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  • Writer's pictureDr Maike Neuhaus

From surviving to thriving: The link between mental illness and flourishing

When we think about mental health, we often focus on treating mental illness. But researcher Corey L. M. Keyes argues that this approach is only part of the solution.


From surviving to thriving: The link between mental illness and flourishing
From surviving to thriving: The link between mental illness and flourishing

The Importance of Positive Mental Health for Recovery


In his 2007 paper "Promoting and protecting mental health as flourishing: A complementary strategy for improving national mental health," Keyes suggests that promoting positive mental health, or flourishing, is just as important as treating mental illness when it comes to improving overall mental health.

What does it mean to flourish?


According to Keyes, flourishing is a state of positive mental health that's characterised by emotional, psychological, and social wellbeing. People who are flourishing feel happy, engaged, and fulfilled in their lives, and they have a sense of purpose and meaning.

But why is flourishing so important when it comes to mental health?


Keyes found that individuals with a mental illness who also had high levels of mental wellbeing were 20 times more likely to recover from their illness, compared to those who had low levels of mental wellbeing!

One reason for this is that positive emotions and experiences can help build resilience and enhance our ability to cope with stressors and challenges. When we're flourishing, we're more likely to have the resources and coping strategies we need to manage mental illness and recover from it.

So how can we promote flourishing in our own lives?


Keyes suggests that some of the key factors that contribute to flourishing include social support, autonomy, mastery, and positive relationships. By nurturing these factors in our lives, we can boost our mental wellbeing and reduce our risk of developing a mental illness.

However, it's important to note that promoting flourishing doesn't mean ignoring or denying the reality of mental illness.


Keyes emphasizes that flourishing is a complementary strategy to treating mental illness, not a replacement for it. For individuals with a mental illness, it's still important to seek professional help and treatment.


But by focusing on both treating mental illness and promoting positive mental health, we can create a more holistic approach to mental health that recognizes the importance of resilience, positive emotions, and social support.


If you're looking to promote flourishing in your own life, there are many steps you can take.


You might try to cultivate positive emotions, such as gratitude or joy, by practising mindfulness or engaging in activities that bring you pleasure. You could also focus on building positive relationships with others by seeking out social support or engaging in activities that allow you to connect with others.


Additionally, you might try to find a sense of purpose or meaning in your life by setting goals or engaging in activities that align with your values. And finally, it's important to prioritise self-care by getting enough sleep, eating well, and engaging in regular physical activity.


By promoting flourishing in your own life, you can not only enhance your own mental wellbeing, but also contribute to a more positive and supportive mental health culture overall.



Reference: Keyes, C. L. M. (2007). Promoting and protecting mental health as flourishing: A complementary strategy for improving national mental health. American Psychologist, 62(2), 95–108.

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