Mental Health, Mental Wellness or – Wellbeing!
Mental health is a difficult concept to define. What about the idea of mental wellness? Doesn’t the concept of wellness included elements of wellbeing that we would consider “mental health?” Mental health certainly needs to be considered within in a holistic framework, from a wellness perspective.
Indeed, the World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” (see note 1.) It was previously stated that there was no one “official” definition of mental health. Cultural differences, subjective assessments, and competing professional theories all affect how “mental health” is defined. (see note 2.)
Wellbeing is Mental Health Recovery
The new focus on wellness highlights the importance of recovery from mental health problems (starting with an understanding of recovery and a belief that it is possible.) Wellness also highlights the importance of recovering from physical problems in order to maintain or regain “mental health.”
By pursuing wellness and attaining wellbeing, we can recover from conditions described in clinical terms such as depression or anxiety. For example, addressing significant nutritional deficits and interventions to increase the quantity and quality of sleep can be very significant in bringing back a state of “mental wellness.”
People experiencing what are often described as mental illness symptoms need to have a physical exam to rule out medical conditions that could be causes, such as thyroid level for example. People with mental illness conditions that are brain-based, including schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or organic depression can often begin their recovery by finding the right medication. But this is not enough if we are thinking within the larger context of wellbeing.
Wellbeing: The Whole Picture
As graphic models indicate, the physical-mental connection is only a part of the wellness picture. What about the other elements? Recovery is holistic (or wholistic.) A person may appreciate learning and using stress management techniques. She might feel great relief after a day each month devoted to re-organizing her home. Or she may need help to build a stronger social network, or become more active in the community through a volunteer service project for example.
Perhaps a person needs help in getting in touch with who they are, how God made them. Exploring the idea of a life mission or vision can be so exciting and lead to a purposeful daily life. Exploring one’s values and beginning to think in terms of goals is motivating. It is so important for us to examine our beliefs and thoughts because they influence both our feelings and actions.
What about enjoying life day-t0-day? Getting involved in a hobby one used to enjoy, or changing careers would be a significant step towards mental health and thus greater wellness for individuals. Helping others, or purposefully practicing thankfulness and gratitude, can be immensely powerful in providing a sense of purpose and meaning, always promising in terms of mental health wellness and recovery.
Our lives truly are about relationships: with God and with others. It’s important for us to be a part of a community and have the support and intimacy of close relationships with others we trust. Perhaps a person needs an invitation and a warm welcome to visit a nearby church or attend a weekend service. Engaging the heart, mind and soul in worship or prayer before God can be very healing. Maybe taking the risk to join a Bible study, support group or club would open up a new realm of opportunities. Anyone can benefit from these, and many other wellness efforts aimed at wellbeing.
Recent studies have shown that many individuals who have been in the public mental health treatment system for a lengthy time have a greatly reduced life span due to lack of focus on the individual’s overall health and the need for wellness education. (If you or a loved one has been or is being treated for mental illness, see also: NAMI Hearts and Minds.)
A wellness approach “will greatly reduce the disparity in early mortality for people with mental health problems, which is far greater than for any other population. The vision? A future in which people with mental health problems pursue optimal health, happiness, recovery, and a full and satisfying life in the community via access to a range of effective services, supports, and resources.” 10 x 10 Wellness Campaign
- World Health Organization (2005). Promoting Mental Health: Concepts, Emerging evidence, Practice: A report of the World Health Organization, Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse in collaboration with the Victorian Health Promotion Foundation and the University of Melbourne. World Health Organization. Geneva.
- World Health Report 2001 – Mental Health: New Understanding, New Hope, World Health Organization, 2001