The Mental Health Continuum: Why Mental Health Looks Different for Everyone

Worried Wells to Severe Mental Illness. What is “mental health”? What does it look like? Is it a permanent diagnosis or is it an ever changing state of mind?

The answer is…it depends. I will admit this answer was something I heard a lot as I studied for years to become a therapist. That is the nature of the work however. Mental health is just as important as physical health, but it is not treatable in the same ways. “Mental health” is on a spectrum. Some individuals go to therapy to discuss small issues that come up on a day-to-day basis. While others go to therapy to manage chronic on-going mental illness. Mental illness is a diagnosable, physiological illness that manifests itself in psychological ways, such as clinical depression, bi-polar disorder, schizophrenia, autism spectrum disorders, and many other diagnosis that are manageable with the correct assistance from a professional.

Example time. If you have a common cold, you will most likely be taking the same medicine as someone else who has a cold. And you both will most likely get better in approximately the same amount of time. Now if you are depressed, you may not be utilizing the same treatment as someone else who is depressed. Because each person’s mind thinks differently, handles stress differently, and responds differently to external stimuli. Therapists have the unique job of taking the time to figure out the right treatment for your mind specifically. Therapy is completely individualized.

There are various ways to approach mental health issues including : self care, talk therapy in an outpatient environment, medication management with a psychiatrist or primary care physician, inpatient care at a rehabilitation center or hospital setting, as well as multiple holistic approaches to maintaining a healthy lifestyle.

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Self care can be a simple solution to managing stress and minor mental health concerns on a day-to-day basis. This often emphasizes the holistic approach to maintaining a healthy mental state. A change to your diet, regular exercise, incorporating self care activities, and socializing with trusted family/friends can all help maintain a lifestyle that encourages a healthy mental state. However, for many managing all these aspects of your life can become overwhelming or maybe you have never felt quite balanced in all of these areas of your life.

Seeing a mental health professional in an outpatient environment (such as a private practice setting or local mental health clinic) can help assist you in getting on the right track in all these areas. Mental health professionals include Marriage & Family Therapists, Licensed Professional Clinical Counselors, and Clinical Psychologists. Seeking out one of these professionals allows you to dedicate an allotted amount of time to talking through the aspects of life that are causing stress, anxiety, sadness, anger, and a plethora of other emotions. Exploring with a therapist where these emotions stem from, how they are affecting you, and solutions to managing these feelings better can greatly improve your mental health. You may see a therapist for a few months or a few years, but the ultimate goal is to get you to a place where you can manage on your own with self care techniques and greater knowledge of your emotions. A mental health professional can also help you discover if a mental illness is what is encroaching on your ability to cope with your life.

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When managing a true mental illness, you want to seek out a Psychiatrist, Mental Health Nurse Practitioner, or your Primary Care Physician to consult with your therapist about the possible inclusion of medication in your mental health treatment. These individuals play a vital role in order to coordinate with your team of mental health professionals. This team works with you to find out what methods of treatment will work best for you as an individual. No two mental illnesses look the same or are managed the same way. Whether it is various dosage levels of medication or frequency of therapy appointments, each individual managing a mental illness will have a unique treatment plan. This team will most likely assist you over an extended period of time and teach you how to reach out for additional help when needed, as a mental illness is often chronic and needs to be managed over your life. Remember though that you are the coach of this team, informing your providers of what feels right, what works best, and describing the experience you are having with all aspects of the treatment.

Inpatient care is what mental health professionals often refer to as “the highest level of care”. Some of the autonomy of the individual is lost at this level because it often dwindles down to the safety of the individual and those around them. The treatment is often decided for the individual by a team of professionals trying to diminish the client’s symptoms and protect them from any harm. For some clients this process begins with a threat of harm to themselves or another identifiable person. Police often become a partner in this treatment process, as they are often the first responders when someone calls for assistance during a suicidal or homicidal threat. They are also usually the ones who admit a client to a hospital for psychiatric treatment. Hospital staff at that point become that individual’s treatment team. This is considered a short term treatment option. The goal is to stabilize certain symptoms and identify a “lower level of care” that can help the individual learn how to cope with their symptoms regularly and prevent emergency situations.

This spectrum of mental health is what makes finding the right fit with a therapist so important. Depending on the challenges you face, your background, the level of care needed, and many other factors one mental health professional may be more helpful than another. You walk on a unique mental health path, and must choose the right team to walk alongside you. Where are you on your mental health journey, and how can therapy be of assistance to you?

If you are in a crisis or emergency situation please contact the Access & Crisis Line at 1-888-724-7240 or call 9-1-1.

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