levels, which can promote better sleep habits.

What is music medicine?  

The American Psychological Association says music has long been recognized as a successful form of therapy, but the use of song, sound frequencies and rhythm, or music medicine, is a relatively new practice. Several new studies appear to show the benefits of music medicine on mental and physical health. Music can boost the body’s immune system and reduce stress. Listening to music was shown to be more effective than prescription medications in reducing stress and anxiety in preparation for surgery. Researchers are also exploring whether vibrations found in music and absorbed through the body can help ease the symptoms of several diseases, along with depression.

How can mental health services be improved?

Many deficiencies in mental health care have been identified, and several solutions have been identified to help. Prevention, closing gaps in treatment and access, improving crisis response, aligning partners, policies and programs, and reducing stigma have all been viewed as deficiencies. Here are some ways to improve the system.

How to improve mental illness prevention?

Mental Health America reports studies show that the effects of mental illness can be mitigated or even prevented by early intervention. Half of those who develop a mental health disorder do so by the age of 14. The time between prenatal development and early adulthood is critical, yet the mental health of children is often ignored until it reaches crisis levels. Mental health problems must be identified and treated early for optimal results.

How to close gaps in treatment and access?

According to NAMI, far too many mental health provider networks are inadequate, and to make matters worse, some health insurance companies use restrictive standards to limit coverage for health care. Often these standards make it extremely difficult to qualify for adequate coverage. NAMI provides resources to those unfairly denied coverage for mental health or substance use treatment by their insurance providers to help appeal those coverage denials.  

How to improve mental health crisis response?

First responders are often called to intervene in mental health crises. While first responders understand the importance of good mental health and are generally prepared to care for those injured or distressed physically, training for critical intervention can be lacking. FHE Health reports crisis intervention training is crucial for first responders to properly handle a mental crisis situation. In the U.S., nearly 60% of adults experiencing a mental health condition do not receive any help. Nearly 40 million Americans experience some type of anxiety and more than 16 million suffer from depression, according to NAMI. Frequently, a 911 call to an emergency situation or crime scene involves an individual who is living with some form of mental illness. For example, 24% of those incarcerated have a recent history of mental illness. First responders who receive mental health crisis training are more capable of recognizing when a mental health condition or crisis may be present. This knowledge is critical to how first responders respond to the situation and what services they provide to the person. Research shows that police officers who receive crisis intervention training improve mental health crisis outcomes. Those officers are able to better gauge use of force in emergency situations and are more likely to negotiate with and work toward connecting the individual to the services they need. Overall, research shows crisis response teams that undergo crisis intervention training are less likely to arrest those suffering a mental health crisis than those that do not receive specialized crisis intervention training.

How to align mental health partners, policies and programs?

The National Library of Medicine reports collaborative care models (CCM) can work to deliver mental health and physical health care for people who need both. The basic components of mental health CCMs are predicated by the interrelated principles of population-based care, measurement-based care and stepped care. CCM could be an effective strategy to support health care reforms in the United States.

How to reduce mental health stigma?

NAMI lists nine ways to fight the stigma surrounding mental health:

  • Talk openly about mental health
  • Educate yourself about mental health
  • Be conscious of language
  • Encourage equality between physical and mental illness
  • Show compassion for those with mental illness
  • Choose empowerment over shame
  • Be honest about treatment
  • Don’t harbor self-stigma
  • Let the media know they’re being stigmatizing

A helping heart for Iowa

Heart of Iowa Community Services connects you and your family with service providers who best fit your needs. To find out more about our mental health resources, go to: