What Is Mental Health?

mindfulness for mental health

What Is Mental Health?

January 4, 2023

The WHO (World Health Organization) defines mental health as a “state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community.” They go on to describe mental health “as an integral component of health and well-being that underpins our individual and collective abilities to make decisions, build relationships and shape the world we live in. Mental health is a basic human right. And it is crucial to personal, community and socio-economic development.”

There is much more to mental health than just the absence of mental disorders or disabilities. According to the WHO definition, an inability to cope with normal stress and/or being affected by above-average stress may result in poor mental health. Furthermore, if we are unaware of ourselves and/or our abilities, or we don’t contribute to society, we may also have poor mental health, right?

There are significant limitations with the conventional definition of mental health as it is linked to well-being. Well-being is an abstract concept and may mean different things to different people. Currently, the idea of well-being is influenced by hedonic and idealistic traditions that champion positive emotions and living a life of virtue in the pursuit of reaching self-actualization. However, mental health has many facets, including psychological, emotional, and social well-being.

For example, Corey L M Keyes, an American sociologist and psychologist, identifies three components of mental health: emotional well-being, psychological well-being, and social well-being that leads to happiness, an interest in life, and satisfaction.

  • Psychological well-being focuses on liking most parts of one’s own personality, being good at managing the responsibilities of daily life, having good relationships with others, and being satisfied with one’s own life.
  • Social well-being focuses on being a positive functioning involving social contribution (having something to contribute to society), social integration (feeling part of a community), social actualization (believing that society is becoming a better place for all people), social coherence (the way society works makes sense).

This way of defining mental health leaves out many groups of people that can’t afford the type of perfect member of society that the definition implies. That could include young people, activists, or even artists. And, of course, it may exclude many people that are somehow marginalized. The definition, as the medical model, pathologizes all behavior that doesn’t go with what “society” expects, but it’s evident that they are talking about a “society” from the point of view of those in power, from those with privilege and whom the norms apply because they defined them.

Looking Further Into Mental Health

In psychiatry, mental health has been defined by behavior, whether it is inappropriate or if it fails the standard norms of society.

Galderisi et al. (2015) wrote a proposed definition that is more inclusive. They propose that:

Mental health is a dynamic state of internal equilibrium which enables individuals to use their abilities in harmony with the universal values of society. Basic cognitive and social skills; ability to recognize, express, and modulate one’s own emotions, as well as empathize with others; flexibility and ability to cope with adverse life events and function in social roles; and harmonious relationship between body and mind represent important components of mental health which contribute, to varying degrees, to the state of internal equilibrium.

This definition includes a new way to see the correlation between behavior, brain, and mind. It incorporates the way actions, emotions, affect, and dysregulation of the nervous system interact and that someone is mentally healthy when there is a balance among them. It also included the internal equilibrium, which is physiological, which was not considered in the behavioral model.

Adding on, mental health is, besides finding balance, also about reaching integration. Dan Siegel has written extensively about this. He proposes that mental disorders are outcomes of impaired integration; he says that the mind is a self-organizing process, and integration is the core mechanism of well-being and mental health. Integration is the linkage of differentiated parts. When he talks about integration, he includes two levels: an internal one that integrates thoughts, emotional parts, and emotions and finds a harmonious flow between them, and an external one that integrates the self within the relationships and finds that harmony between the person and the others (including not only people). He states, “trying to move an individual’s life toward more integration in a range of domains-from how we connect with one another with respect, to how we link different aspects of our brain to each other.”

Why is mental health important?

Mental health is important because it affects how we think, feels, and behave. It also plays a role in our overall physical health and well-being. When we are mentally healthy, we are able to cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively, and contribute to our communities. But when we are struggling with mental health issues, it can be difficult to carry out even the most basic daily activities, and it can take a toll on our relationships, work, and overall quality of life. That’s why it’s so important to prioritize our mental health and take steps to protect and improve it.

What is a mental health disorder?

A mental health disorder is a condition that affects a person’s thinking, mood, or behavior. There are many different types of mental health disorders, and they can range in severity from mild to severe. Some common types of mental health disorders include:

  • Depression: a disorder characterized by persistent sadness, loss of interest in activities, and difficulty functioning
  • Anxiety disorders: a group of disorders that involve excessive worry and fear
  • Bipolar disorder: a disorder characterized by extreme mood swings, including periods of mania and depression
  • Schizophrenia: a disorder that affects a person’s ability to think clearly, distinguish between reality and imagination, and behave appropriately
  • Eating disorders: disorders that involve abnormal eating habits, such as anorexia or bulimia

It’s important to note that mental health disorders are not the result of personal weakness or a character flaw. They are medical conditions that can be treated with therapy, medication, or a combination of both.

What are treatments for mental health disorders?

Treatment for mental health disorders can vary depending on the specific condition and the needs of the individual. Some common treatments for mental health disorders include:

1. Psychotherapy

This involves talking with a mental health professional, such as a psychologist or therapist, to identify and work through the factors that may be contributing to the disorder. There are many different types of psychotherapy, including cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), which helps individuals change negative patterns of thought and behavior, and dialectical behavior therapy (DBT), which helps individuals regulate their emotions and improve relationships.

2. Medication

In some cases, mental health disorders can be treated with medication. Antidepressants and anti-anxiety medications are commonly used to treat depression and anxiety disorders, while antipsychotic medications may be used to treat conditions such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder.

3. Self-care

There are also things that individuals can do on their own to help manage their mental health, such as getting regular exercise, getting enough sleep, and eating a healthy diet. Engaging in activities that bring joy and relaxation, such as hobbies, art, or spending time in nature, can also be helpful.

4. Support from friends and family

Having a supportive network of people to talk to can be an important part of treatment for mental health disorders. It can also be helpful to join a support group where you can connect with others who are facing similar challenges.

It’s important to work with a mental health professional to determine the best treatment plan for you. Sometimes, a combination of therapy, medication, and self-care may be most effective.

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