Mental health

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This article is about mental health or well-being. For mental illness see Mental disorder.
Mental health and disorders

The state of mental health is generally understood to be a state of well-being, with the ability to cope with the stresses of life, and function as a productive member of society. Cultural differences, subjective assessments, and competing professional theories all affect how one defines mental health. Mental health is distinguished from mental disorders, which are disorders or diseases that affect an individual's mood, thinking, and behavior.

From the perspective of positive psychology, mental health includes the ability to enjoy life. Mental wellness is affected by a variety of factors, some of which increase well-being while others act as threats and may lead to inability to function in society. Promotion of mental health, therefore, involves not only avoidance of risks but also pursuit of activities and an environment that sustain and enhance mental and emotional well-being.


In general terms, mental health involves the successful performance of mental functions resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and the ability to adapt to change and cope with adversity. As defined by the World Health Organization (WHO): "Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community."[1] The WHO emphasizes that mental health is not just the absence of mental disorders, noting that its constitution states that "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity."[1]

Cultural differences, subjective assessments, and competing professional theories all affect how one defines mental health:

Views of mental health include a wide range of attributes derived from various academic fields: Concepts of mental health include subjective well-being, perceived self-efficacy, autonomy, competence, intergenerational dependence, and self-actualization of one’s intellectual and emotional potential, among others.[2]

In 1958, Marie Jahoda described six major, fundamental categories that can be used to categorize mentally healthy individuals. Known as the characteristics of Ideal Mental Health,[3] these are:

  • Efficient self perception
  • Realistic self esteem and acceptance
  • Voluntary control of behavior
  • True perception of the world
  • Sustaining relationships and giving affection
  • Self-direction and productivity
Did you know?
Mental health is more than the absence of mental disorders; it is a state of well-being including the ability to enjoy life

Mental wellness is generally viewed as a positive attribute. Many therapeutic systems and self-help books offer methods and philosophies espousing strategies and techniques vaunted as effective for further improving mental wellness. From the perspectives of positive psychology or of holism, mental health may include an individual's ability to enjoy life and to create a balance between life activities and efforts to achieve psychological resilience.[4] This definition of mental health highlights emotional well-being, the capacity to live a full and creative life, and the flexibility to deal with life's inevitable challenges. Some discussions are formulated in terms of contentment or happiness.[5]

A holistic model of mental health generally includes concepts based upon anthropological, educational, psychological, religious, and sociological perspectives. There are also models as theoretical perspectives from personality, social, clinical, health and developmental psychology.[6][7]

Mental health can be seen as an unstable continuum, where an individual's mental health may have many different possible values.[8]

The tripartite model of mental well-being views mental well-being as encompassing three components of emotional well-being, social well-being, and psychological well-being.[8] Emotional well-being is defined as having high levels of positive emotions, whereas social and psychological well-being are defined as the presence of psychological and social skills and abilities that contribute to optimal functioning in daily life. The model has received empirical support across cultures.[9]

Mental health vs mental illness

The term "mental illness," mental disorders or psychiatric disorders, refers to a wide range of mental health conditions: "disorders that affect a person's mood, thinking, and behavior."[10] Mental disorders include depression, anxiety disorders, psychotic disorders, eating disorders, personality disorders, Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD), and addictive behaviors.[11]

Mental health has long been defined as the absence of psychopathologies, such as depression and anxiety. The absence of mental illness, however, is a minimal outcome from a psychological perspective on lifespan development.[12]

In many cases, there appears to be a continuum between mental health and mental illness, making diagnosis complex.[13]

The two continua model of mental illness and health holds that both are related, but on distinct dimensions: One continuum indicates the presence or absence of mental health, the other the presence or absence of mental illness.[12] For example, people with optimal mental health can also have a mental illness, and people who have no mental illness can also have poor mental health. As noted above, the World Health Organization regards mental health as having attributes other than the absence of mental illness, supporting the idea of two distinct dimensions.


The recognition and understanding of mental health conditions have changed over time and across cultures and there are still variations in definition, assessment, and classification.

In American history, mentally ill patients were thought to be religiously punished. This response persisted through the 1700s, along with inhumane confinement and stigmatization of such individuals.[14]

In the mid-nineteenth century, William Sweetser was the first to coin the term mental hygiene, which can be seen as the precursor to contemporary approaches to work on promoting positive mental health.[15] Isaac Ray, the fourth president of the American Psychiatric Association and one of its founders, further defined mental hygiene as "the art of preserving the mind against all incidents and influences calculated to deteriorate its qualities, impair its energies, or derange its movements."[16]

Dorothea Dix (1802–1887) was an important figure in the development of the "mental hygiene" movement. Before this movement, it was not uncommon that people affected by mental illness would be considerably neglected, often left alone in deplorable conditions without sufficient clothing. Dix was a school teacher who endeavored to help people with mental disorders and to expose the sub-standard conditions into which they were put. This became known as the "mental hygiene movement."[17] From 1840-1880, Dix won over the support of the federal government to set up over 30 state psychiatric hospitals; however, they were understaffed, under-resourced, and were accused of violating human rights.[14]

In 1896, Emil Kraepelin developed the taxonomy of mental disorders which dominated the field for nearly 80 years.[18]

At the beginning of the twentieth century, Clifford Beers founded "Mental Health America – National Committee for Mental Hygiene," after the 1908 publication of his account as a patient in several lunatic asylums.[19] His experiences led him to work to change the treatment of the mentally ill, and he opened the first outpatient mental health clinic in the United States.[20]

In the post-World War II years, references to mental hygiene were gradually replaced by the term "mental health," reflected in the 1949 founding of the National Institute of Mental Health in the United States.[21]

Improving mental health

Marie Jahoda identified five categories which she said were vital to feelings of well-being: time structure, social contact, collective effort or purpose, social identity or status, and regular activity.[22] Activities and an environment which sustain these facets of life, therefore, enhance mental health.

Physical activity

For some people, physical exercise can improve mental as well as physical health. Playing sports, walking, cycling, or doing any form of physical activity triggers the production of various hormones, including endorphins, which can elevate a person's mood.[23]

Studies have shown that in some cases physical activity can have the same impact as antidepressants when treating depression and anxiety.[24] Moreover, cessation of physical exercise may have adverse effects on some mental health conditions, such as depression and anxiety. This could lead to many different negative outcomes such as obesity, skewed body image, lower levels of certain hormones, and many more health risks associated with mental illnesses.[25]

Activity therapies

Activity therapies, also called recreation therapy and occupational therapy, promote wellness and healing through active engagement. Each of these therapies have proven to improve mental health and have resulted in healthier, happier individuals.

Occupational therapies involve promoting an activity that improves daily life, such as self-care or improving hobbies. Similarly, recreational therapy focuses on movement, such as walking, yoga, or riding a bike. Play is a powerful tool for increasing both physical and mental wellness.[26]

Expressive therapies

Expressive therapies or creative arts therapies are a form of psychotherapy that involves the arts or art-making. These therapies include art therapy, music therapy, drama therapy, dance therapy, and poetry therapy.

In recent years, coloring has been recognized as an activity that has been proven not only to significantly lower the levels of depressive symptoms and anxiety, but also may provide an effective, inexpensive, and highly accessible self-help tool for nonclinical samples.[27]


Main article: Psychotherapy

Psychotherapy is the general term for the scientific based treatment of mental health issues based on modern medicine. It includes a number of schools, such as gestalt therapy, psychoanalysis, cognitive behavioral therapy, psychedelic therapy, transpersonal psychology/psychotherapy, and dialectical behavioral therapy. Group therapy involves any type of therapy that takes place in a setting involving multiple people. It can include psychodynamic groups, expressive therapy groups, support groups (including the Twelve-step program of Alcoholics Anonymous), problem-solving and psychoeducation groups.


Compassion can be defined as experiencing kindness, a sense of common humanity, mindfulness, and lessened indifference toward the suffering of others. Self-compassion then consists of three main positive components and their negative counterparts: Self-Kindness versus Self-Judgement, Common Humanity versus Isolation and Mindfulness versus Over-Identification.[28] Furthermore, specific components of self-compassion can predict specific dimensions of positive mental health (emotional, social, and psychological well-being).[29]


Main article: Meditation
A woman meditating

Mindfulness is the practice of purposely bringing one's attention in the present moment without judgment, a skill one develops through meditation or other training. Mindfulness relaxation uses breathing methods, guided imagery, and other practices to relax the body and mind and help reduce stress. Mental health is improved by participating in activities that can allow relaxation and taking time for oneself: "Mindfulness is considered to be a purposeful state, it may be that those who practice it belief in its importance and value being mindful, so that valuing of self-care activities may influence the intentional component of mindfulness."[30]

The practice of mindfulness meditation has several mental health benefits, such as bringing about reductions in depression, anxiety, and stress.[31][32]

The Heartfulness meditation program has proven to show significant improvements in the state of mind of health-care professionals, benefiting them in aspects of burnouts and emotional wellness.[33]

Mental fitness

Mental fitness is a mental health movement that encourages people to intentionally regulate and maintain their emotional well-being through friendship, regular human contact, and activities that include meditation, calming exercises, aerobic exercise, mindfulness, having a routine, and maintaining adequate sleep. Mental fitness is intended to build resilience against every-day mental health challenges to prevent an escalation of anxiety, depression and suicidal ideation, and help them cope with the escalation of those feelings if they occur.[34]

Healthy relationships

Human beings are social beings; positive interactions with others are fundamental to our mental wellness. Friendships with peers who provide support and inspiration, the love of one's family (parents, children, spouse, and extended family), and healthy interactions with colleagues at work and other members of one's community, are all important in sustaining mental health.

Spiritual counseling

Spiritual counselors meet with people in need to offer comfort and support and to help them gain a better understanding of their issues and develop a problem-solving relation with spirituality. These types of counselors deliver care based on spiritual, psychological, and theological principles.[35]

Challenges to mental health

Just as a variety of activities boost mental well-being, there are several factors that decrease wellness.


Unemployment has been shown to hurt an individual's emotional well-being, self-esteem, and more broadly their mental health. Marie Jahoda identified five categories which she said were vital to feelings of well-being and she maintained that the unemployed were deprived of all five, which accounts for much of the reported mental ill-health among unemployed people.[22] Increasing unemployment has been shown to have a significant impact on mental health, predominantly depressive disorders.[36]

Emotional challenges

Emotional well-being refers to the emotional quality an individual experiences, and is is influenced by a variety of demographic, economic, and situational factors. When serious emotional challenges affect one's emotional health, the root of the issue has to be resolved, which generally requires the help of a mental health practitioner.

Prevention of emotional challenges to well-being include the avoidance of risk factors, which decrease an individual's self-esteem, mastery, well-being, and social inclusion.

Negative relationships

Human beings are social beings; alienation from other people, social isolation, leads to loneliness and despair. Also, negative interactions with others and toxic relationships damage our emotional mental health and well-being.


Main article: Psychological stress

A certain amount of stress is a normal part of daily life; however, too much stress over a prolonged time period is a threat to mental wellness:

Small doses of stress help people meet deadlines, be prepared for presentations, be productive and arrive on time for important events. However, long-term stress can become harmful. When stress becomes overwhelming and prolonged, the risks for mental health problems and medical problems increase.[37]

Mental health problems

Main article: Mental disorder

Mental health problems may arise due to stress, loneliness, depression, anxiety, relationship problems, death of a loved one, suicidal thoughts, grief, addiction, ADHD, self-harm, various mood disorders, or other mental illnesses of varying degrees.[38] Therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurse practitioners, or family physicians can help manage mental illness with treatments such as therapy, counseling, or medication.


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ISBN links support NWE through referral fees

  • Barlow, David H., Vincent Mark Durand, and Stefan G. Hofmann. Abnormal Psychology: An integrative approach. Cengage Learning, 2017. ISBN 978-1305950443
  • Beers, Clifford Whittingham. A Mind That Found Itself. Kessinger Publishing, LLC, 2010. ISBN 978-1169262980
  • Graham, Michael C. Facts of Life: Ten Issues of Contentment. Outskirts Press, 2014. ISBN 978-1478722595
  • Jahoda, Marie. Current Concepts of Positive Mental Health. Isha Books, 2013. ISBN 978-9333154550
  • Jahoda, Marie. Employment and Unemployment: A Social-Psychological Analysis. Cambridge University Press, 1982. ISBN 0521285860
  • Kinley, Jackie. Mental Fitness: The Game Changer & The Key to Psychological Strength and Resilience. WindyWood Publishing, 2019. ISBN 1775358321
  • Lopez, Shane J., Jennifer Teramoto Pedrotti, and Charles Richard Snyder. Positive Psychology: The Scientific and Practical Explorations of Human Strengths. SAGE Publications, 2018. ISBN 1506389899
  • Mental Health First Aid Staff. Mental Health First Aid USA (Adult). National Council for Behavioral Health, 2015. ISBN 978-0692607480
  • Office of the Surgeon General. Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General. Department of Health and Human Services, 1999. ISBN 1083113267
  • Shook, John R. (ed.). Dictionary of Early American Philosophers. Continuum, 2012. ISBN 978-1843711827

External links

All links retrieved November 9, 2022.


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