We often hear and read about mental illness, but do we really know what mental health means, especially good mental health? The World Health Organization defines mental health as:

A state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her [or their] own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his [their] community.

Similarly, the American Psychiatric Association relates that:

Mental health is the foundation for thinking, communication, learning, resilience and self-esteem. Mental health is also key to relationships, personal and emotional well-being and contributing to the community or society.

5 Areas To Consider

We believe that good mental health includes these 5 areas: physical health, social/relational health, emotional health, intellectual health, and spiritual health, for they weave in and out of each other to form a healthy human being who continues to grow, heal, and evolve.

Characteristics Of Healthy People

Good mental health is layered through the above areas of physical, social, emotional, intellectual and spiritual health. More specifically, the characteristics below are signs of good mental health. This is a long list, and of course not every person with good mental health has every single one of these characteristics. No one is perfect. For example, you can have good mental health without being totally confident. Or you can make impulsive decisions (we all do). But these characteristics are indicators of good mental health:

  • Understanding and meeting their full, human potential
  • Feeling good about themselves/self confidence
  • Ability to cope with all types of stressors/self control
  • Ability to make healthy choices without impulsiveness
  • Having positive relationships with others such as friends and coworkers
  • If in a primary relationship, is committed to the other and to the relationship itself
  • Are productive through work, schooling, child rearing, or volunteering
  • Has a balance between emotions and intellect
  • Are open and honest with self and others
  • Trustworthy
  • Embrace compassion and are loving
  • Accepting of differences
  • Are flexible and can “go with the flow”
  • Have the ability and strength to deal with own problems
  • Able to laugh at self
  • Able to grieve over losses
  • Can look outside themselves to the value of the greater community
  • May embrace a sense of spirituality including others, nature, Earth, and cosmos

Other Influences

Mental health is also influenced by other things such as brain chemistry and genetics, environment, and our own life experiences. A positive family history of mental illness is likely to lead to another family member who also has issues. Likewise, if one grows up in an abusive family system, she or he may have various mental illnesses caused by the abuse such as PTSD.

Healing Is Possible

A mental illness diagnosis is part of life, but this doesn’t need to translate into “I am mentally ill” for having a mental illness. For any physical illness is simply a part of life. And while there may be complications and the need for psychiatric medications and/or counseling, one can still lead a life of positive mental health.  It is in the healing that we find the progress. Recovery is a process of:

  • Learning
  • Healing
  • Acceptance
  • Compassion
  • Love
  • Respect
  • Spirituality
  • Gratitude

Focusing on these positives help us find our highest selves. While we may fall short at times, these characteristics set the basis for mental health well-being.

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Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience in the fields of mental health, addictions, and co-occurring disorders. Her other specialties include grief and trauma, women’s issues, chronic pain management, holistic healing, GLBTQ concerns, and spirituality and transpersonal psychology. Dr. Anderson has been educated and trained in the fields of education, social work, and spirituality, and she holds a Doctor of Ministry degree (non-denominational/interfaith) specializing in spirituality.

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