So many people, myself included, throw around terms in everyday use without really ever defining them. So what is “good” mental health? And what do we mean by “mental health” anyway?
Mental health is a pretty broad term. Some use it as a simple synonym to describe our brain’s health. Others use it more broadly to include our psychological state. Still others will add emotions into the definition. I believe a good definition includes all of the above. Mental health describes our social, emotional, and psychological states, all wrapped up into one. (There are far more complicated models of mental health and wellness, but I prefer simplicity.)
But it includes something else we may not always consider — mental health, just like our physical health, operates on a continuum. You can be completely disabled by problems in your mental health, lead a pretty happy and fulfilling life, or fall somewhere in-between these two extremes at different points in your life.
Someone who experiences “good” mental health, therefore, has found a balance in his or her social, emotional and psychological areas of life. “Balance” is one of those squishy, new-Age-y terms that doesn’t really mean anything, so I’ll try and be more specific. Generally a person with balance is satisfied and happy with how these areas are performing in their lives, even if it appears to someone else they are not in balance. For instance, a hermit might enjoy perfect mental health even though he may have little or no social life.
Psychologists recognize that most people, however, need a certain amount of social contact in order to find some balance in their lives. The same is true of our emotional needs. Too many emotions and a person might experience a very moody, up-and-down life. Too little, and they’re not allowing themselves an important part of the human experience — to feel (both positives and negatives).
Psychologically, if we cope with stress by working ourselves into an early grave, that may not be very healthy. If a person learns to push down their emotions through intellectualizing , they may find it difficult to deal with their emotions in even the simplest of contexts. From a cognitive perspective, a person will find more balance by recognizing the connections between their thoughts and feelings.
When we have good mental health, we’re in a place of peace and balance with our social, emotional and psychological states. We have found a life that fits our needs for social connections with others. We deal with tragedy and happiness in our lives, and authentically experience all the emotions open to us. A person finds coping strategies and recognizes the connections between thoughts and emotions (and that they work both ways).
We all have mental health just like we all have physical health. And just as we monitor our bodies for potential problems or pain, we should keep tabs on our mental health and try to better recognize when it needs some attention.