Mental Health 101

Keeping your mind healthy takes work throughout all stages and phases of life. Just like keeping your body in shape, good mental and emotional health is part of primary health care and wellness. Your thoughts and feelings can influence your body in many ways. Mental health and physical health are intrinsically linked, and each can have a major effect on the other. Getting and staying mentally and emotionally well can make it easier to be physically well, and vice versa. And your wellness can suffer if you encounter mental or emotional illness, just the same as if you were to experience a physical illness. Positive mental health allows people to realize their full potential, deal with the stresses of life, have successful relationships, work productively, and contribute to their communities.

Mental illness is a very common experience. In the United States, 1 in 5 adults will deal with a mental health issue every year, and the World Health Organization has said that mental and substance abuse disorders are the leading cause of disability worldwide. Unfortunately, there is still stigma and discrimination associated with mental illness. Many misunderstandings about mental health and wellness and their relationship with physical health still exist.

Risk Factors & Recovery

Risk factors for mental illnesses like depression or anxiety are varied. Anyone can be affected, regardless of race, age, gender, or socioeconomic status. Mental illness has nothing to do with weakness or being lazy. People with mental illness cannot just “snap out of it” by trying harder, and many people need help recovering. Some factors that increase the likelihood of poor mental health include:

  • Biological factors, like brain chemistry or family history of mental health problems.
  • Social factors, like poverty, stress, or discrimination and exclusion.
  • Life experiences, like trauma or abuse.

Stress, the way you feel when you are under abnormal pressure, can also affect mental health. All sorts of situations can cause stress, from daily matters like work, relationships, and finances to major events like a move or divorce. Sometimes, stress can actually be positive. Stress can improve focus and performance during isolated situations like job interviews, but stress is only healthy if it doesn’t last very long. Too much stress, or stress that continues over the long term, can lead to physical and emotional exhaustion. When you are stressed, it is even more difficult to devote the necessary time to maintaining your mental and physical health. Effectively managing stress and regular exercise are keys to good emotional and mental health.

Recovery is possible. Having a mental illness does not mean that your life is over, that you can’t handle holding down a job or having a relationship, or that you will never feel good again. Many people recover completely from mental illness, though treatment can be a long process or even last a lifetime. Recovery means that you improve your ability to live, work, and participate fully in life.

There are 2 traditional types of treatment for mental illness: pharmacologic (drugs) and talk therapy (going to a psychologist or counselor). Many people can benefit from both. The type of treatment you receive depends on the particular problem you are having, so it is important to talk to your midwife or other health care provider to get advice. Your midwife, as your primary care provider, can prescribe medications for you and discuss alternative and holistic therapies to try. Recovery is possible, and it begins with seeking help.

There are many other therapies that complement traditional treatments for mental health issues. Evidence-based therapies such as yoga, meditation, exercise, massage, and music therapy can all help when dealing with stress or mental illness.

Everyone needs good support systems, especially when faced with mental or physical challenges. You need someone you can trust to listen to you and give you good advice without judging you. Reach out to people you know have your best interests in mind – partners, parents, or good friends. You can also find groups of people facing similar issues, and can learn from and support each other. Building positive, healthy relationships are key elements of recovery.

Depression & Anxiety in Women

Depression and anxiety are 2 of the most common mental health issues. They both affect women more commonly than men, and lesbians, gays, and transgender or gender-variant people even more often.

If you are in crisis, call 911 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or go to

Depression is more than just a feeling of being “down in the dumps” or sad for a few days. The feelings do not go away. They persist and interfere with your everyday life. More than 20 million people in the United States have depression. Symptoms include:

  • Persistent sadness or emptiness
  • Loss of interest or pleasure in activities, including sex
  • Change in weight (loss or gain)
  • Difficulty sleeping or oversleeping
  • Energy loss and fatigue
  • Difficulty concentrating, remembering, and making decisions
  • Feelings of worthlessness, and thoughts of death or suicide

Anxiety is more than just feeling stressed or nervous about one particular thing. Generalized anxiety disorder means having persistent, excessive, and unrealistic worry about normal, everyday things. Sometimes it’s difficult to imagine just getting through the day. Women are twice as likely as men to be affected by generalized anxiety disorder. Symptoms include:

  • Constant, chronic, and unsubstantiated worry, often about health, family, money, or work. This worrying disrupts social activities and interferes with life.
  • Physical symptoms of GAD include the following:
    • muscle tension
    • fatigue
    • restlessness
    • difficulty sleeping
    • irritability
    • edginess

Depression and anxiety are 2 separate issues, but many people encounter them both. They can both be constant or can come and go.

Mental Health During & After Pregnancy

Depression is already more common in women than in men, and it’s especially common among women between the ages of 15 and 44. This is also the period when most women become pregnant. You may experience depression for the first time during pregnancy, or you may notice that your depression has gotten worse. Many women also experience depression after a baby is born or after suffering from a pregnancy loss.

Medication treatment during pregnancy is something many people with depression are concerned about because of the risk of the drugs harming the baby. The most common medications used to treat depression are called SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors), like Celexa, Lexapro, Prozac, Luvox, Paxil, or Zoloft. It is difficult for scientists to determine exactly what the risks are if you are taking SSRIs – they do not cause birth defects, but there is a small chance that some SSRIs might have side effects for babies when they are born or while they are breastfeeding. You should always talk to your midwife or other health care provider before stopping or changing the way you take your medication. The risks to your own health that might happen if you abruptly stop taking your antidepressants are likely to far outweigh any potential risks to your baby.

Postpartum depression (PPD) will affect about 1 in 8 new moms during the first year after birth. As many as 3 out of 4 people who have just given birth will have short periods of mood swings, sadness, or irritability during the first few weeks – that’s sometimes called the “baby blues.” Postpartum depression is more serious. The exact cause is probably a combination of the hormonal changes your body goes through after you have a baby and other personal or family risk factors.

Symptoms of PPD include:

  • Feeling overwhelmed or like a failure as a mother
  • Feelings of panic, anxiousness, and insecurity
  • Fear that you will hurt yourself or your baby
  • Feeling guilty or crying a lot
  • Feeling like you are not normal or real anymore
  • Inability to make decisions, concentrate, or focus
  • Thinking the baby might be better off without you

If you are in crisis, call 911 or 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or go to

If you think that you are having any of these symptoms, talk to your midwife or other health care provider immediately. They can discuss treatment options and alternative and holistic therapies. You are not alone. You are not a bad parent. You deserve help, and you can get it.

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