As conversations about mental health become increasingly, thankfully, more mainstream, it’s more important than ever to get clear on the language we use to discuss it. What’s “good” mental health anyway? Here are some necessary definitions before we get down to answering that question.
Mental Health & Mental Illness
According to the CDC, mental health is multifaceted: it’s comprised of our emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing, and it affects our thoughts, feelings, and behavior.
Mental illness is categorized in two ways, depending on severity. All Mental Illness (AMI) refers to a mental, behavioral, or emotional disorder. Serious Mental Illness (SMI) refers to the same, but to such a degree that it significantly impedes your ability to lead a normal life -- ie, to hold a job, or to fulfill your usual family obligations. Going through a period of poor mental health doesn’t necessarily mean you have a mental illness. Similarly, those who have been diagnosed with mental disorders can go through stretches of good mental health -- and extending these stretches is one of the goals of treatment.
“Good” Mental Health
What it means to have good mental health can be a little more nebulous, but it goes beyond simply the lack of diagnosed mental illnesses. Mentally healthy people:
These attributes come together to produce feelings of happiness, contentment, and satisfaction, which protect against the development of mental health issues. They also contribute to something called “mental resilience,” a key factor in preserving emotional well being.
What is Mental Resilience?
Mental resilience refers to a kind of mental toughness -- though not in a harmful “suck it up and tough it out” kind of way. Instead, psychological resilience describes an adaptiveness and flexibility that allows you to successfully overcome life's adversities. Between workplace woes, financial hardship, and unprecedented global health crises, modern life has plenty of stressors, and a strong sense of mental resilience is required to deal with them, nerves intact. Developing resilience doesn’t mean that an individual won’t deal with emotional distress, but rather that they have built a skill set that allows them to confront traumatic experiences and thrive in the face of them.
The American Psychological Association writes that building mental resilience requires intentionally developing four core components: connection, wellness, healthy thinking, and meaning. By focusing on these factors, anyone can learn how to maintain good mental health even in the toughest situations.
Developing mental resilience requires some work, and sometimes treatment. There’s no shame in reaching out and taking your mental health into your own hands with the help of your family, friends, and trusted professionals.