Good mental health refers to a state of mental well-being where an individual feels healthy, happy and is able to function properly in daily life. Lack of psychiatric disorders is one of the aspects of this mental state.
- Defining Good Mental Health
- Signs Of Good Mental Health
- Understanding Good Mental Health
- Mental Wellness Is Different For Everyone
- Mental Health Vs. Mental Illness
- Mental Health Lies On A Spectrum
- Signs Of Poor Mental Health
- How To Practice Good Mental Hygiene
- Improve Your Mental Health
- Good Mental Health At A Glance
Defining Good Mental Health
Good health starts with our mental well-being. Good mental health refers to our mental and emotional wellness that enables us to cope with normal daily stressors, perform tasks effectively and productively, reach our full potential, contribute to social development and manage the development of mental disorders. Alternatively termed as subjective well-being, psychological well-being, positive mental health or even general happiness and satisfaction, this state focuses less on mental illness and more on our well-being and positive psychological traits. Mental well-being strongly influences our thoughts, emotions, behaviors and actions. It empowers us to be more resilient in life, deal with daily life challenges and reach personal goals. Individuals with positive mental health are more likely to better navigate through life’s ups and downs.
According to a 2019 study 1 , psychological well-being (PWB) includes several dimensions, such as self-acceptance, personal growth, mastery, life purpose, autonomy, positive affect, optimism, sense of coherence, positive relationships and life satisfaction. However, our mental health can be affected by certain negative experiences and conditions such as sleep difficulties, chronic stress, trauma, extreme anxiety, depression etc. Although one may not be able to prevent the onset of certain psychiatric disorders, we can improve and protect our mental health through some active steps against such problems. However, it should be noted that mental wellness is not limited to the absence of diagnosable mental illnesses.
Signs Of Good Mental Health
Good mental health is marked by an individual’s capability to perform certain basic functions, such as –
- Ability to experience, express and regulate a wide range of emotions, both positive and negative
- Ability to be resilient and recover from hardships and challenges
- Ability to cope with daily stresses of life and deal with uncertainty and change
- Ability to learn, gain knowledge and apply such knowledge
- Ability to work, perform daily activities, reach goals and realize their potential
- Ability to build and maintain meaningful, positive relationships
- Ability to be aware of mental and emotional fluctuations and mood shifts
- Ability to set healthy personal boundaries and know when to say ‘no’ to others
- Ability to focus on self and practice self-care and self-love
- Ability to identify low self-esteem and need for pleasing others
- Ability to contribute to their community and experience a sense of belonging
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Understanding Good Mental Health
According to a 2009 study 2 , positive mental health or psychological well-being (PWB) is about “lives going well. It is the combination of feeling good and functioning effectively.” However, it does not necessitate that you feel good about yourself and happy all the time. Negative and difficult feelings, like failure, sadness, anger, grief or disappointment, are natural emotions and we must learn how to manage them. When you are able to regulate such emotions in the long run, you can experience subjective well-being. But when we are unable to manage these negative emotions or if they become chronic and excessive, it can affect our mental well-being & impair our capability to function in our daily lives.
The idea of psychologically functioning effectively includes “the development of one’s potential, having some control over one’s life, having a sense of purpose (e.g. working towards valued goals), and experiencing positive relationships,” adds the study. Furthermore, it not only involves contentment, satisfaction and happiness, but also resilience, confidence, engagement, interest & affection. The study also found that people with good mental health are happier, function better in life, are more productive, more socially engaged and tend to earn more money.
A mentally healthy individual typically has –
- A sense of joy, satisfaction and mental peace
- A sense of high self-esteem, self-worth and self-confidence
- A passion for life and certain personal goals
- A sense of purpose in their relationships and work
- A sense of optimism and positivity
- An ability to take and fulfill responsibilities
- An ability to be compassionate and empathic towards self and others
- An ability to have fun, laugh and make others feel happy
- An ability to cope with stress and overcome adversities
- An ability to balance work, relationships, rest, interests, fun
- An ability to learn new skills and improve their lives
Mental Wellness Is Different For Everyone
The definition of good mental health can vary from person to person. Psychological well-being depends on our personal ability to cope with challenges and there cannot be a one-size-fits-all answer. One person’s ability to be happy cannot be and should not be compared with another person’s. Moreover, our mental health can vary between good and poor from time to time. Hence, we need to be aware of our mental state and take good care for better mental hygiene 3 . Although the understanding of psychological well-being can differ based on a person, in general, it refers to one’s ability to think, feel, experience, behave, act and react in desirable and favorable ways, which are in accordance to our preferred way of living.
Having positive mental health is not only about being happy, optimistic and resilient all the time. It is not about avoiding negative emotions and bad moods. It is about being able to acknowledge & regulate those emotions and cope with them in a healthy way. But it should be noted that in case you are unable to manage your emotions at the current moment, it is NOT necessarily an indication that you have a mental illness or disorder. As long as you can sort out your thoughts and feelings in the long run, you can always experience good mental health.
Mental Health Vs. Mental Illness
Although the terms mental health and mental illness are used synonymously by most people these days, both terms have different meanings 4 . Mental health is a part of our health and directly affects our physical health 5 . It refers to our mental well-being and involves our thoughts, perceptions, emotions, behaviors, social bondings and ability to overcome problems. Mental illness 6 refers to psychiatric disorders that affect our thoughts, feelings, behaviors, interactions and our ability to perform daily activities. There are a wide range of mental conditions with distinct symptoms, severity and treatment options. It is not necessary that every individual will experience mental illness during their lifetime. Some people may experience greater mental health than others while some others may suffer from long-term chronic psychiatric conditions. Some other people may not suffer from any psychological conditions, but may struggle with life challenges and experience poor mental health from time to time.
Understanding the difference between good mental health and mental illness is important as it can help individuals and mental health professionals “to support both the reduction of mental illness and the improvement of mental health,” according to a 2010 study 7 .
Mental Health Lies On A Spectrum
Mental health is a complex concept and the best way to understand it is looking at it as a continuum or a spectrum. On this spectrum, good mental health falls at one extreme end of the scale and mental illnesses fall at the other extreme end. Mental health is not a permanent, static or fixed state and can move along the continuum at different phases of one’s life based on their age, life experiences and other factors. We may move from excellent mental health to average psychological well-being to poor mental health and even to mental disability during our lifetime.
When we are on the extremely positive mental health end of the spectrum, we feel happy, function well, are highly resilient and feel generally healthy. If we start moving towards the middle, we may face difficulty coping with life’s challenges. As we move towards the other end of the spectrum, we may start experiencing certain symptoms of common mental disorders. As we reach the other extreme end of the scale marked by mental illnesses, we are highly likely to experience severe symptoms, co-occurring disorders and even suicidality. This shows that simply because you are not suffering from a mental illness, it doesn’t necessarily translate into good mental health. Similarly, if someone is coping with a diagnosable psychiatric disorder, they can feel content and good about certain other facets of their lives. This is mainly because mental conditions are episodic where the sufferer experiences episodes of both bad and good moods.
Mental health involves cognitive, emotional, physical and social well-being and is not limited to the absence of a mental disorder. All of us go through days when we feel low, have bad moods, feel stressed, overwhelmed, anxious or depressed. Good mental health allows us to be resilient and approach these lows and “bad days” in a realistic yet healthy manner. It allows us to accept and cope with our problems instead of avoiding them. Psychological well-being is about our pursuit of happiness, especially when we are dealing with issues. If you are unable to cope with life stressors or believe that you’re experiencing some symptoms of mental illness, seek medical help immediately. Treatment, coping strategies and support can significantly help to improve our mental health and well-being.
Signs Of Poor Mental Health
Identifying the signs of a mental illness is not easy as each condition has a different set of symptoms. Hence, it is crucial that you consult a mental health professional and seek a proper medical diagnosis if you believe you are suffering from a psychiatric disorder. However, there are some signs that can help you understand if you are experiencing poor mental health and if you need medical care.
When you are not experiencing good mental health over a long period of time, it can affect your physical health, relationships, education, career and personal life. Here are a few common signs of mental disorders in adolescents and adults that you need to watch out for, whether in yourself or in a loved one –
- Feeling anxious, afraid or worrying excessively without any clear reason
- Feelings of hopelessness or helplessness
- Sudden and extreme shifts in mood
- Feeling upset, sad or depressed for more than 2 weeks
- Feelings of emptiness or a lack of purpose
- Intrusive thoughts or constant negative thoughts
- Inability to perform daily activities
- Unable to cope with daily stress and problems
- Difficulty with learning, concentrating, memory or speech
- Distorted perceptions of reality (hallucinations and/or delusions)
- Feelings of apathy
- Abnormal or unusual behavior
- Fatigue, exhaustion or feeling drained
- Feeling confused
- Frequent nightmares
- Changes in appetite and sleeping patterns
- Chronic feelings of anger or irritability
- Low sex drive
- Trouble relating to or connecting with others
- Dissociation or disconnection from self-identity, thoughts, emotions, memories and environment
- Extreme fear of weight loss or distorted body image
- Unexplained pains, aches and other physical ailments
- Social withdrawal and isolation
- Substance or alcohol abuse
- Thoughts of self-harm or suicide
It should be noted that experiencing a handful of these signs and symptoms is not an indication of a mental illness but it may indicate that a diagnosis may be needed. However, if you or someone else is experiencing most of these symptoms, then seeking professional help is advisable. Individuals with thoughts of self-harm or suicide require immediate medical help.
How To Practice Good Mental Hygiene
Mental hygiene refers to the act of maintaining good mental health and taking steps to prevent the onset of mental disorders. According to a recent 2021 study 8 , “Mental hygiene is a form of preventive maintenance that can be likened to other hygienic practices.” The study adds that certain mental training activities can promote healthy cognitive patterns which are beneficial for psychological well-being through the plasticity of the brain. Another 2005 study 9 states that mental hygiene involves the knowledge and skills needed to improve mental health and relieve mental disorder symptoms.
If you want to experience good mental health or want to practice proper mental hygiene, here are a few steps to get started:
1. Seek medical help
It is important that you get professional support if you are having difficulty coping with daily stressors, feeling happy, finding meaning, connecting with others or regulating emotions for more than 2 weeks. Studies 10 indicate that 1 in 5 adults (17.6%) across the globe suffered from a common mental disorder in the past year and about 29.2% across their lifetime. Seeing a mental health professional or a doctor can help you get treatment for any underlying condition(s). With therapies and medications under the supervision of a professional you can better manage mental health problems. Research 11 shows that medical treatment can prove effective for people with common psychiatric disorders like anxiety, depression and substance use.
2. Socialize, connect and build relationships
Isolating yourself is undoubtedly bad for your mental health and may even worsen symptoms of disorders, if you have any. Try to be more sociable, connect with others and strengthen relationships with your friends, family, neighbors, colleagues and others. “Social relationships – both quantity and quality – affect mental health, health behavior, physical health, and mortality risk,” explains a 2010 study 12 . So make some effort by investing your time and energy to build stronger connections with your loved ones.
Here are a few steps that you can follow to build relationships for good mental health –
- Be less reliant on technology and social media. Focus more on face-to-face interactions. Meet your loved ones in person instead of connecting over phone calls or texts.
- Say yes to social gatherings when you’re invited instead of making excuses to avoid them.
- Spend more quality time with your family, like playing board games or having dinner together every day.
- Plan to visit a family member or friend who is lonely or requires some company and support.
- Plan to have lunch with a friend or a coworker.
- Meet friends you have not spoken to in a while.
- Video chat with loved ones who stay far away.
- Volunteer at your local community group, hospital etc.
- Smile and say “hello” to strangers as it can help you make a new friend.
3. Exercise and be physically active
Research 13 shows that regular exercise can help in the prevention and treatment of multiple non‐communicable mental and physical diseases. According to a 2006 study 14 , “Exercise improves mental health by reducing anxiety, depression, and negative mood and by improving self-esteem and cognitive function.” It can also help to improve self-esteem and relieve symptoms like social withdrawal, adds the study. There is no doubt that physical activity is a strongly recommended 15 major health behavior that can improve our psychological well-being. It also helps to get better sleep, improves concentration, keeps vital organs healthy and improves mood.
Here are a few steps that can help you become more physically active –
- Focus on activities that you may enjoy and make them part of your daily routine. It’s not necessary to hit the gym to become active, fit and healthy.
- Start with a simple 30-40 minute daily exercise routine and train for at least 4-5 days a week.
- It is best to start with cardio, body weight training and HIIT (High-Intensity Interval Training) routines and eventually progress to strength training to avoid injuries.
- Try to keep things simple in the beginning. Start with walking, running, swimming, cycling, dancing, playing sports, martial arts or weight training. Do whatever you are comfortable with and can continue for a long time.
- Be mindful about how your body feels while you’re exercising.
4. Follow a healthy lifestyle
Good mental health is closely related to our lifestyle 16 . According to a 2019 study 17 , certain lifestyle factors play a crucial role in positively improving psychiatric conditions and associated morbidity & mortality. The study points out that these factors may include –
- Getting adequate sleep
- Eating healthy, nutritious food
- Avoidance of alcohol and illicit substances
- Cessation of smoking
- Avoidance of excessive trans fats, refined carbs, sugar and caffeine
- Living in a safe and peaceful environment
- Engaging in de-stressing and enjoyable activities
- Building social connections/support
- Healthy mental activities
- Attending regular checkups with a doctor
Another 2018 study 18 found that such healthy lifestyle factors can lead to better mental wellbeing over a 1-year period. “A healthy lifestyle can be beneficial for one’s mental health. Thus, identifying healthy lifestyle choices that promote psychological well-being and reduce mental problems is useful to prevent mental disorders,” adds the study.
5. Meditate and be mindful
One of the best ways to develop good mental health is to pay attention to and live in the present moment. By being more mindful 19 and aware of our thoughts, emotions, physical sensations and our environment, we can understand ourselves better and appreciate life more. It can help to lift our mood and empower us to experience more positive thoughts and feelings. “Mindfulness brings about various positive psychological effects, including increased subjective well-being, reduced psychological symptoms and emotional reactivity, and improved behavioral regulation,” explains one 2011 study 20 .
Practicing mindfulness meditation regularly for at least 10 minutes can greatly help in building good mental health. Research 21 has found that daily mindfulness meditation 22, 5(1), 28–41. )) can significantly help to reduce both anxiety and depression, directly & indirectly. Studies 23 also show that meditation can help to reduce stress, improve emotional & attentional regulation, and promote mental health & psychological well-being, especially in the aging population.
Here is how you can start practicing mindfulness meditation for better mental well-being –
- Set a particular time for your practice each day to make it a habit.
- Find a comfortable, distraction-free spot in your home and sit comfortably on a chair, the bed or on the floor.
- Keep your back straight without forcing it. Let your spine fall into it’s natural curvature but avoid slouching.
- Relax your body, especially your legs, back, arms, shoulders, jaws, brows and forehead. Be seated in a naturally comfortable position.
- Close your eyes but don’t force them shut. Let it happen in a natural way.
- Bring your attention to your breath. Breathe in and breathe out slowly and deeply. Focus on the middle point between inhaling and exhaling. Make sure to breathe through your stomach.
- Without judging or getting attached, observe the present moment as it unfolds. Don’t try to stop your thoughts or quiet your mind. Simply observe them and let go.
- Be aware of your thoughts and bring your attention back to your breath every time your mind wanders. Simply focus on the present moment.
- Be kind and compassionate towards yourself and your mind.
- When you feel ready, open your eyes gently, observe how you feel and carry the peace and calmness into your day.
Apart from these, here are some other quick tips for cultivating good mental health –
- Build a support network
- Learn some new skills
- Learn stress management skills
- Spend more time outdoors and in nature
- Talk openly about your feelings to a loved one
- Do things that you enjoy and pursue hobbies & interests
- Care for others and engage in charitable activities
- Practice self-acceptance, self-care and self-love
- Take a break from your daily mundane life and go for vacation or a hike
- Care for a pet or help raise them for a friend or family member
- Do things that help you find meaning and purpose in life
Read More About Meditation Here
Improve Your Mental Health
Good mental health is not a permanent state of mind. Our thoughts, emotions, moods and behaviors fluctuate from time to time and it is a natural phenomenon. However, by taking care of our mental health and by practicing good mental hygiene, we can learn to better regulate our thoughts and feelings, prevent mental illnesses, improve our subjective well-being and live a happier, more fulfilling & satisfying life.
Good Mental Health At A Glance
- Good mental health or psychological well-being helps us cope with daily stressors, function effectively, prevent mental illnesses and contribute to social development.
- Psychological well-being is not limited to the absence of diagnosable mental illnesses.
- Good mental health includes happiness, contentment, self-acceptance, resilience, optimism, confidence, autonomy, life purpose, positive emotions, positive relationships and life satisfaction.
- The terms mental health and mental illness signify different meanings even though they are mistakenly used as synonyms by some people.
- Mental health lies on a spectrum and is not a permanent, static or fixed state. It varies based on one’s age, life experiences and other factors.
- Practicing good mental hygiene can help us maintain good mental health and prevent the onset of mental disorders.
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