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World Mental Health Day: What, Exactly, is Mental Health?

world-mental-health-dayIt’s October 10th, and it’s a great day to celebrate. It’s World Mental Health Day, a day we, the people of the world, say to ourselves and to each other that mental health is important. Thanks to so many organizations (there’s a partial list and links at the end of this article), people are increasingly talking about mental illness and mental health and are realizing just how important it is to take care of mental health. What, though, does mental health really mean? We know that it has to do with the brain and with thoughts and emotions and that it’s a good thing to have. This is all true. However, it’s limited; there’s so much more to mental health, and the more we know, the better we can take charge of our mental health to thrive. For World Mental Health Day, a look at what mental health is, sometimes in the context of what it is not.

What Mental Health is Not

To better understand what mental health is, it helps to first know what it is not. Mental health isn’t

The absence of struggles, hardships, bad days, or bad moods. Life is a roller coaster, wild and fun and nauseating and thrilling and terrifying, depending on the day and sometimes all in the same day. Mental health is knowing that life is imperfect. Mental health is getting on the roller coaster anyway, hanging on for the ride, and allowing yourself to scream and laugh and feel the wind in your hair, not caring that your hair is getting messy.

The opposite of mental illness. Mental illnesses are illnesses of the brain. Mental health is a way to experience life. It’s possible for someone with a mental illness to have great mental health, just as it’s possible for someone without a mental illness to experience poor mental health.

What is Mental Health?

It’s big concept that encompasses a lot. Mental health is a state of wellbeing, of living well and creating a quality life despite obstacles, problems, and challenges. Mental health is:

An important part of a bigger picture: someone’s physical health (I’m hesitant to distinguish between “mental” and “physical health, as the brain is a physical part of the body), nutritional health, fitness, and intellectual health. These are interrelated components of the whole — the person and his/her sense of wellbeing and ability to thrive in life.

A state of being. It’s who you are and how you experience and live your life at any given moment.

Movement. Creating mental health means getting up and moving forward. It’s doing something every hour, no matter how small, to progress toward your goals and live according to your values. Wellbeing involves continuing to move even when you trip over potholes.

Gentleness with yourself, forgiving yourself for mistakes that are part of being human, it’s allowing yourself to be human. Mental health involves pure self-acceptance.

Perspective. It’s looking at problems, situations, people, and change in a healthy way; indeed, it’s knowing that there’s good in life in spite of the bad as well as believing in your ability to create more of what you love. And finally…

Passion, purpose, and creating a life worth living. It’s turning en-JOY into an action verb in order to thrive. Mental health means less trudging and more skipping.

What Mental Health is Not

To better understand what mental health is, it helps to first know what it is not. Mental health isn’t

The absence of struggles, hardships, bad days, or bad moods. Life is a roller coaster, wild and fun and nauseating and thrilling and terrifying, depending on the day and sometimes all in the same day. Mental health is knowing that life is imperfect. Mental health is getting on the roller coaster anyway, hanging on for the ride, and allowing yourself to scream and laugh and feel the wind in your hair, not caring that your hair is getting messy.

The opposite of mental illness. Mental illnesses are illnesses of the brain. Mental health is a way to experience life. It’s possible for someone with a mental illness to have great mental health, just as it’s possible for someone without a mental illness to experience poor mental health.

Resources for Support: Mental Health Organizations

The following organizations are just a few of the many worldwide (check out 30 Top Mental Health Organizations) that raise awareness of and help people enhance mental health. Many simultaneously dedicate themselves to increasing understanding of mental illness:

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