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What is mental health and definition of mental health

This phrase “mental health” is used in a number of different ways. First, it can be a goal, something to be attained and retained. We all want to be physically and mentally healthy. We define physical health in terms of our abilities: the ability to move freely, eat well, enjoy our bodies, work, play, and rest, etc., or in terms of absence—the absence of any illness, medical condition, discomfort, etc. We could also similarly define mental health as the ability to contribute to relationships with other people; to function reasonably productively (given any limitations of age, or physical health or abilities); to enjoy the usual opportunities for pleasure in life; to care about others; to conform (mostly) to normal social and legal requirements; and to have a reasonable set of social and problem-solving skills, etc. Given these definitions, I believe that one of the fundamental requirements for both physical and mental health is self-awareness. Without this, we are unaware of how we are, who we are, and what is happening to us: essentially we become lost. Stress and distress is often a key factor in “losing” ourselves, or losing touch with others and consensual reality. That is when things start to go wrong.

In Powell’s The Mental Health Handbook(2006), there are “Seven keys to mental health”. These are: (1) take responsibility (do not blame); (2) be flexible in your thinking; (3) confront rather than avoid difficulties and frustration; (4) look after your own needs; (5) express yourself; (6) strive for balance; and (7) develop and maintain relationships. Valuable as these are, this useful list does not define mental health: instead, it tries to give us a road map of “how to get there”—but “there” is not really determined. I expand on another list later in this book (see the section: “The path to mental health”).

However, this is also more of a preventive definition (how to stop notbeing “there”) by a linking of mental health with basic physical health and a degree of social and personal happiness. In addition, it is quite self-defined, as you determine where “there” is for you, often according to your previous experience. Sometimes the experience has been one of being depressed for a time, or having anxiety states, so that you do not want to go “there” again. But it may be wrong to see “there” as being the opposite of mental health, mental illness. These conditions have nothing to do with mental illness, despite the increasing medicalization of mental health issues and professionals. Mental health is much more than the absence of mental illness. The actual definition of mental health thus becomes slightly opaque. Amore humanistic paradigm defines mental health as having the capacity for “self-actualization”, which is quite an active concept, or having a high degree of “authenticity” that is more internal and self-reflective. However, this also feels somewhat selfdefined, as it becomes clearer that self-actualization is youdetermining what youneed, and authenticity is again focused on a “true” self. You have to be in the paradigm to understand it. If you are anxious or depressed, then you are not your usual self, and there fore it is difficult to self-actualize. There is a wider tendency to see mental health and happiness as almost the same thing, or at least, in retrospect, unhappiness = mental un-health = distress. I am deliberately avoiding the dreaded phrase “mental illness” for the reasons explained, and because mental health and mental illness are not opposite ends of a spectrum, but two totally different concepts. So, let us try for a definition: mental health is the ability to ward off unpleasant mood states, to adjust to changing situations, and to cope with stress and distress. This ability prevents us from lapsing into a depression, anxiety state, or other form of distress: this is an ongoing task or process. Happiness (sometimes confused with pleasure) is when we feel good about ourselves, our lives, and what is happening around us. This is a more temporary situation, or as a result of ongoing mental health. We have to maintain this defini tion: it is an active principle. We do not achieve mental health and then expect to stay there for the rest of our lives. Another couple of mainstream definitions are as follows: Mental health can be conceptualized as a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community. In this positive sense, mental health is the foundation for well-being and effective functioning for an individual and for a community. This core concept of mental health is consistent with its wide and varied interpetation across cultures. Mental health and mental health disorders are determined by multiple and interacting social, psychological, and biological factors, as are health and illness in general. [World Health Organization, 2007] Mental health has, therefore, nothing to do with intelligence; and neither is lack of mental health a form of mental illness; there is no easy flip-flop diagnosis—sane or insane. So, what is mental health in this context? One key component of mental health is the ability to withstand negative events, or very difficult situations. This can be considered as a form of resilience or psychological hardiness. And we must continue to resist the more rigid medical paradigms: doctors are (very well) trained—but only in pathology. However, they rarely see “well” people and they sometimes only know health as a lack of illness. Quite frankly, they are not properly trained in health. They might prevent you from getting sick(er), but they do not—or have not up to now—done very much to keep you well, to promote health, and to avoid sickness.

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