What does the term “physical health” mean to you?
For everyone this is different, but many of us think of exercise, eating well, drinking plenty of water, all things that can help improve or maintain our physical health.
What about the term “mental health”?
Again, the answer will be different for everyone but generally, when we hear this term, we might think of conditions such as depression and anxiety.
But our mental health involves so much more than that. Let’s take a closer look at what mental health can mean for you.
The World Health Organization define 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”.
So, is it possible to think positively about our mental health and take preventative actions against poor mental health? The good news is yes!
One of the ways you can begin to think positively about your mental health is by focussing on your well-being. What can you do right now to help to improve your overall well-being? Perhaps you could arrange a video call with a friend or family member to catch-up, listen to your favourite music, or eat some delicious food? There are lots of small things you can do to start to look after your well-being.
A model of mental health
Let’s switch the narrative and consider mental health as a complete state, including both mental illness and mental health. A useful way to view this is demonstrated in Keyes (2002) two-continua model of mental health.
Let’s break it down
From left to right we see a continuum, with low mental illness and high mental illness at opposite ends. All of us sit somewhere on this continuum.
From top to bottom we see another continuum, with low mental health and high mental health at opposite ends. All of us sit somewhere on this continuum as well.
It stands to reason then, that you could be sitting towards the right of the continuum whilst also sitting towards the top. I.e., experiencing higher levels of mental illness and mental health at the same time. This is called “flourishing” with mental illness.
No one can be mentally healthy or mentally ill – our mental health is not binary.
Where you are positioned on the model currently may be different to where you are positioned tomorrow morning, or next year.
Why is this important?
As we are faced with challenging times around COVID-19, you may be experiencing more uncertainty or periods of stress. This is completely normal. But the great news is that we can use this as an opportunity to practise ways to allow our mental health to flourish.
What can I do about it?
Don’t be too hard on yourself if you have periods of feeling like you are languishing, whether with or without mental illness. This is normal and is not permanent. In fact, our mental health is transient, it changes over time, depending on our circumstances at that time. It is normal to experience stress, and this means that your mental health can be expected to fluctuate over time.
Even finding yourself in this position for longer periods of time, it is still possible to flourish and lead a fulfilling life and experience mental well-being.
In fact, research has shown that improving your mental well-being can help decrease the likelihood of experiencing mental illness. This means that there are ways you can improve your mental health during COVID-19.
Here at the SPRINT project, we have developed a series of free, online resources to support your well-being. In recent blog posts we have highlighted some techniques for boosting resilience, regulating emotions, and using grounding techniques, which can all help improve your mental health. You can also download our grounding techniques infographics and have a go at our interactive emotional awareness tool.
It is important to seek professional advice if you are experiencing higher levels of mental illness and lower levels of mental health. But, it is also important that you focus on improving your well-being and overall mental health. This will produce more benefits than focusing solely on reducing symptoms of mental illness.
Take home message
This model can help you to recognise when you are spending long periods of time “languishing”. It can also increase your self-awareness and help you to better understand your mental health. This is important, because it can help you to take personal agency over your own mental states and help you to recognise when action is needed.
By following the tips in this blog, we can practise improving our well-being. Let’s take care of our mental health, by increasing well-being and preventing the likelihood of mental illness, the same way we do with our physical health!
Keyes, C. L. M. (2002). The mental health continuum: from languishing to flourishing in life. Journal of Health and Social Behaviour. 43(2), 207–222. https://doi.org/10.2307/3090197
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