The last decade has been characterized by what forums all around the world call the “Fourth Industrial Revolution.” Changing the way we look at work, we work, we see our relationships at work and outside of it are all realities that we needed to adapt to on the go. Maybe that’s why the notion of mental health or “non-mental health” has begun to be used and investigated.
Moreover, the last period we are going through, caused by the COVID-19 crisis, brought an abundance of information, but also warnings about our mental and emotional health.
But what I have read very little of are material about what mental health is. Most people confuse it with a state of mental ill-health. Why we do this is an opportunity for another article, but it has to do with our positivity bias. 🙂
The term mental health is used in many situations to describe emotional disorders: depression, anxiety, etc., but also negative behaviors that are not necessarily included in a diagnosis, but affect the way that a person functions.
According to the World Health Organization, emotional health is “a state of well-being in which each person can realize his potential, can cope with the normal stress of life, can work productively and can contribute to the community to which he belongs.” Mental health is about the optimal functioning of a person, and not about what does not work and the problems they face.
I think that mental health is the same as physical health – a state that we have, that we feel, that we can intervene in and that can sit anywhere on a continuum from good to bad, in which case moderate or severe emotional disorders occur.
How do I know if I have a good mental state? Continuing the example with physical health, how do you realize that you have good physical health? Most people will answer here with: nothing hurts, I do not have a bad physical condition or if I can easily identify or treat them, I move well, sleep well, etc.
Just as physical health is a daily concern and we all know what are the things we need to do to stay healthy, mental health should be a daily concern.
What does it mean to have good mental health?
First of all, be aware of yourself, your emotions, your thoughts, and your boundaries. We are talking about these three concepts because they relate to each other. Just as I know how to name my body parts so that I know what hurts, it is important to know what my emotions are, what they are about, where they come from, but also how far I can stretch my limits.
Having good mental health does not mean feeling positive emotions all the time, but on the contrary, being attentive and open to the whole spectrum of emotions I can have and knowing how to recognize, understand and name them correctly.
Borders refer to the relationship I have with myself and my needs: when I need rest, sleep, relaxation, what are the signs in my body that show me that I am tired or stressed?
The more aware I am of my needs, why I feel how I feel in certain situations, not only in the negative and stressful ones.
The quicker and more accurate I realize what my emotions are, the better I will be able to react to different life situations.
Secondly, mental health is related to how quickly I adapt to difficult, stressful situations. How quickly do I realize that a situation is stressful, how do I cope? Recognizing and adapting to stressful situations and difficult moments is also important for my ability to make decisions, to internalize those decisions, and to cope with failure and loss.
Vulnerability is part of our lives and having good mental health means being aware of this and assimilating this notion into my functioning.
A third important point in recognizing mental health is how I relate to others. We humans do not live alone, nor can we evolve or create outside of relationships with others. So being aware of the need to connect with other people and being able to trust people is essential for good mental health. The question I can ask myself here is: am I aware of my needs to other people, can I have difficult conversations with them in which to ask for my needs without believing that others want to hurt them?
The better our mental health, the more open we will be to helping others, to contributing to the environment or group to which they belong.
If it is difficult for us to offer help, it will most likely be difficult for us to admit that we need help.
Our species got here not because it was the strongest or most physically developed of the humanoid species, but because we knew how to collaborate, and this is one of the “superpowers” of a mentally and emotionally healthy person – the ability to relate, to communicate his needs and to be helpful to others.
Unfortunately, most people end up worrying about mental health when it reaches the negative side of the spectrum, and then we talk about the need for psychological intervention.
I strongly believe that talking about mental health when we are in a crisis is like talking about forest fire prevention when we are already calling firefighters. It’s late.
Mental health needs to be a daily concern of each of us, just as the care we take of our physical condition is daily.