What is Mental Health?

The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines health as:

“…a state of (complete) physical, mental and social wellbeing and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

Health is a positive concept that relates to every part of our lives. We cannot easily separate our physical and mental health, both of which can be influenced by other factors in our lives.

The term ‘mental health’ is often misunderstood. When asked about mental health people often assume it to be a negative term that means mental illness.

“Mental health means our ability to enjoy life and cope with its challenges. In a nutshell, are we able to get on and do the things we want to do? It’s not a by-word for ‘mental illness’. A mental illness is a problem that affects mental health (just like a broken leg affects physical health).”

Just as physical health refers to everything related to the health of our bodies, mental health refers to the health of our minds and emotions. Mental health influences how we think and feel about ourselves and about others, as well as how we respond to things that happen to us. It affects our work, learning, relationships, and the way we cope with ordinary life events such as moving house, having children or experiencing bereavement.

Mental health is about everyone. Our physical health changes over time and so does our mental health. Some days we feel better than other days, and at some times in our lives we experience more stress and distress than in others. Some of life’s most challenging events cause us to experience poor mental health, but over time we recover. All of this is normal, and all of it is about our mental health.

“Everyone has mental health needs, whether or not they have a diagnosis. These needs are met, or not met, at home, in families, at work, on the streets, in schools and neighbourhoods, in prisons and hospitals, where people feel respected, included and safe, or on the margins, in fear and excluded.”

Sometimes people develop more sever mental health problems that need professional treatment. When this happens it is a good idea to remember that the same thing happens in physical health. At times we develop an illness that requires medical or other treatment. In some cases there are things we can do to protect ourselves from getting a physical or mental illness. It can also happen for no obvious reason. Any one of us could become unwell in our lifetimes. In this website, you will find information about how people can care for their own mental health as well as how to respond if a person becomes very distressed or unwell.

If a person appears to be experiencing a mental health problem and is distressed it is important to get help as quickly as possible. Left untreated, some mental health problems will get worse, causing major changes to a person’s thinking, emotions, and behaviour. These changes can seriously disrupt the person’s work, home, and social life.

“Mental health is sometimes described as underpinning all health and wellbeing, because of growing research evidence of the impact of how people think and feel on their physical health.”

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