What Is Mental Health?

What Is Mental HealthMental illness and mental health are often considered to be interchangeable.  However, factually, they are not.  Simply put, mental illness refers to the sickness or disorder of your mind or brain and mental health refers to the well-being or condition of your mind or brain.  In fact, the World Health Organization, (WHO, 2010), defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. In this positive sense, mental health is the foundation for individual well-being and the effective functioning of a community.”

Since mental health is the basis of one’s well-being, researchers have pin-pointed three indicators that, when measured, can help determine the overall health of your mind.  These indicators are social well-being, emotional well-being, and psychological well-being.

Social Well-Being

Your social well-being determines how well you positively interact with society.  There are five dimensions of social well-being:  social integration, social acceptance, social contribution, social actualization, and social coherence.

Emotional Well-Being

Your emotional or hedonic well-being determines how you feel about your life.  These feelings include your satisfaction with life, your happiness, your cheerfulness, and your peace of mind (peacefulness).

Psychological Well-Being

Your psychological well-being, i.e. self-realization or self-awareness, encompasses various dimensions.  Some of these are personal growth (development of one’s self), self-acceptance, autonomy, positive relations with others, spirituality, environmental mastery (control of the environment according to one’s own needs), and purpose in life (Westerhof, Gerben J., Keyes, Corey L. M, 2009) and (WHO, 2010).

Positive functioning of the above indicators leads to optimal mental health.  Therefore, it is important that we take our mental health seriously, because, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC, n.d.), optimum mental health was associated with only 17% of adults in America.

Therefore, it is advantageous for us to promote mental health.  This can be done in a variety of ways.  The World Health Organization suggests several ways, such as 1) mental health interventions at work, 2) mental health promotional activities in schools, 3) community development programs, 4) violence prevention programs, 5) housing policies, 6) programs targeted at vulnerable groups of people, 7) early childhood interventions, 8) support to children, 9) socio-economic empowerment of women, and 10) social support for elderly populations (WHO, 2010).


CDC (n.d.).  Mental Health Basics.  Retrieved October 16, 2011, from CDC Web Site:  http://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/basics.htm

Westerhof, Gerben J., Keyes, Corey L. M. (2009).  Mental illness and mental health: the two continua model across the lifespan.  Journal of Adult Development, 17(2): 110–119.

WHO (2010). Mental health: strengthening our response.  (Fact sheet no. 220).  Retrieved October 16, 2011, from WHO Web Site:  http://www.who.int/mediacentre/factsheets/fs220/en/

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