Despite all the talk of Mental Health, Awareness days and things in the news, it can be easy to miss exactly what it is.
The World Health Organisation defines it like this:
"Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community."
In simpler terms, it is how we think, feel, process and respond to situations. A way to visualise it is through the Continuum of Mental Health from NHS Tayside:
We are all somewhere on this continuum and can move around depending on how we respond to things that happen in our lives. Stresses at work, periods of ill-health, changes in routine can all affect how we think and feel. For the most part, these situations will be temporary and alleviated by spending time with friends, going to the cinema, exercise, nights out, whatever we do in our down time. So naturally we will fluctuate up and down the right hand side of the continuum.
However, working through these situations may cause symptoms of mental health difficulties. Your boss is expecting you to take on more responsibilities, so you might start feeling anxious before big meetings or overwhelmed by workload. Or your physical ill-health seems to not be getting better, affecting your ability to do things, lowering your energy and mood. After a while, these symptoms may be prolonged and serious enough to receive and mental health diagnosis. Hopefully this diagnosis will give you access to different types of support, therapy and treatment so that you can move from bottom left to top left of the continuum.
Looking through this continuum, you can see that it's possible for everyone, diagnosis or not, to experience low mental health and well-being and positive mental health and well-being. What will vary is how people cope with stresses and maintain positive mental health. When we know what works we can then live out WHO's definition above; a full and happy life.
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