By Professor Taiwo Sheikh
Welcome to mental health conversations, this is a chat room where we discuss the basics of our mental health in order for us to understand and have a full grasp of the rudiments of mental health and well-being.
This is part of our mental health advocacy activities aimed at promoting our wholesome wellness, prevention of mental illness, improving our awareness of mental illness, understanding that effective, qualitative, and modern (technology-based) mental health services are available, and up taking such services for quality living, harmonious interpersonal relationships, peaceful coexistence within our communities and enhancement of our commonwealth.
That we can discuss mental health in a major public forum like this and social media is a significant stride for global mental health and specifically, our local mental health advocacy!
Considering the enormity of social, cultural and traditional barriers to such discussions that are so ubiquitous and pervasive in our communities today.
When we converse mental health, we are referring to activities related to our emotions, physical energy, routines, lifestyles and recreations, our behaviors, successes and failures and how we respond to such situations, and the delicate equilibrium between our internal and external environments. That is why we have the acronym of “there is no health without mental health” or at other times we say, “mental health is total health”. To fully understand these acronyms, it is fundamental that we have a good understanding of what is health, and here I am referring us to the meaning of health.
One can be tempted to describe health as the state of being free from illness or injury, however this description will be considered too narrow when we visualize health from the perspective of our bodily functions, engagements and/or general interactions or participations within our socio-cultural settings. At other times, health may casually be referred as a person’s mental or physical condition or even used to express friendly feelings towards one’s companion, such as describing relationships as being healthy.
A more comprehensive definition of health was introduced by the World Health Organisation in 1948 as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity”. This definition considers health to be dynamic and wholesome, that a mere absence of diagnosable disease does not guarantee optimum functioning.
More lately, health is considered “a resource for everyday life, not the objective of living. A healthful lifestyle provides the means to lead a full life with meaning and purpose, and the ability of a body to adapt to new threats and infirmities.
This is based on the significant strides in the awareness of diseases by better understanding of their basis, how they alter body functions, discovering new ways to slow or stop them, and acknowledging that an absence of some part of us not working at any given time may not be possible. This modern concept of health is what we would refer to as “wellness”! Wellness is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life. Wellness is more than being free from illness, it is a dynamic process of change and growth, it is a primary and genuine resource for a human being and all encompassing.
Though the earlier definition of health refers to physical, mental and social functions, today mental and physical health are probably the two most frequently discussed types of health. We are aware of the contributions of our cultural activities, spiritual connections and financial situations to our health and these represents the social components of our health. For the purpose of this conversation, for a good grasp and better understanding of our conversation, I will dwell straight into the basics of mental health and well-being. “Wellness is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life. Wellness is more than being free from illness, it is a dynamic process of change and growth. And taking a leaf from WHO definition of health; “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” With this, we can now strive to ask ourselves the question why does wellness matter? Maintaining an optimal level of wellness is absolutely crucial to live a higher quality life, because everything we do and every emotion we feel relates to our well-being. In turn, our well-being directly affects our actions and emotions, this is an ongoing circle. Therefore, it is important for everyone to achieve optimal wellness in order to subdue stress, reduce the risk of illness and ensure positive interactions.
Our mental health refers to a our emotional, psychological and social well-being. It includes our degree of happiness/sadness, agitation/restfulness etc. It affects how we think, feel, and act and it also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood. Sometimes, it is harder to define mental health than physical health because many psychological diagnoses depend on an individual’s perception of their experience. Our mental health is the foundation for our optimal mental well-being but it does not guarantee it.
Mental well-being is a state 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 (WHO). The ability to cope with the day-to-day stresses of life, work productively, interact positively with others and realize our own potential. Simply put; a state of well-being where we can realize our potential, cope with normal stressors, live and work fruitfully and contribute to society, it is not just mere absence of illness. It is important to note that good mental wellbeing is not the absence of negative thoughts and feelings, we all face difficult and challenging situations that cause us to feel angry, sad, overwhelmed and everything in-between; it is not the opposite of mental disorder! Therefore, “optimum mental well-being” is about being able to understand and manage such negative thoughts and feelings.
I hope today’s conversation will add value to your understanding of the meaning of wellness, why wellness matter, and optimum mental well-being. Next time we shall be discussing mental health distress and disorders.