The discussion about mental health often focuses on illness, but there are certain qualities that embody the ideal of the mentally healthy.
Colton Miller, a licensed psychologist at Intermountain Healthcare, said self awareness was a key ingredient of true mental health.
“[Mentally healthy people]understand themselves, they understand their behavior, (and) they understand the reasons why they behave certain ways,” Miller said. “They have a good comprehension of emotional intelligence, and when they feel strong emotions they don’t let those dictate their behavior, rather, they let their rational and thoughtful mind dictate their behavior.”
According to an article in Psychcentral.com, written by John M. Grohol, a doctor of psychiatry, mental health describes a person’s social, emotional and psychological states viewed as a whole.
“Mental health, just like our physical health, operates on a continuum,” Grohol wrote. “You can be completely disabled by problems in your mental health, lead a pretty happy and fulfilling life, or fall somewhere in-between these two extremes at different points in your life.”
It comes down to balance, Grohol said. A person may feel perfectly happy in some areas in their life, such as mental well-being, but may not have much of a social life. He used the example of a hermit who was happy but did not interact much with others.
“When we have good mental health, we’re in a place of peace and balance with our social, emotional and psychological states,” Grohol said. “We have found a life that fits our needs for social connections with others.”
As in medical care, preventative steps are an important component in maintaining a healthy mind, Miller said, adding that he agreed with Grohol’s assertion of mental health comprising multiple elements. However, he said he would add physical health to the other aspects.
“We take preventative steps so we can avoid emergencies and crisis,” Miller said.
Some of those steps include taking care of your general mental health, getting enough cardiovascular exercise, eating healthy, developing good sleep habits, surrounding oneself with supportive friends and family, Miller said.
By having all of these areas taken care of, a mentally healthy person can better deal with difficult times when they occur. There are many healthy people who utilize therapy as a means of preventative medicine, Miller said.
“Instead of being reactive, they are being proactive,” Miller said.
Miller said modern treatment has moved towards integrative care, combining traditional medicine with mental health care.
“They have realized you cannot separate the mind from the body,” Miller said. “If people aren’t physically well, they probably aren’t doing well emotionally or psychologically.”
Mick Fuller, a psychologist for Pine Forest Counseling, said pinning down a definition for what “true” mental health is can be a difficult proposition.
“If you asked 25 different mental health workers what mental health is, you get 25 different answers,” Fuller said.
The world we live in can be difficult, Fuller said. There are a lot of psychological demands on people, and not many answers for how to deal with those stresses, Fuller said.
The factors that determine a person’s mental health also vary depending on whether they believe in something bigger than themselves.
“A lot of people would call [that] God,” Fuller said, adding that having that belief does not mean someone cannot be mentally healthy without it, just that the factors determining mental health are different for those without that element.
An action that people can take to create more mental health — and more happiness — is to give of themselves and help others, Fuller said. It is part of the innate gift people are given at birth. Everyone has the capacity to improve and help other people’s lives.
Virtually everyone has the capacity for giving, Fuller said. Other than those who have had a genuine split from reality, the majority of the people in this world can take that step.
“I’ve never seen anybody so reduced that they couldn’t take an action that would bring some happiness into someone else’s life,” Fuller said.
By putting a smile on a person’s face, we recognize our own value, Fuller said.
Ultimately, there is one standard to judge if a person is mentally healthy or not, Fuller said.
“What I think is one of the hallmark factors is happiness,” Fuller said. “Is a person happy? Are they happy with their life?”