Mental Wellness and Mental Health: What Are the Differences?Dr. Jim Collins
While we often hear about becoming more aware of mental health issues or illnesses, we tend to hear less about improving our mental wellness. But what is mental wellness and how does it differ from mental health? Let’s explore the differences between the two and discover ways to improve both.
Most of us learned about mental health in either high school or college, and continue to learn about it throughout our adult lives. We’ve learned that mental health encompasses our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It affects almost everything in our lives including how we think, feel and act to how we handle stress, make choices and relate to other people.
We’ve also learned that there are of a myriad of mental health problems and psychological disorders that develop due to biological factors, life experiences, and family history. The most common psychological disorders in the United States are anxiety and depression. Therefore, having good mental health might be viewed as the absence of a mental disorder.
More recently, a great deal of attention has been paid to the concept of mental wellness. It captures more than mental health does and includes important aspects of our lives including:
- Psychological state
- Social relationships
- Ability to function on a daily basis
- Spiritual, religious or existential state
- Mental and cognitive abilities
Mental wellness is seen as a dynamic, fluid, renewable and positive resource. It’s an active process that requires us to focus, initiate thoughts and actions and to become more conscious of the world around us. It is largely an internal process whereby we experience multiple dimensions: mental, emotional, social and psychological.
Other key concepts associated with mental wellness are:
- Feeling good
- Being resilient
- Remaining functional
- Enjoying healthy and positive relationships
- Contributing to community and society
- Realizing our full potential
- Having a sense of fulfillment or accomplishment
- Feeling coherence in our lives
Being mentally well also means that we experience self-acceptance, self-worth, growth, meaning and purpose, autonomy and environmental mastery.
What You Need to Know About Mental Wellness
Mental wellness means far more than the absence of a mental or psychological disorder. In fact, a lack of mental illness does not ensure good mental wellness. There are plenty of people who have no diagnosable mental illness and still do not feel quite right about themselves or their station in life. They may not feel all that healthy, perhaps they’re dissatisfied with themselves, or aren’t functioning well due to stress, loneliness, financial problems or constant worry.
Mental Wellness and Mental Illness Can Co-Exist
The differences between the two might become visibly clear when we realize that people who live with depression can still live fully satisfying lives, surrounded by people they love and living out their passions. Have you ever met a depressed person who is still happier than someone who is not dealing with this disorder? It may sound counterintuitive at first, but in reality, it is not.
Mental Wellness May Buffer Many Forms of Mental Illness
Research demonstrates that people who display numerous characteristics of mental wellness tend to be diagnosed less often with most forms of psychological disorders. This is not to say that mental wellness is a cure-all, but if someone is happy, emotionally stable, successful at work and life, is a sharp thinker, bounces back from failure and looks forward to a bright future, it makes sense that they would be “protected” from clinical depression.
Another way to look at the relationship between mental wellness and mental health is that practices to improve one, help the other. Getting adequate sleep, good nutrition, exercise, reducing stress, and being in meaningful and positive relationships are all recognized as protective factors for mental health and things that improve mental wellness.
Mental Wellness Is a Life-Long Processes
Because mental wellness protects us and helps to prevent mental illness, it is assumed to be a life-long process. It is a proactive strategy that strengthens our inner resources and aids in coping with life’s problems. As we age, it moves us toward a deeper and richer human experience. It helps us to flourish, find meaning and become more self-actualized.
Final Thoughts on the Differences Between Mental Wellness and Mental Health
There has been a shift from focusing on mental health, mental illness and psychological problems to the power of mental wellness over the life course. While both may share some similarities, they are vastly different in many ways. and co-exist. They also exist together with the goal of maximizing who we are as human beings today and in the future.