As humans, we all strive to live happy and fulfilling lives. However, life can be tough and challenging, and we may find ourselves feeling stuck, disconnected, and unfulfilled. This feeling of languishing is more common than you may think. According to a study published in the American Psychological Association, over 30% of US adults reported feeling languished during the pandemic.
But is languishing a mental illness?
No. Languishing is the absence of mental wellbeing - the part of complete mental health that is currently completely overlooked by our healthcare system. So, while mental illness has been in the spotlight for some time, there is growing awareness that a more holistic approach to mental health is needed. Rather than simply treating mental illness, we also need to focus on promoting mental wellbeing aka flourishing.
Corey Keyes speaks about the concept of shifting from our conventional healthcare system to creating a wellcare system.
Mental health is not the mere absence of mental illness
Traditionally, mental health has been viewed as the absence of mental illness. However, this perspective fails to capture the full picture of what it means to be mentally healthy.
The dual continua model of complete mental health, developed by Corey Keyes, proposes that mental health and mental illness are two separate dimensions, and each exists on a continuum. Mental illness and mental health are not opposite ends of the same continuum, but instead, they are two separate dimensions.
This model suggests that complete mental health is achieved when an individual has both the absence of mental illness and the presence of mental wellbeing. Therefore, it is essential to focus on promoting positive mental wellbeing to achieve complete mental health, rather than just treating mental illness.
The limitations of the healthcare system in promoting mental wellbeing
Our healthcare system has traditionally focused on treating mental illness rather than promoting mental wellbeing. While this approach is necessary and important, it has limitations and it is crucial to shift the focus of our healthcare system from simply treating mental illness to also promoting mental wellbeing and therefore fostering complete mental health.
How to foster mental wellbeing in a wellcare system
In a wellcare system, fostering mental wellbeing involves a range of approaches. This includes diagnosing and treating both the presence of mental illness as well as the absence of mental wellbeing aka languishing. this can be done as part of routine health screening as well as in the context of diagnosing and treating mental illness.
When languishing is diagnosed, resources and interventions can be provided to help individuals cultivate flourishing and complete mental health. This can include education and awareness campaigns to promote complete mental health literacy, i.e. spanning emotional, psychological and social wellbeing.
Example strategies to cultivate emotional wellbeing:
Practising mindfulness: Mindfulness practices, such as meditation and yoga, have been shown to reduce stress, increase self-awareness, and improve emotional regulation. Incorporating these practices into daily routines can help individuals become more aware of their emotions and improve their ability to manage them.
Engaging in positive self-talk and self-compassion: Negative self-talk can impact emotional wellbeing by increasing feelings of self-doubt and worthlessness. Encouraging positive self-talk can help individuals reframe negative thoughts and build self-confidence and self-esteem.
Expressing gratitude: Focusing on what we are grateful for has been shown to increase positive emotions and improve overall wellbeing. Practising gratitude through journaling or regularly expressing appreciation for the positive aspects of life can improve emotional wellbeing.
Example strategies to cultivate psychological wellbeing:
Setting meaningful goals: Setting and achieving meaningful goals can improve self-esteem, increase motivation, and provide a sense of purpose. Individuals who set goals aligned with their values and priorities tend to experience higher levels of psychological wellbeing.
Developing healthy coping strategies: Developing healthy coping strategies can help individuals manage stress and other difficult emotions. Strategies such as exercise, mindfulness, and social support can be effective in promoting psychological wellbeing.
Cultivating a growth mindset: A growth mindset involves the belief that skills and abilities can be developed through effort and practice. Embracing a growth mindset can improve resilience, increase motivation, and promote psychological wellbeing.
Example strategies to cultivate social wellbeing:
Building social connections: Building positive social connections with family, friends, and community members can improve social wellbeing. Social support can help individuals manage stress, provide a sense of belonging, and increase feelings of happiness.
Volunteering or engaging in community service: Engaging in community service or volunteering can increase social connectedness and provide a sense of purpose. Volunteering has been linked to increased happiness, improved physical health, and decreased symptoms of depression.
Practising effective communication: Developing effective communication skills can improve social wellbeing by promoting positive interactions with others. Effective communication involves active listening, expressing oneself clearly and respectfully, and managing conflicts constructively.
Benefits of a wellcare system
A wellcare system is an innovative approach to mental healthcare that focuses on promoting mental wellbeing in addition to treating mental illness. By prioritising preventive measures to help individuals achieve complete mental health, a wellcare system can lead to improved emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. This, in turn, can result in better physical health outcomes, increased productivity, and greater engagement in work and personal life.