It might seem self-evident, yet evidently everyone doesn’t recognize the importance of good mental health. Beyond the fact that maintaining good mental health is crucial to overall well-being, finding ways to promote it is equally beneficial. Even those who have a mental health disorder, such as depression or anxiety, or develop one coincident with substance use disorder, can take proactive measures to achieve good mental health. What is good mental health and what helps promote it? Here are some points to consider.
Mental Health Defined
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), “
Being blessed with good mental health is also more than not having a mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, or anxiety. A mentally healthy person knows their capabilities, can cope with life’s normal stresses, work in a productive manner on a regular basis, and can contribute to the community. As a construct, good mental health is the foundation for effective functioning and well-being for both individuals and the communities where they live.
Promoting Mental Health
It takes action to promote good mental health. Promoting mental health encompasses various strategies, all with the aim of making a positive impact on mental health. These include programs and strategies to create living conditions and an environment supportive of mental health that allow people to both adopt and maintain healthier lifestyles. The range of available choices has the added benefit of increasing opportunities for everyone to experience the benefits of good mental health or improve their mental health.
Factors That Determine Mental Health
Mental health and mental health disorders are affected by multiple factors, just as is the case with illness and general health. Often these factors interact, and include elements of a biological, social, and psychological nature.
Some of the clearest evidence, say experts, is associated with various poverty indicators. Among them are low levels of education, inadequate housing and low income. Risks to mental health for individuals and communities tend to increase as socioeconomic disadvantages increase and persist. In addition, disadvantaged individuals within communities are more vulnerable to mental health disorders. Some of this may be explained in part by other factors, such as rapid social change, risks of violence, having poor physical health, and feeling insecure and hopeless.
Good mental health is not possible without policies and an environment that respects and protects basic civil, cultural, political, and socio-economic rights. People must have the security and freedom of these rights to achieve and maintain good mental health.
Behavior and Mental Health
Certain mental, social, and behavioral health problems may interact with each other and intensify effects on a person’s behavior and well-being. Substance abuse, violence, and abuse against children and women are key examples, along with HIV/AIDS, anxiety and depression. These problems tend to be more prevalent and difficult to cope with in conditions that include high unemployment, low income, stressful working conditions, gender discrimination, violations of human rights, unhealthy lifestyle, social exclusion and limited education.
Cost-Effective Interventions to Promote Good Mental Health
Promoting good mental health doesn’t require million dollar budgets. Low-cost, cost-effective interventions can raise mental health on an individual and community level. The following effective evidence-based interventions can help promote good mental health:
- Early childhood interventions
- School mental health promotion activities
- Community development programs
- Support to children
- Improved housing policies
- Violence prevention programs
- Empowerment of women, including mentoring programs
- Elder social support
- Workplace mental health interventions
- Programs targeted for vulnerable groups
Good Mental Health Basics for Children at Home
Promoting good mental health in children involves a number of things that parents can do in the home.
All children need unconditional love from their parents. This love, and the associated acceptance and security, are the foundation for a child’s good mental health. Children need to be reassured that parental love doesn’t depend on getting good grades, doing well in sports, or how they look. Another important point to stress is that childhood mistakes and defeats are common, and should be expected and accepted. When parents show their unconditional love, and their children know this exists no matter what happens, their self-confidence will grow.
Confidence and Self-Esteem
Parents can nurture their child’s confidence and self-esteem by praising their efforts, either for things they attempt for the first time or those that they do well. This encourages the child to learn new things and explore the unknown. Other ways for parents to build their child’s confidence and self-esteem include providing a safe play environment, active involvement in their activities, giving assurance and smiling.
Set realistic goals for children that match their abilities and ambition. As they get older, they’ll be able to choose more challenging goals that test their abilities. Avoid being critical or sarcastic. Instead, give children a pep talk if they fail a test or lose a game. They need reassurance, not criticism.
Be honest, yet don’t make light of parental failures or disappointments. Knowing their parents are human and sometimes make mistakes helps children to grow. Encourage them to do their best and enjoy learning. Trying new activities helps children learn teamwork, build self-esteem and develop new skills.
Guidance and Discipline
Children also need to know that some actions and behaviors and actions are inappropriate and unacceptable, whether at home, school or elsewhere. As primary authority figures, parents need to provide their children with appropriate guidance and discipline. In the family, make sure discipline is fair and consistent, not having different rules for the child’s other siblings.
Set a good example as well, since kids won’t adhere to rules if parents break them. Also, when the child does something wrong, talk about their inappropriate behavior, but don’t blame the child. Explain the reason for the discipline and potential consequences their actions may involve. Do not nag, threaten, or bribe, since children quickly ignore those tactics and they’re ineffective as well. Try not to lose control around your child. If you do, talk about what happened and apologize. Providing parental guidance and discipline is not for controlling children, but to give them the opportunity to learn self-control.
Safe and Secure Surroundings
Children should feel safe and secure at home, and not be fearful there. Yet, despite parents’ and caregivers’ best intentions, children do experience fear, anxiety, become secretive or withdraw during certain circumstances and situations. It’s important to remember that fear is a real emotion for children. Trying to determine the cause of the fear and doing something to correct it is necessary. Children may show signs of fear that include aggressiveness, extreme shyness, nervousness, and changes in eating or sleeping patterns. Moving to a new neighborhood or school, or another stressful event may trigger fears, and being ill can bring on fear over going back to school.
Play Opportunities with Other Children
Children should have opportunities to play with other children, both inside and outside the home. Playtime, in addition to being fun, helps children learn to solve problems, be creative, learn new skills, and exercise self-control. Playing tag, jumping and running helps them become mentally and physically healthy. If there aren’t kids in the neighborhood that are age-appropriate, look into a children’s program at a recreation or park center, community center, or at school.
Encouraging, Supportive Teachers and Caretakers
Teachers and caretakers play an instrumental role in promoting a child’s good mental health. As such, they should be actively involved in the development of the child, offering encouragement and support that’s consistent.
Resiliency and Good Mental Health
Resiliency is all about emotional balance. Yet, being mentally and emotionally healthy doesn’t mean that people never experience hard times or painful situations. Disappointments, loss, and change are part of life and cause even the healthiest individuals to feel anxious, sad, or stressed.
When a person is resilient, he or she can bounce back from adversities like losing a job or the going through a relationship breakup, illness, grief, sadness, or other setback. They recognize the reality of the circumstance, and do what they must to restore emotional balance.
People can teach themselves to become more resilient and improve their mental health. Learning to recognize emotions prevents a person from becoming trapped in negativity, or falling into a state of anxiety or depression. A good support network of family, co-workers, friends, counselors and therapists can also help during times of need.
According to the American Psychological Association (APA), resiliency is not a trait. It does, however, involve thoughts, behaviors, and actions that anyone can learn and develop. They suggest the following 10 ways to help build resilience:
- Accept that change is a part of living.
- Make connections.
- Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems.
- Take decisive actions.
- Make progress toward goals.
- Look for opportunities for self-discovery.
- Nurture a positive self-view.
- Maintain a hopeful outlook.
- Take care of yourself.
- Keep things in perspective.