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Whayne Herriford: How do I know if my mental health is OK? Consider four general areas to test yourself


How do I know if my mental health is OK?

This is a question I frequently hear when people learn that I am a licensed counselor. And the simple answer is that there is no standard answer.

Just like physical health describes our body’s ability to adjust to environmental stimuli or events which challenge its functioning, mental health describes how well we respond to events in our life that challenge us mentally or emotionally. And just as our bodies change as we grow older, so does our mental health as we learn more and gain more experience.

Though there is no absolute way to measure it, positive mental health depends in general on our ability to successfully experience and process events that we feel are significant.

There are at least four ways that we can measure mental health:

• The ability to express, feel and manage a range of both positive and negative emotions. Humans are constantly exposed to situations that create emotional responses, and everyone has times when they feel challenged if not overwhelmed. The key, though, is whether the impact of this event is significant enough that we are not able to carry out activities-of-daily-living (ADL) such as taking care of ourselves and maintaining responsibilities. Severe depression or anxiety are reactions to these kinds of stressors that can be a cause of concern. Additionally, some people turn to abuse of substances or processes (gambling, internet, etc.) as a way of coping with these feelings and this is another problematic way response.

• The ability to form and maintain healthy relationships with others. Humans are social creatures and being able to interact with and create relationships with others is a critical and important skill. This doesn’t pertain to extraversion versus introversion as there is no one way to develop and maintain relationships. The question is whether you can have friendships or other relationships (including those with family) that are mutually satisfying and beneficial to all parties.

• Ability to cope successfully with change and uncertainty. Another given in life is that things will happen that we can’t predict or control. It’s natural to feel anxiety or sadness as these situations emerge, but a healthy mental status gives us the tools to be able to get through the event without disruption of ADL’s or without other harmful or self-destructive actions.

• The ability to learn. There are several mental health conditions, usually diagnosed in childhood, that affect a person’s ability to learn. These are usually identified through testing or assessment and require interventions to help the person master reading, mathematics, speech or other skills.

As you look at these four general signs of mental health you see that they are not concrete, black and white measures but are variable depending on the individual, the situation they are in and their mindset at the time.

Two people can experience the exact same situation and have totally different reactions.

Whenever you feel that you are not experiencing something as well as you would like, or you see that you are unable to complete your ADL’s or are drifting towards unhealthy behaviors it might be a sign to seek help.

Seeking help from a qualified professional, whether a physician or a counselor/therapist is important.

These people have training and experience in identifying symptoms and appropriately diagnosing conditions as well as helping identify treatment plans and options to address the symptoms and help restore people to a better functioning and happier life.

Whayne Herriford, MS, LPCC is a licensed professional clinical counselor in Ohio and Kentucky and practices in both NKY and Cincinnati. He lives in Bellevue. This column is intended to provide general information to people about mental health-related issues and is not for diagnostic or treatment purposes. You should always consult with a mental health professional when you have concerns about thoughts or feelings. If you have a question you’d like to see addressed in a future column, please send it to whayneherriford@gmail.com.


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