Everyone knows the importance of good mental health, but how do you achieve it? Whether you’re born with a predisposition to a mental health disorder or acquire it as a result of substance abuse, can you achieve good mental health anyway? What exactly can you do to promote better mental health? Here are some points to consider.
Definition of Mental Health
The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health (and mental health) this way: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity. Mental health is an integral part of this definition.”
Good mental health is also more than just the absence of a mental disorder, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, depression, or anxiety. A person who is mentally healthy has a state of well-being in which he or she realizes his or her own abilities, is able to cope with life’s normal stresses, can work regularly and productively, and is also able to make a contribution to the community. Good mental health, therefore, is the foundation for an individual’s and a community’s effective functioning and well-being.
Promoting Mental Health
In order to promote good mental health, there must be action. Mental health promotion covers a variety of strategies, all of which have the aim of making a positive impact on mental health. Actions taken to promote mental health include strategies and programs to create environment and living conditions to support mental health and allow people to adopt and maintain healthy lifestyles. There is no one-size-fits-all program for promoting good mental health. The range of choices available increases the chances for even more people to experience the benefits of good mental health – or improving their mental health.
Factors Determining Mental Health
Just as illness and health in general are affected by multiple factors, so, too, is mental health and mental health disorders. These factors, which often interact, include biological, psychological, and social elements.
Experts say the clearest evidence is associated with poverty indicators, including low educational levels, and poor housing and low income in other studies. As socioeconomic disadvantages increase and persist for individuals and communities, the risks to mental health also increase. There is greater vulnerability of disadvantaged individuals within communities to mental health disorders. This may be partially explained by additional factors, including a sense of hopelessness, insecurity, rapid social change, poor physical health, and the risks of violence.
It is impossible to have good mental health without policies and an environment that respects and protects basic civil, cultural, political, and socio-economic rights. People need to have the security and freedom of these rights in order to achieve and maintain good mental health.
Behavior and Mental Health
A number of problems, including mental, social, and behavioral health, may interact and intensify effects on an individual’s well-being and behavior. Violence, abuse against women and children, and substance abuse are examples of negative effects on individuals’ well-being and behavior. So, too, is the presence of HIV/AIDS, anxiety, and depression. These are both more prevalent in, and more difficult to cope with, in conditions that include limited education, low income, high unemployment, gender discrimination, violations of human rights, unhealthy lifestyle, social exclusion, and stressful working conditions.
Cost-Effective Interventions to Promote Good Mental Health
Promoting good mental health doesn’t have to involve multi-million dollar budgets. There are low-cost and cost-effective interventions that can raise the level of individual and community mental health. These are some evidence-based, high-impact interventions that help to promote good mental health:
- School mental health promotion activities – These include child-friendly schools, and programs that support ecological changes in schools.
- Early childhood interventions – Examples include pre-school psycho-social interventions, home visits to pregnant women, and combining nutritional and psycho-social interventions in populations of the disadvantaged.
- Community development programs
- Support to children – Such programs may include skills-building or child and youth development.
- Housing policies – designed to improve housing.
- Violence prevention programs – such as community policing initiatives.
- Empowerment of women – Socio-economic programs to improve access to education and credit, for example.
- Social support for the elderly – including day and community centers for the aged and so-called “befriending” initiatives.
- Mental health interventions in the workplace – including programs to prevent and reduce workplace stress.
- Programs targeted for vulnerable groups – These groups may include migrants, minorities, indigenous people, and people
In the Home: Basics for Children’s Good Mental Health
Beyond the basics of providing for a child’s physical well-being with food and shelter, promoting good mental health in children involves a number of things that parents can and need to do.
Unconditional love: First, every child needs unconditional love from his or her parents and family members. The love, security, and acceptance trio are the bedrock for a child’s good mental health. Make sure children know that your love is not dependent on looks or grades or accomplishments. Let them know that mistakes and defeats are common when growing up, and are not cause for alarm. They are to be expected and accepted. Above all, make sure your children know that you love them without any boundaries, and always will. Your child’s self-confidence will grow in a home environment of unconditional love.
Confidence and self-esteem: Nurturing a child’s confidence and self-esteem involves praising them for the little things they do for the first time and/or do well, encouraging them to take the next steps, to explore and learn about new things. Providing a safe environment for them to play in, being actively involved in their activities, smiling and giving assurances, will help them build self-confidence and self-esteem. It’s also important for parents to set realistic goals for their children, goals that match their abilities and ambition. As children get older, they can help choose goals that are a little more challenging and test their abilities further. Avoid criticism and sarcasm. These are detrimental to a child’s self-confidence and self-esteem. Instead, if a child fails a test or loses at a game, give him or her a pep talk. They’re looking for assurance, not criticism. Be honest with your child, not brutally so, but don’t shade the truth or gloss over your own failures or disappointments with little white lies. It helps children to know that parents are human, too, and sometimes make mistakes. Encourage your child to do his or her best and to enjoy the learning process. By trying new activities, children learn teamwork, develop new skills, and build self-esteem.
Guidance and discipline: While it’s important for children to play and explore and learn, they also need to know that there are some behaviors and actions that are inappropriate and unacceptable, either in the family or in the school and community. Parents need to give appropriate guidance to their children and, when necessary, appropriate discipline. Discipline within the family unit needs to be consistent and fair. No changing the rules for one child over another. It’s also important for parents to set a good example. You can’t expect children to obey family rules if the parents consistently break them. If your child does something wrong, you should talk about their behavior that’s inappropriate – not the child. Explain why you are disciplining your child as well as what the potential consequences of their actions may be. Do not resort to nagging, threats, or bribery, since children quickly learn to ignore such tactics. In addition, they are ineffective. Try not to lose control around your child and if you do lose your temper, talk about what happened and, if you’re wrong, apologize. Parents providing guidance and discipline should not attempt to control the child, but to give the child the opportunity to learn self-control.
Surroundings that are safe and secure: Your home should be a safe and secure place where your child will not feel fear. Despite our best intentions, however, there are situations and circumstances where children do become fearful, anxious, secretive, or withdraw. Remember that fear is very real to children. Try to find out what’s causing the fear and how you may be able to correct it. Signs of fear include changes in eating or sleeping patterns, aggressiveness, nervous mannerisms, or extreme shyness. Children to say they’re sick or appear anxious on numerous occasions may have a problem that needs tending to. Sometimes a move to a new neighborhood, disruption in the family structure, moving to a new school, or other stressful event will trigger fears. Illness can also prompt a fear of returning to school.
Play opportunities with other children: Make sure your child has plenty of opportunities to play with other children, inside and outside the home. Besides being fun, playtime helps children learn new skills, problem-solving, self-control, and allows them to be creative. Vigorous play, such as running, jumping and playing tag, helps children to be physically and mentally healthy. If there are no children of appropriate age in the immediate neighborhood, consider a good children’s program at community centers, schools, recreation or park center.
Teachers and caretakers that are encouraging and supportive: Caretakers, sitters, and teachers are instrumental in the promotion of a child’s good mental health. They should be actively involved in the child’s development, offering consistent encouragement and support.
Resiliency and Good Mental Health
Looking at the big picture, persons with good mental health have the following characteristics:
- A sense of contentment with their lives
- A zest for living, laughing, and having fun
- Able to deal with stress and to bounce back from adversity
- Flexibility to learn new things, and adaptability to deal with change
- Able to build and maintain healthy relationships
- Self-confidence and high self-esteem
- Good balance between work and play
- A sense of meaning and purpose in life, including activities and relationships
Still, being mentally and emotionally healthy doesn’t mean that people never go through hard times or suffer through some painful situations. Sure, disappointments, loss, and change are all a part of life. And they do cause stress, sadness, and anxiety in the healthiest individuals.
Here’s where the importance of resiliency comes in. Individuals who have good mental health are able to bounce back from the adversity of a lost job, relationship, illness, sadness, or other setback. They see the circumstance or situation for what it is, and set about righting their emotional balance.
In fact, resiliency is all about emotional balance. And you can teach yourself to become more resilient and, thus, have better mental health. Being able to recognize your emotions ensures that you don’t become trapped in negative mood states or in depression or anxiety. It also helps to have a good support network – family, friends, co-workers, counselors, and others – who can help you in times of need.
Resiliency, according to the American Psychological Association (APA), is not a trait that people either have or don’t have. It involves actions, thoughts, and behaviors that can be learned and developed – in anyone. The APA suggests 10 ways to build resilience. They are briefly excerpted here:
- Accept that change is a part of living. All of life involves change. Accepting that fact, you will be better served by focusing on things that you can change and putting a plan together to do so.
- Make connections. Good relationships are important: family, friends, co-workers, and others. Accept help if you need it, and don’t be afraid to ask for it.
- Avoid seeing crises as insurmountable problems. You can’t change what’s happened, but you can look toward the solution and act accordingly.
- Take decisive actions. Acting decisively, even during stressful or adverse situations, helps build self-confidence and resilience.
- Move toward your goals. Create realistic goals and take steps to achieve them. Even small steps are a sign of progress. Keep moving forward.
- Look for opportunities for self-discovery. You can often learn something good from any situation, even tragedies and hardship.
- Nurture a positive view of yourself. Develop your confidence and problem-solving ability helps to build resilience.
- Maintain a hopeful outlook. Try visualizing what you want, instead of worrying about how you’ll attain it.
- Take care of yourself. Pay attention to the physical and mental aspects of personal caretaking. This keeps mind and body primed and ready to deal with situations requiring resilience.
- Keep things in perspective. Try to look at the broader, long-term view and avoid blowing things out of proportion.
- Find additional ways of strengthening resilience. These may include journal writing, meditation, or spiritual practices.