Why Is Mental Health Important?

Mental health consists of a variety of facets, such as emotional, social and psychological health. When people are mentally healthy, they can enjoy their lives, establish rewarding relationships and cope with day-to-day stressors. However, when consequential environmental factors intrude, they can trigger symptoms such as depression, anxiety or addiction to controlled substances. Factors that may hinder people in managing their daily lives can cover a broad spectrum, from a major car accident that impacts health and wellness, to social factors such as racism or exclusion from social groups.

According to 2021 data from the nonprofit organization Mental Health America (MHA), approximately 19% (47 million) of American adults live with some form of mental illness, and 4.5% are living with severe mental illness. The organization further notes that 7.67% of adults reported having a substance abuse order within the past year, and 4.34% reported having serious thoughts about suicide. Also significant is that 13.84% of youth aged 12 to 17 reported suffering from at least one major depressive episode in the past 12 months. Although mental illnesses may not be immediately apparent from people’s outward appearance, this does not lessen the condition’s debilitating impact on lives. With treatment, it is possible for people to improve their quality of life. Mental health is an important component of overall health, and learning about mental illnesses can help you be aware of the symptoms and recognize when someone may need help.

Types of Mental Illness

A number of conditions fall under the definition of mental illnesses. In addition to anxiety, depression, eating disorders and addiction, mental illnesses also include diseases such as bipolar disorder and cyclothymic disorder. Psychotic disorders such as schizophrenia involve distorted thinking and possibly even hearing voices or seeing images that are not real. Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) and personality disorders such as paranoid personality disorder can interfere with social relationships and work or school as well.


Anxiety disorders involve feelings of anxiety that are more serious than the typical nervousness or stress that people feel in some situations. While it’s normal to feel nervous about a test or when you are meeting new people, someone with an anxiety disorder will feel excessively fearful or scared when confronted with some situations. Anxiety disorders may lead to avoiding situations that cause fear, so school or work performance may suffer. Phobias and panic disorders are connected with anxiety disorders.


Feeling sad is among the natural responses to life. Depression is more serious than typical sadness, so serious that it impacts daily functioning. People with depression often experience disruptions in sleep, either sleeping more or less than usual. An inability to concentrate is also common, and changes in appetite usually lead people to either lose or gain weight. Although depression’s hopeless feelings can seem debilitating, depression is treatable. Diagnosis of depression can take time, but once it’s diagnosed, medication and therapy can be effective in mitigating symptoms.

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are a type of mental illness that involve either eating too much or severely restricting food intake. People struggling with eating disorders have excessive concerns and fears about their weight. Anorexia involves restrictive eating due to fears of being fat and gaining weight. Bulimia nervosa involves binging and then purging to eliminate excess calories. Binge eating also involves overeating, but this type of behavior does not involve purging. Treatment of eating disorders often involves medication, nutritional counseling and therapy.

Substance Abuse/Addiction

Substance abuse involves misuse of drugs or alcohol or similar substances. People who abuse substances can often continue to be functional and manage their lives. However, with habitual abuse of controlled substances, some people may develop a debilitating addiction. Addiction is a disease that impacts every area of life, disrupting personal relationships, school, work, finances and health. Using the controlled substance becomes the most important thing in the addict’s life. Treatment and recovery from addiction can be challenging, but with ongoing effort, many people achieve sobriety.

The Importance of Mental Health

Students researching why mental health is important should know that it also has a direct correlation with physical health. People with positive mental health also have stronger personal relationships with family and friends, and they tend to make better life choices. Although it’s normal for life to have ups and downs, mental stability helps people manage both the good times and the not-so-good times. Because mental illnesses can be treatable, especially with early diagnosis, these diseases do not have to be debilitating. Instead, people can be proactive and take a holistic approach to caring for themselves by paying attention to both their physical and emotional well-being.

Address Disparities in Mental Health

Students interested in pursuing a career in mental health should start by obtaining the knowledge and skills they’ll need to succeed.

Completing an advanced education — such as the online Master of Public Health (MPH) at the University of Nevada, Reno — can provide the tools to address mental health disparities in various communities. Graduates are equipped to contribute to such strategies as increasing access to health care, substance abuse treatment programs, and prevention and intervention programs like domestic violence prevention and survivor support. GRE scores are not required, and most students can complete the program in as few as 24 months.Discover how the online Master of Public Health program at the University of Nevada, Reno can prepare you for the job you want.


Mental Health America, Prevalence Data 2021

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University of Nevada, Reno Online Master of Public Health