What constitutes good mental health?
World Mental Health Day aims to increase awareness of mental health. Good mental health includes being present, trusting in oneself, having hope, building intimate relationships, and engaging in life. Self-regulation, experiencing positive emotions, and receiving help from loved ones are also important. Developing these qualities can improve well-being.
October 10th is celebrated as World Mental Health Day with the aim of increasing awareness about the role mental health plays in our life. Often in workshops I conduct and in therapy sessions, I ask the question, ‘What do you think characterizes good mental health?’
People usually respond by recalling their favourite moments, peak experiences and milestone occasions. While all of these no doubt count, what’s important is to also think about factors that allow us to feel more centered on a day-to-day basis. Before you read further, I want you to close your eyes, take a minute and write down qualities that add to your mental health.
The way I understand good mental health is that it includes an ability to be present, trust in our capabilities in relation to challenges that we may face, an attitude of hope, looking forward to the future and finally a capacity to build intimate relationships and to be able to enjoy them. Most importantly, this definition requires acknowledging that there will be difficult times and moments of distress, and yet we know that we will find our way again.
One quality, very closely related to this definition is our ability to engage and participate in life. In the last few years given the pandemic, a huge reliance on technology followed by hybrid ways of working, has left many people struggling with this. Our sense of vitality, capacity to engage with others at a meaningful level and to participate in life seems to have been impacted. Choosing to become mindful and cultivating this, whether it’s through learning to pause more, digital detox, spending time in nature or rediscovering hobbies we once enjoyed, are some ways of connecting with ourselves before we can engage with others. Another quality that lies at the heart of good mental health is our capacity to experience positive emotions such as joy, awe, hope, gratitude, love, and many more. Very often clients in therapy talk about how their days and nights are consumed with fear and anxiety, which in turn comes in the way of they are being able to enjoy or experience any positive emotions. If you find yourself struggling with this too, then choose to reach out for help and learn strategies, techniques that can help address this. Therapy is one of the ways people can do this, art, spirituality are other spaces that can serve as an anchor and help people address their fears.
Very closely related to this is our ability to self-regulate and manage our moods, the emotions that are evoked in us. It’s a superpower that each one of us has and it can also be taught and developed. Though, what it requires is a desire to develop and work on this. Learning how to respond, cultivating patience, and waiting out before you respond to an angry text, mindfully engaging in self-soothing activities when in distress are all parts of self-regulation. This also requires recognizing activities which can come masked as self-soothing, but don’t really serve that purpose in the long run such as binge-drinking, binge-watching.
In a world where loneliness is emerging as a key concern, our capacity to give and receive help from loved ones, invest time in relationships that matter and to be there for them in moments of crisis, is another pillar when it comes to good mental health.
Qualities such as psychological flexibility, being comfortable with ambiguity, a sense of humor can improve our well-being and allow us to not always feel wired and they bring a certain lightness to our being.
A huge part of adulting is recognizing that life is difficult and unpredictable, yet if we can choose to anchor ourselves with some of these qualities, steady support systems and community then we are working towards good mental health. Developing this can be a lifelong process.