What is Mental Health?
In ode to Mental Health Awareness Week (13th - 19th May), I thought it would be good to bust a myth that seems to be a continual issue: that some humans are in fact aliens without mental health. The two words mental and health arouse all sorts of negative perceptions, yet if we talk about physical health we are able to easily prescribe exactly what it is and how we feature on its sliding scale.
So just in the way that we can have good or bad physical health we can also have good or bad mental health and actually bad mental health doesn't equal a diagnosis. Yet often when delivering training when I ask a crowd ‘What is mental health' I get answers back such as:
Not being rational
Loss of perspective
Not being well
Your mental health is, in fact, integral to you. We all have a mind - don't we? To explore this concept further we can use the Mental Health Continuum:
Now arguably we all would like to sit in the top right, no diagnosis and good ‘wellbeing' however with the right pressures you may find yourself sitting in the bottom right, no diagnosis and poor wellbeing. What's even more fascinating is that two individuals could have exactly the same symptoms and one may sit in the bottom right and the other the bottom left (diagnosis and poor wellbeing) with the only thing separating them being a diagnosis. This emphasises the fact that diagnosis isn't everything, in fact, it's more a just a necessary prerequisite to treatment in a westernised world.
Now moving up to the top left, the most contentious spot on the continuum; someone with a diagnosis who has good wellbeing WHAT! SACRE BLEU! It is, a common mistake to think that someone who has a mental health problem only has bad days. In fact, even with some of our most acute or chronic diagnoses, such as Schizophrenia, many days can be good days and actually 40% of those diagnosed with Schizophrenia achieve social or functional recovery (1).
When delivering training and receiving good language surrounding what is mental health I hear:
All words that we might use to describe that person sitting in the top right of The Mental Health Continuum. So it seems not all is negative in mental health. Below is a definition of mental health from ReThink:
how we feel about ourselves and the people around us
our ability to make and keep friends and relationships
our ability to learn from others and to develop psychologically and emotionally
Being mentally healthy is also about having the strength to overcome the difficulties and challenges we can all face at times in our lives – to have confidence and self-esteem, to be able to take decisions and to believe in ourselves. (2)
The definition lends its self to the concept of The Hot Cross Bun of CBT; the notion that our thoughts lead to our behaviour and how we feel physically. When we are our most mentally healthy we are resilient to life transitions and events. However, the way we move around the continuum is individual to all of us and it is important to understand what our stress signatures are. Equally someone with a diagnosis may describe themselves as fitting with aforementioned definition, because a diagnosis does not define you.
So next time you hear the two words Mental and Health put together don't jump back in horror and likewise when you meet a person with a diagnosis don't make an assumption that they will act like Frankensteins monster. Arguably in the world that we live in today those with lived experience of mental ill health are actually the ones with the necessary tools to save themselves.
Happy Mental Health Awareness Week Dudes.
1 -Lambert M Naber D Schacht A et al. Rates and predictors of remission and recovery during 3 years in 392 never-treated patients with schizophrenia. Acta Psychiatr Scand . 2008;118:220–229.
2- Rethink (2019) https://www.rethink.org/living-with-mental-illness/young-people/what-is-mental-health