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What it Means to Be Mentally Healthy: A Guide for 2024

how to be mentally healthy

Just decades ago, mental health was rarely talked about. Struggles with anxiety, trauma, and depression were often kept under wraps, preventing people from getting the support they need and deserve. Now, mental health is widely discussed—and becoming mentally healthy is a top priority for young Americans. 

According to new research from Deloitte, almost 80 percent of Gen Z and 73 percent of millennials in the U.S. have concerns about their mental health, contributing to persistent feelings of stress and anxiety. And Gen Zs agree that mental health, more holistically, is among the top concerns of their generation (alongside cost of living, unemployment, and climate change). As such, more and more of these young people are prioritizing self-care. Over 90 percent of young people in 2023 currently use self-care methods to manage their mental health at home, while an increasing number are receiving mental health care services like therapy.

For some, however, it’s unclear what it means to be mentally healthy. What’s the difference between good mental health and poor mental health? Can you be mentally healthy, but still have bad days? And how do you know if (and when) you need extra, professional support? These are just some of the questions that are top-of-mind for many young people today. And we’ll uncover some answers here.

But first, let’s start with the basics.

What is Mental Health?

Mental health is all about our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. It plays a role in how we relate to others, make choices, and cope with stress. Mental health also affects how we think, feel, and act. When you are mentally healthy, your feelings, thought patterns, emotions, actions, and relationships are all stable or in a good place.

The definition of mental health and wellbeing are always evolving. More recently, experts suggest that part of being mentally healthy has to do with valuing life. Those who are mentally healthy will typically appreciate themselves, other people, and their environment. Not only this, but they also engage with life. This may mean setting goals, making plans, honing skills, pursuing hobbies, or positively interacting with others. This also means being able to adapt to changes or challenges that life throws at a person.

It’s important to note that being mentally healthy doesn’t mean you won’t have hard days. Even those with excellent mental health will still experience stress and sadness from time to time. However, those who are mentally healthy are able to navigate these times and effectively cope with negativity.

Why is Being Mentally Healthy Important?

When we talk about being healthy, we often assume we’re talking about physical health—exercise, nutrition, etc. But mental health is an equally important part of a person’s overall health. It promotes a high quality of life. 

When you are mentally healthy, you are positioned to live a life that you love. You are able to feel good about yourself inside and out. You can establish relationships and connect with others on a meaningful basis. You can navigate challenges, increase your productivity, enjoy daily activities, and look forward to the days ahead. Good mental health is generally associated with:

  • Improved mood
  • Reduced anxiety and stress
  • Inner peace
  • Clear thinking
  • Strong relationships
  • Healthy coping mechanisms
  • Enhanced motivation
  • Increased productivity
  • Good self-esteem
  • Positive outlook
  • Better physical health

The last bullet on this list may surprise you, but it’s true: mental health and physical health go hand-in-hand. When you are mentally healthy, you are more protected against chronic diseases and long-term illnesses. (For example, did you know depression increases the risk of long-lasting physical health problems like diabetes and heart disease?) According to Talkspace, a leader in mental health conversations: “Our mental health is something that impacts our eating and sleeping habits and has a lot to do with our physical health as well. It is important to address our mental health needs, or oftentimes we will feel the impact of it in other areas of our health as well.”

Good Mental Health vs. Poor Mental Health

When you are in a good state of mental health, i.e. “mentally healthy,” you are able to regulate your emotions, cope with everyday challenges, and see the positive aspects of life. You can form healthy relationships and engage in behaviors or activities that contribute to your overall wellbeing. In simple terms, you are able to think, feel, and act in positive, healthy ways.

Poor mental health can affect people from time-to-time, and some people will develop mental health disorders. Poor mental health, generally, means that you are experiencing negative thoughts and moods, and your behaviors are impacted as a result. What were once common problems might feel impossible to cope with. You might feel consistently overwhelmed, anxious, or depressed without reasonable cause.

While “bad days” happen, mental health disorders can also happen; they impact people of all ages and from all walks of life. It is important to know the signs of a larger mental health problem. If you are researching what it means to be mentally healthy – and, as such, what it means to have poor mental health, ask yourself these questions:

  • Have you experienced negative thought patterns, emotions, or mood swings for an extended period of time (e.g. several weeks)? 
  • Are these issues causing problems at school, work, or in social settings?
  • Have you struggled to build or maintain good relationships with others, because of your mental health?
  • Are you experiencing physical issues without an explicable cause, like aches and pains, excessive tiredness, or a general lack of energy and helplessness?
  • Have you lost interest in once loved activities or responsibilities?
  • Are you using drugs or alcohol to try and numb or escape these symptoms?
  • Have you thought of harming yourself or others?
  • Have your sleeping patterns changed (i.e. sleeping more or less than usual)?

If you answered yes to any of the above questions, and your symptoms have persisted for days or weeks on end, a mental health disorder may be the cause. We highly recommend seeking a mental health screening from your doctor or a treatment provider. And remember, there is no need to be embarrassed about this! Mental heath disorders are very common and very treatable, once you have a diagnosis.

How to Be Mentally Healthy

Whether or not you are facing a mental health disorder, there are steps you can take to prioritize your mental health, this year and beyond. Becoming mentally healthy means prioritizing self-care and finding healthy ways to cope with negative thoughts or emotions. In order to do establish this, we recommend:

  • Practicing self-care each day
  • Taking time to do things you love, whether that’s reading, music, art, etc.
  • Staying active and moving your body
  • Getting outside and spending time in nature
  • Eating nutritious foods to nourish your body
  • Getting an adequate amount of sleep each night
  • Limiting your screen time to promote good sleep
  • Practicing mindfulness, whether that’s through meditation, journaling, or yoga
  • Connecting with others who support and love you
  • Prioritizing your physical health and wellbeing
  • Reaching out to family and friends if you need help

Research supports the direct impact that exercise, nutrition, nature, sleep, and connectedness all have on your overall mental health and wellbeing. At the end of the day, it’s essential to continue to put yourself first and take care of your basic needs. Nourish your body, take care of your mind, embrace your loved ones, and do things that make you happy. These can all promote a mentally healthy state.

If, of course, you are struggling to accomplish good mental health, it’s important to take that next steps and seek out additional support. As we discussed above, more people are receiving mental health treatment than ever before. This is partly due to the rise in conditions like depression and anxiety (since the COVID-19 pandemic), but also due to the fact that young people are now recognizing the importance of mental health—and prioritizing their own. If you are struggling, do not hesitate to talk to your primary care provider about your concerns. You can also contact Turnbridge for guidance and support.

Turnbridge is a mental health treatment provider with programs dedicated to helping young men and young women, as well as teenagers, overcome mental health struggles. We have outpatient and residential treatment programs that can be tailored to your individual needs. Call us at 877-581-1793 to speak with one of our specialists.