What is Mental Health?
According to the World Health Organization (WHO):
“Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes their own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and is able to make a contribution to their community.” In other words, the quality of the “Live, Laugh, Love” in our lives.
Just as our lives are hindered or enriched by our physical health, the same is true for mental health. Not being sick does not necessarily mean that someone is in peak physical shape; good mental health is not just the absence of a mental disorder. Think of it as a continuum where individuals can be anywhere across a broad spectrum.
Mental health problems are complex issues and are never the result of the presence of one single risk factor or one single protective factor. Someone who has several risk factors could have more resiliency towards problems than someone else who experiences less risk factors. It is important to remember that each individual person experiences stress, pain, and risk in different ways. Both risk factors and protective factors exist in multiple contexts and may be biological, environmental, social, and personal or psychological.
Determinants of Adverse Mental Health Conditions:
There are many determinants that increase a person’s risk for developing a mental health disorder. They include, but are not limited to:
- Genetic load (history of mental illness in the family)
- Sexual orientation
- Adverse childhood experiences
- Traumatic life experiences and exposure to violence
- Dependency or abuse of substances
- Discrimination/social exclusion
- Poverty/income inequality, including food and/or housing insecurity
- Poor education, leading to underemployment/unemployment and employment insecurity
- Geographic factors, especially rural areas with poor access to care
- Stigma surrounding accessing mental health resources
Protective Factors Minimizing Adverse Mental Health Conditions:
Protective factors are characteristics associated with a lower likelihood of adverse mental health conditions or that reduce a risk factor’s impact. Protective factors may be seen as positive countering events. They include, but are not limited to:
- Supportive, stable family environment
- Positive peer group
- A sense of belonging and connectedness
- Economic security
- Safe environment, free of violence
- Experiences of achievement, a sense of self-worth, and a feeling of optimism
- Healthy diet, sleep, and healthy use of alcohol and substances.
Promoting good mental health includes strategies to create living conditions and an environment supportive of mental health that will 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.