Understanding Mental Health

What is Mental Health?

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What is mental health?

Everyone has a mental health - just like physical health, we need to look after it and maintain it. 

According to the World Health Organization,1 mental health is a state of well-being in which every individual realizes their own potential. This means that they can cope with the normal stresses of life, can function productively and fruitfully, and are able to make contributions to their community.

Often, the phrase mental health is incorrectly used as a substitute phrase for mental health conditions - corresponding to depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, and others - when actually mental health and mental health illnesses are not the same.

Mental health and mental health condition 

Mental health is a personal and individual matter. It determines how individuals are able to relate to others, handle stress and make choices. Mental health is how we think, feel and act.

Mental health condition is a range of conditions that impact mental health. Therefore, it is a condition that disturbs our mood, behaviour, thinking or how an individual interacts with other people. It can range from mild, moderate and severe; and is determined on the level of impact it has on a person’s daily function. Examples are depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder or schizophrenia. With the right support and treatment, people can recover from and stabilise their mental health conditions to lead healthy and fulfilling lives.

Why is it important to take care of your mental health?

It is important to have a healthy and positive mental health as it allows individuals to work productively. This includes making meaningful contributions to our communities, realising our full potential and having the ability to cope with the stresses of life.

The importance of mental health was echoed by WHO through their definition of health which states: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Some studies have found that positive mental health is independent of mental conditions or illness. People with mental illness still have different levels of positive mental health and people who are not mentally ill may still lack positive mental health.

There are multiple ways to maintain positive mental health such as getting enough sleep, developing coping skills, being physically active, connecting with others and many more. Some people may also require professional assistance.

What can impact your mental health?

Mental health and wellbeing can be impacted by a wide range of factors including genetics, family/peer relations, physiological functions, lifestyle, occupation, social, economic, cultural, political, education and other environmental factors. Perinatal infections, stress and exposure to environmental hazards can also be contributing factors to mental health conditions.

While the interplay of these factors (positive and negative) can be complex, it is well established that the combination of factors experienced during childhood and adolescence increases the risk of developing a mental health condition.

World Health Organization. (2014, 08). Mental Health: a state of well-being . Retrieved from World Health Organization: http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/mental_health/en/

Beyondblue. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.beyondblue.org.au/the-facts/what-is-mental-health

Graham, A., Hasking, P., Clarke, D., & Meadows, G. (2015). How People with Depression Receive and Perceive Mental Illness Information: Findings from the Australian National Survey of Mental Health and Wellbeing. Community Mental Health Journal, 51(8), 994-1001. doi: 10.1007/s10597-015-9900-6

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TWIZEYEMARIYA, A., GUY, S., FURBER, G., & SEGAL, L. (2017). Risks for Mental Illness in Indigenous Australian Children: A Descriptive Study Demonstrating High Levels of Vulnerability. The Milbank Quarterly, 95(2), 319-357. doi: 10.1111/1468-0009.12263

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