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How to Achieve Good Mental Health

Most Americans believe that good emotional health is just as important as good physical health. In fact, in a survey conducted in 1996, APA found that 84 percent of Americans feel psychological health is important for overall good health.

The survey also found some disturbing news -- 47 percent of Americans don't know when it's appropriate to see a mental health professional and 68 percent don't know how to find a mental health professional to help them.

People may need professional help to maintain good psychological health in much the same way that you need a dentist to examine a toothache, a physician to set a broken bone, and a lawyer to answer legal questions.

"One of the ways to achieve good mental health is to talk to people you trust about what's bothering you," said Dorothy Cantor, Psy.D., former president of the American Psychological Association. "Try not to turn a bad day into a major catastrophe -- we all have bad days once in a while. But, if time passes and you're still feeling overwhelmed by problems in your life, even after you have talked to people who you love, admire and trust, then perhaps it's time to talk to a mental health professional."

When you have a question about your emotional health, psychologists can be a great resource. Psychologists have the necessary background and education to help you resolve your problems and help you find solutions you may not have known existed.

After graduation from college, psychologists spend an average of seven years in graduate education training and research before receiving a doctoral degree. As part of their professional training, they must complete a supervised clinical internship in a hospital or organized health setting and at least one year of post-doctoral supervised experience before they can practice independently in any health care arena.

According to Dr. Cantor, learning to talk about your problems and concerns is an important part of taking good care of yourself and maintaining good psychological health.

"When you have good emotional health, you're able to experience feelings, share them appropriately and not be overwhelmed by them. That doesn't mean you can never be angry or sad. It means finding a balance and expressing your feelings appropriately," said Dr. Cantor.

Good psychological health means having the mental energy to function well at home, at work and at play. "It means being able to eat, sleep and relax without feeling anxious, depressed or worried," she said.

How to maintain good mental health

In addition to taking care of your loved ones and your career -- it is important that you take care of yourself. "Find time to do things you enjoy -- things that you're passionate about. Spend time exercising and eating well," suggested Dr. Cantor.

She warns that when you put yourself last on the priority list, you're not going to be able to maintain good psychological health. "In some instances, women put themselves low on the priority list and don't take care of themselves. They become more concerned with taking care of everyone else and they may forget about themselves. Men, on the other hand, have a tendency to ignore signals that something is distressing them and typically won't talk about their problems.

Good psychological health vs. good physical health

Psychological health affects physical health. "We've been told for so long to get physical checkups, but taking care of our emotional well being has been sorely overlooked," she said. "We are 'whole' people -- whole in the sense that our minds and bodies are connected. If we only take care of our physical well-being and not our emotional well-being, it could come back to haunt us."

"When we're doing the things that enable us to have good emotional health, we're far more likely to maintain both the level of physical and emotional health we need. We feel energetic and more productive at home and at work," said Dr. Cantor.

Copyright © 1996 American Psychological Association. All Rights Reserved.

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