Here's to You -- What is good mental health?
Can someone who has a mental illness have good mental health?
The Mental Health Association put out a brochure which captures the essence of good mental health. The brochure describes good mental health as feeling comfortable about yourself, feeling right about other people and being able to meet the demands of life. If one or more of these areas is off-balance, a person begins to show signs of stress and mental health is affected.
According to the brochure, feeling comfortable about yourself means you can take life's disappointments in stride, you are not bowled over by your own emotions and you have a tolerant, easy-going attitude toward yourself and others. It also means you neither underestimate nor overestimate your abilities, you can accept your shortcomings, you feel able to deal with most situations that come your way, and you get satisfaction from the simple every-day pleasures of life.
Feeling right about other people means that you are able to feel part of a group, you do not push people around, nor let yourself be pushed around and you respect the many differences you find in people. It also means you expect to like and trust others, and you expect that others will like and trust you. It also means that you have personal relationships that are satisfying and lasting, you are able to give love and consider the interests of others, and you feel a sense of responsibility to your neighbors/community.
Meeting the demands of life means that you plan ahead, but do not fear the future, you welcome new ideas and experiences, you do something about your problems as they arise, and you accept your responsibilities. It also means that you shape your environment whenever possible; you adjust to it whenever necessary, you make use of your natural capacities, you set realistic goals for yourself, you are able to think and decide things for yourself, and get you get satisfaction out of doing your best.
In short, good mental health involves an inner sense of well-being, joy in one's activities, the inner strength and ability to cope with life's ups and downs, and the ability to have satisfying social connections.
Can someone with mental illness have good mental health? Absolutely! Many of the healthiest people I know have a diagnosed mental illness. They have learned how to manage mental illness so that it doesn't dominate their lives, just as diabetes can be managed. These individuals know and recognize stress triggers. They take care of themselves on a daily basis with good nutrition, sleep, exercise, structure/activity, medications if needed, and relaxation/peaceful times/spiritual support. They have also developed a strong support system - pets, family, friends, neighbors, business associates, spiritual leaders, professionals - who can help when they feel overwhelmed. As a result, people who have learned to manage mental illness can live like anyone else with good mental health.
Robin Wold is director of HOPE House, which provides community support services to people with serious and persistent mental illnesses.