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What is mental health and mental wellbeing?

Monday, 24 January 2011 Taryn Ozorio, Digital Manager

Taryn blogs after attending Mind's mental health awareness training.

Last week I attended Mind’s mental health awareness training (many thanks to Alex from Hammersmith and Fulham Mind for an excellent day). The training covered a wide range of topics from what is mental health to presenteeism to interventions and support. There were too many things to condense into a single blog post so forgive me for pulling out just one key topic: what is mental health.

What exactly we do we mean when we say good mental health? What does mental wellbeing actually mean? I think we can all agree that it is a state of mind, what we feel and think, but more than that...

The World Health Organization (thanks to Alex for pointing out this definition) defines it as:

"Mental health is not just the absence of mental disorder. It is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community."

That’s a pretty tall order. Who defines what the normal stresses are anyway? Daily life would be more accurate. I would also hope that work includes more than just your job – hobbies, passions, chores, etc.

Mind's booklet on How to improve mental wellbeing says good mental health is about your behaviour - what you do. It goes on to say that good mental health is when:

"You care about yourself and you care for yourself. You love yourself, not hate yourself. You look after your physical health – eat well, sleep well, exercise and enjoy yourself.

You see yourself as being a valuable person in your own right. You don't have to earn the right to exist. You exist, so you have the right to exist.

You judge yourself on reasonable standards. You don't set yourself impossible goals, such as 'I have to be perfect in everything I do', and then punish yourself when you don't reach those goals."

That sounds more realistic, if not optimistic. I certainly couldn’t be that way every day. One of most important things to come out of the day was that mental health is a spectrum, or a continuum, and that applies to everyone. It's part of the human condition. There are days when you are at one end and there are days when you are way at the extreme end. I guess the goal to stay somewhere in the middle most of the time? I’m not sure…

What do you think? How would you define mental wellbeing? What does “good” mental health look like for you?

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