Mental illness is increasingly common with one in four people suffering from mental health problems at some point in their lives. Mental health problems can affect everyone regardless of age, gender or race. There’s a great deal of stigma attached to mental illness and many sufferers don’t seek help due to fear of discrimination. But what is mental health?

Mental health isn’t just the absence of a mental disorder but instead a state of well-being which allows you to function properly in day-to-day life. When you’re in good mental health you’re able to cope with the normal stress of life, to deal with a wide range of emotions and to get by in the face of change or uncertainty.

Mental health problems can be as simple as worries that we all experience on a day-to-day basis, to complex psychological disorders such as schizophrenia or depression. Mental health problems can appear in many forms and can affect sufferers in unique ways. The causes of mental health problems are much harder to diagnose than a physical disease as there is usually no single cause. Instead mental disorders are caused by complex reasons specific to the individual involved.

Mental health issues can also be triggered by environmental factors. Difficult life events such as the loss of someone close, prolonged stress or substance abuse can contribute to the decline of mental well-being. Use of illegal drugs or drinking excessive amounts of alcohol over a long period can cause mental health to worsen especially in those who are already vulnerable. Fortunately there are many treatments for those experiencing mental health issues such as counselling, psychotherapy or self-help strategies.

There are several ways you can keep yourself in good mental health. Maintaining a healthy diet and moderating the amount of alcohol you drink can contribute to mental well-being. Keeping physically active can also help. Most important however is to talk about your feelings with others and if you feel you need help then don’t be afraid to ask for it.