Dr Maike Neuhaus
Are you mentally healthy? Why it's more than the absence of illness + a must-watch TED talk
As I'm writing these lines, our city is flooding. A couple of days ago, Russia started an unprovoked war on Ukraine. And all of that, on top of a couple of years of fighting a pandemic. I'm sure I'm not the only one who has a heavy heart, feels somewhat helpless, and counts their blessings right now.
Am I depressed? No. Am I mentally healthy? Also no.
If you ask someone what mental health is, they'll likely tell you what it's not: not being depressed, not suffering from anxiety, no psychosis, eating disorder, schizophrenia or ADHD (attention deficit and hyperactivity disorder).
But looking at mental health this way is INSANE! It's like saying that being physically healthy is simply not having any fractures, or not having a heart attack.
Just like physical health includes the presence of positive symptoms, such as good circulation, sufficient muscle mass, or a strong immune system, mental health entails the presence of some positive symptoms, too. In fact, there are 3 key symptoms of mental wellbeing or flourishing, which, together with the absence of mental illness, form complete mental health. Here is what they are.
The 3 symptoms of mental wellbeing and flourishing
1. Emotional wellbeing
Emotional wellbeing is basically 'feeling good'. That includes both having positive emotions, such as feeling joy, love, gratitude, or excitement, as well as 'low negative affect'. But be careful: the latter doesn't mean that you don't have any negative emotions. All emotions are valuable and important! Rather, low negative affect refers to a general state of calmness and content, rather than being agitated and discontent.
Importantly, emotional wellbeing also includes being satisfied with life in general. So, when you think about your life and your needs and wants, and compare that against what you have, you're content with that. The concept of emotional wellbeing is related to the idea of hedonia or hedonic happiness.
2. Psychological wellbeing
In contrast to emotional wellbeing, psychological wellbeing is more related to the idea of eudaimonia o eudaimonic happiness. This is less about how you feel momentarily, but more so about your fulfilment or sense of meaning and purpose in life.
This includes your sense of self-growth, how well you accept yourself as a person, your sense of freedom and autonomy and your ability to express yourself, accomplish goals and live intentionally.
3. Social wellbeing
Last but certainly not least is social wellbeing. This one is hugely underestimated and often forgotten about. However, even the World Health Organization has highlighted the role of social connections for health and wellbeing since 1948! We are social animals after all.
Importantly, social wellbeing is more than just having social support from friends and family. Having good relationships is certainly part of it, but it also includes a sense of belonging to a community, contributing to society, having a positive attitude towards others, and believing that society has the potential to grow.
Here is an amazing TEDx talk from one of the pioneer researchers, Prof Corey Keyes:
So, how would you rate your mental health taking all these elements into account? If you're finding it difficult to deal with difficult emotions right now, you might find this article helpful. And, if you would like some support to move the needle on your emotional, psychological and/ or social wellbeing, I'm here to help and cannot wait to meet you.
PS: Also remember that you can now access the FRESH START Program all year round ;)