What is Mental Health

MENTAL HEALTH ... that's it that's the opening.

Our mental health affects our quality of life which is why it is so important.

Hear me out, before you think this article may not pertain to you.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, it is possible for you to have,

... poor mental health but no mental illness, it’s entirely possible to have good mental health even with a diagnosis of a mental illness. That’s because mental illnesses (like other health problems) are often episodic, meaning there are times (‘episodes’) of ill health and times of better or good health.

This is why it is so pivotal that we all must actively take care of our mental health.

Once upon a time the Psychology world solely focused on mental illness but, now the field incorporates all dimensions of mental health. However, Society at large tends to still use mental health and mental illness as interchangeable terms. This is dangerous because it has left a large portion of people not actively taking care of their mental health. Imagine if the only people who cared about their physical health were people who had diabetes, or cancer, or other illnesses.

Mental health is complex there are various levels and it differs from person to person. You may have heard about the correlation between exercising, yoga, gratitude journals and our mental health. There are countless studies that talk about the benefits and how mindful activities release the "feel good" chemicals in our brains, but this isn't going to be one of those articles.

As someone who is an avid practicer of journaling and running, etc. I quickly learned that those are great habits, they help me cope and elevate my mood, but sometimes you need more. For instance, if I am stressed out about life, disappointed that it is not where I envisioned it to be, etc. no matter how much I run and how great I feel after the run, the problem is still there. This means sometimes I need to actively do more with changing my mindset or changing areas of my life to fix the problem.

Yes, eat your Omega-3's and meditate religiously but also check in with yourself and recognize when you need to do more. Check in to see when you may need help from people who went to years worth of schooling just to help you. Check in to understand when you are using healthy coping mechanism to suppress the problem or when you are actively fixing it.

So, let's start with breaking down what mental heath is.

Below is my favorite definition because it addresses the common misconception that mental health means we must always be “positive,” and also highlights how mental health is continuously changing as we experience different ages. This is the proposed definition written by the World Psychiatric Association

Mental health is a dynamic state of internal equilibrium which enables individuals to use their abilities in harmony with 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.

A simple way to view mental health is understanding the similarities it has with physical health. For instance, mental health and physical health both are continuous journeys. In other words, if you exercise once a month and eat one vegetable once a week your physical health may not sustain. Similarly, you have to keep feeding your mind healthy snacks, limit the amount of "junk food" you intake and cut off ties to potentially harmful habits.

Both physical health and mental health lie on a spectrum. Sometimes your body may be exhausted and fall susceptible to a cold, compromising your physical health for a bit and same with your mental health. It never tends to be linear. If you are dealing with stressful situation after stressful situation at a certain point it may affect your outlook on life for a season.

Physical health and mental health both are composed of various components. For instance, how we view ourselves, how in control we feel of our lives, how we interact with others, how we handle stress, how much meaning we believe our life has, they all affect our mental health similarly to how exercise, and nutrition affects our physical. You can exercise all day and not necessarily have great physical health if you only eat candy.

But, let's go deeper. Let's talk about a few psychology theories and findings that explain their idea of a person with optimal psychological functioning.

Carol Ryff's

Psychologist Carol Ryff developed the Six-Factor Model of Psychological Well-being which further highlights the notion that happiness and psychological well-being are two different objectives.

The six domains consist of:

  1. Autonomy

  2. Self-Acceptance

  3. Purpose in Life

  4. Positive Relations with Others

  5. Personal Growth

  6. Environmental Mastery

Carl Rogers Fully Functioning Person

Humanistic Psychologist Rogers believed that individuals are consistently working to reach self-actualization. He explains how it is a process not necessarily a final destination

“I believe it will have become evident why, for me, adjectives such as happy, contented, blissful, enjoyable, do not seem quite appropriate to any general description of this process I have called the good life, even though the person in this process would experience each one of these at the appropriate times. But adjectives which seem more generally fitting are adjectives such as enriching, exciting, rewarding, challenging, meaningful. This process of the good life is not, I am convinced, a life for the faint-fainthearted. It involves the stretching and growing of becoming more and more of one's potentialities. It involves the courage to be. It means launching oneself fully into the stream of life. Yet the deeply exciting thing about human beings is that when the individual is inwardly free, he chooses as the good life this process of becoming.”

Below are some characteristics of a Carl Rogers "Fully Functioning Individual"

  1. Openness to Experience

  2. Living in the Moment (Existential Lifestyle)

  3. Creativity

  4. A Fulfilled Life (People are able to experience both pain and joy, love and heartbreak, courage and fear completely)

  5. Freedom of Choice

  6. Trusting their own judgement

  7. Reliability and Constructiveness

These principles are useful in the sense that they highlight areas that you can focus on improving overtime. We will publish content that dives deeper into these areas, but for now we hope that you have a deeper understanding of mental health and will be mindful of taking care of it. Here are a list of questions to ask yourself from time to time to keep you mindful of your mental health.

  1. How often do you check in with yourself?

  2. How often do you observe your actions?

  3. How often are you stressed?

  4. How do you handle stress?

  5. In general, what is your coping mechanism style?

  6. How much power do other people's opinions have over you?

  7. How is your general outlook on the world?

  8. What is your relationship like when it comes to your purpose?

  9. On a scale of 1-10 how in charge do you feel over your own life?

Let's finish this piece with some practical advice. It may seem foreign to you but you have to check in with yourself, periodically. Observe your actions, observe your emotions, observe your frequent thoughts. Write it down. If you notice something is wrong take note, seek professional help when need be. Nothing is set in stone, and you do not have to believe every thought you have.

Learn how to value yourself, say "no" to things that may disrupt your journey to mental wellness. Create space for you, speak up, and know your worth being heard. Get in tune with your purpose. But be easy with yourself if you haven't found it yet, it's a process.

Develop a strong active coping mechanism. When difficult times arise or stressful situations occur, take all the time you need to heal and to properly deal, do not suppress. When it comes to stress if you can not change the situation you may have to change your mindset about the situation. Process every emotion fully, but make sure you do not create suffering as your new home. When applicable, make simple decisions and do not overthink things. Cutting down choices, and making decisions helps you feel more in control, and less anxious.

Thanks to negativity bias and confirmation bias, naturally we are more likely to focus on the negative, and then find evidence that supports preconceived negative notions. So just be mindful of that, and keep in mind learned helplessness is also a proven concept.

Our mental health is consistently evolving similarly to how our life is consistently evolving. We can not avoid harmful situations, or painful experiences but we can work to build a sturdy foundation to deal with them when they arise.