Carl L. Hanson, BYU professor of public health, delivered Tuesday's forum address on campus. He discussed how we can obtain optimal mental health by better understanding it ourselves and being willing to be an advocate for others who struggle with mental illness.
Hanson encouraged us to take steps to achieve optimal mental health by doing three things: saying something, knowing something and being something.
According to Hanson, before we can say something about mental health, we need to better understand mental illness.
“Mental illness, also known as mental disorder, refers to any condition that includes cognitive and emotional disturbances, abnormal behaviors and/or impaired functioning.”
One in five adults in the United States has a mental illness, and yet half of these people receive no treatment, Hanson said. This is due partially to the lack of access to health care and partially to people refusing treatment because of the stigma surrounding mental illness.
Hanson added that untreated mental illness can disrupt individuals’ lives and is one of the leading causes of suicide.
"Having open conversations about mental illness can help to reduce the stigma or negative perceptions of individuals who struggle with mental illness."
Understanding some of the root causes of mental illness is critical to developing solutions, Hanson taught. He emphasized that mental health challenges are never a result of sin. While complex, the root causes are usually organized into two different categories: risk factors and protective factors.
“Risk factors are those things that increase the likelihood of an individual experiencing the problem,” he said. "Protective factors are those things that mitigate the risk and are often simply the opposite of the risk factor.”
Examples of risk factors include a lack of friends, a perfectionistic attitude, having a traumatic childhood and other life stressors. Regarding protective factors, Hanson stated that large amounts of research show that healthy relationships can have a huge positive impact on mental health.
“Much of this work points to the powerful influence of context and our interactions with others in settings like home, school and communities.”
In our quest to achieve optimal mental health, we must strive to live a wellness lifestyle by being well balanced and growing emotionally, physically, spiritually and socially, Hanson explained.
“If we neglect or exaggerate any of the important domain areas that make us whole and well, we will personally be out of balance and our ride through life will be bumpier.”
Hanson explained that we do not need to strive to be perfect in all these areas at once, but rather we should focus on the journey of self-improvement and understand that failure is a part of that quest.
As we focus on becoming more “wellness wise,” Hanson said, we will have better mental health and meet the mission statement of BYU which is to “assist individuals in their quest for perfection and eternal life.”
“As we become wellness wise by embracing wellness as a whole person opportunity, we 'will not only be capable of meeting personal challenge and change but will also bring strength to others in the tasks of home and family life, social relationships, civic duty and service to mankind.’”