What is mental health?

Updated 2 years ago on April 06, 2023

Mental health (spiritual or mental health, sometimes mental health) is defined by the World Health Organization as a state of well-being in which a person can realize his or her own potential, cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully, and contribute to his or her community.

The content of this concept of "mental health" is not limited to medical and psychological criteria, it always reflects social and group norms regulating the spiritual life of a person.

Mental health and mental illness

According to the UK Surgeon Journal (1999), mental health is the successful performance of a mental function that results in productive activities, establishing relationships with others, and the ability to adapt to change and cope with adverse circumstances. The term "mental illness" collectively refers to all diagnosable mental disorders - health conditions characterized by changes in thinking, mood, or behavior associated with distress or impaired functioning. Mental health and mental illness are two continuous concepts. People with optimal mental health can also have mental illness, and people who do not have mental illness can also have poor mental health. Mental health problems can arise from stress, loneliness, depression, anxiety, relationship problems, death of a loved one, suicidal thoughts, grief, addiction, ADHD, self-harm, various mood disorders or other mental illness of varying degrees, and learning disabilities. Therapists, psychiatrists, psychologists, social workers, nurses or family doctors can help manage mental illness through treatments such as therapy, counseling or medication.

The Medical and Psychological Model of Mental Health

In medicine and in psychology there are different approaches to the problem of mental health.

In the medical (psychiatric) approach, mental health is viewed as a measure of the likelihood of the development of mental illness ("negative" definition of health as the absence of illness); health is judged from the perspective of mental disorders and personality anomalies as deviations from the norm.

The psychological approach is based on the analysis of the healthy functioning of the personality as a positive process described through the concepts of self-actualization, self-actualization (K. Goldstein, A. Maslow, S. Buhler), fulfilled life (C. Rogers), authenticity (J. Budgenthal), the desire for meaning (W. Frankl).

The World Health Organization, revealing the content of the concept of mental health, draws attention to the following points:

  • Mental health is not only the absence of mental disorders.
  • Mental health is an integral part of health indeed, without mental health there is no health.
  • Mental health is determined by a number of socio-economic, biological and environmental factors.

A person's level of mental health at every moment of his life is determined by numerous social, psychological and biological factors. Deterioration of mental health is associated with rapid social changes, stressful conditions at work, social exclusion, risks of mental and physical violence.

Criteria (signs, characteristics) of mental health are formulated on the basis of the concept of "positive mental health," which was proposed by psychologists in the 1960s.

The concept is based on the analysis of healthy functioning of the personality as a positive process that has an independent value and is meaningfully described through the concepts of self-actualization, self-actualization (K. Goldstein, A. Maslow, S. Bueller), full human functioning (C. Rogers), authenticity (J. Bugenthal), the desire for meaning (W. Frankl).

Sigmund Freud defined mental health as "the capacity for love and work. This definition reflects Freud's energy model of the psyche, in which healthy development is based on sublimation, that is, the effective redistribution of libido energy toward constructive life goals (creativity and intimacy with other people).

The World Health Organization identifies the following criteria for mental health:

  • An awareness and sense of the continuity, permanence and identity of one's physical and mental self.
  • a sense of permanence and identity of experiences in the same type of situations.
  • criticality to oneself and one's own mental products (activity) and its results.
  • correspondence of mental reactions (adequacy) to force and frequency of environmental influences, social circumstances and situations.
  • the ability to self-manage behavior in accordance with social norms, rules, and laws.
  • the ability to plan your own life activities and implement these plans.
  • the ability to change the way we behave in response to changing life situations and circumstances.

The listed characteristics indicate the degree of perfection and maturity of the individual.

For applied purposes, the so-called "functional definition of health, based on the approach of T. Parsons (Talcott Parsons, 1958) and going back to the evolutionary theory of dysfunction" is sufficient, according to which "mental health is understood as a person's ability to function fully in basic social roles" This approach to health has several important implications for practice:

  • Relativity of health, implying that there is no "absolute" mental health. This means that there is no person who can maintain their mental health in all social roles or situations;
  • the limitation of the approach to the socio-cultural norms of society or a social group;
  • a functional understanding of mental health does not imply a complete absence of symptoms of mental disorder, but only states that such symptomatology, if present, does not cause social or behavioral dysfunction

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