The AlphaDog Husband and I see an amazing chiropractor who has been able to reduce my headaches from daily to perhaps once a week. This chiropractor is passionate about helping people become more healthy, not just with their alignment but in total health. So he does a series of classes every year that covers a range of topics from month to month. The opening class he asked us to define “health.”  Afterwards, he held up a gallon bag of prescription bottles and asked if anyone had listed “takes lots of prescription drugs” as a sign of being healthy.  No one had of course.

This got me thinking. How do we define mental health? When I google “mental health,” the search results come back with information on counseling locations near me plus tons of articles on different mental illnesses. Such as depression, bipolar, anxiety, PTSD, and substance use. Google image results are dark, full of sad and alone people.

Our culture, according to Google results, equates mental health with mental illness.  We define mental health as either the presence or absence of mental illnesses.  So let me ask you, if a person does NOT have diabetes, hypertension, cancer, COPD, or any other disease, is that person healthy? What if they eat primarily junk food, do little to no exercise, hate their job, and don’t feel like they have any friends.  Are they still healthy even though they have no disease?  

Further, if someone DOES have a mental illness, depending on their coping skills, support system, and outlook, they may have better mental health than someone that has no official diagnosis!

Having a good definition of MENTAL HEALTH (not just mental illness) is crucial if we want to know how mentally healthy we are, or what we may need to do to improve our mental health.

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Definition of Mental Health

The World Health Organization states,

“Mental health 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.”  

WHO further elaborates that

“The positive dimension of mental health is stressed in WHO’s definition of health as contained in its constitution: ‘Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.’”

Breakdown of the Mental Health Definition:

  • Realizes his or her own potential.  “Realizing your potential” is both (1) knowing what you can achieve, and (2) making steady progress towards achieving those things. In employment, education, family relationships, and personal goals. Notice that perfection is not necessary, only progress.
  • Can cope with the normal stresses of life.  Stress is normal, we all experience it. How well can you cope with the changing stresses you experience?
  • Can work productively and fruitfully. This is not referring just to employment (though it certainly includes your job), but to any activity in which you are creating something.  Gardening, woodwork, volunteering, leading Bible Study or peer-support groups, hobbies.
  • Is able to make a contribution to her or his community. Once again, not talking just about employment. How are you impacting your community? Do you watch out for neighborhood kids’ safety? Pick up trash when you see it? Volunteer? Contribute to a community garden?
  • Is a state of well-being. Overall satisfaction with your life and having generally positive emotions.

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The term well-being seemed to me to be a key component in WHO’s definition of mental health.  Not only was well-being mentioned more than once, but it has components of it’s own: physical, mental, and social well-being.  All three parts are tied to total life satisfaction.  But what exactly is well-being? How do you measure and increase it?  

In the next blog we will explore well-being more in-depth.  This week, I challenge you to explore what “mental health” means to you.  What does a mentally healthy person look like? What do they do?  Share your thoughts with others, either in the comments below or with friends and family. Really start thinking about the definition and ask yourself if you feel mentally healthy.