Most people understand what is meant by the phrase: physical health. Physical health refers to the state of well-being and functioning of our body. Physical health varies from excellent physical health to very poor physical health. Someone who is free from any physical pain or illness or health condition can be said to be in good physical health. Someone can be said to be in poor physical health if they have broken their leg or have influenza(flu) or arthritis, for example. It is important for people to take steps to look after their physical health by exercising and eating a healthy diet, for example.
Human beings also have mental health. People can be in good mental health. They may also experience poor mental health, or mental health difficulties / mental health illness. If you’re in good mental health, you can: -
(1) Make the most of your potential
(2) Cope with life's stressors
(3) Play a significant role in your family, workplace, community, and among friends.
Some people call mental health ‘emotional health’ or ‘well-being’ and it’s just as important as good physical health.
When we speak about mental health, it can be easy to focus on mental illness, mental health difficulties, and mental health problems. However, this approach focuses only on negative aspects of mental health. We call this approach a “pathological approach”. 'Pathology' literally means 'the study of disease.
Another way of thinking about mental health is to take a “wellness approach”. This way of thinking sees good mental health as something more than just an absence of mental illness. It focuses on how we can support people to live full, rich lives in which they contribute to society and manage well with the difficulties of life.
The World Health Organization (WHO) takes a wellness approach to mental health. Their definition of mental health is:
“a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”
Note that the WHO definition focuses on positive aspects of mental wellbeing rather than simply an absence of mental illness.
Learn more about how to identify mental health in children in my master class course.
This course adopts a wellness approach to mental health and considers how we can support mental health and wellness in children and young people.