We’ve all got a pretty good idea of what it means to be physically healthy. But defining good mental health can be a little trickier.
What does it really mean to be a mentally healthy person? What does good mental health look like?
Answering these questions will help you to recognise sub-optimal mental health and – importantly – take steps to address it.
What is mental health?
Mental health is something we all have and all live with.
We experience mental health on a spectrum – ranging from healthy and functioning to struggling and unwell. And where we sit on that spectrum changes throughout our lives.
For some people, mental ill health – in the form of depression or anxiety, for example – may be something experienced only briefly. For others, it’s a problem that persists throughout their life.
Life experiences and life events affect our ability to maintain good mental health. It may be that a bereavement, relationship problems or a stressful global event like the pandemic pushes us further towards the unhealthy end of the spectrum.
What does a mentally healthy person look like?
So what does it mean to be mentally healthy?
Experts are still debating how we define this complex term. However, they tend to agree on a few key points.
A mentally healthy person is someone who experiences a full range of emotions and can manage their thoughts, emotions and social interactions in a healthy way. It isn’t simply someone without a mental health condition and it isn’t someone who is happy all the time.
"The stereotypical picture of happiness that is often portrayed in media can be unrealistic and difficult to sustain. The full spectrum of human emotion is dismissed in a bid to achieve a peak of pleasure. Happiness isn’t one-dimensional. It’s more than a feeling… We don’t want to over-medicalise normal life experiences.
If something happens that you don’t want to happen, you’ll feel bad about it… Even jealousy, anger and fear are useful emotions. However, when the frequency, duration and intensity of your emotions starts to take up so much of who we are and starts to overtake our functioning and our relationships, one needs to stop and think: Is this something that I can manage on my own?"
- Dr Chetna Kang, psychiatrist and BBC presenter
Here’s a little more on what a mentally healthy person looks like.
Resilient and adaptable
When a situation is sad or stressful or challenging, a mentally healthy person may experience negative emotions. However, they’ll feel able to manage those emotions and bounce back relatively quickly to a state of equilibrium.
Able to maintain healthy relationships
Mentally healthy people are able to build and maintain healthy relationships with the people around them. Healthy relationships can be tricky to define, but generally they’re built on trust, open and honest communication, mutual respect and empathy. But, it’s actually sometimes easier to spot the signs of an unhealthy relationship instead. For instance, a type of unhealthy relationship is a codependent relationship, whereby one half of the partnership depends on the other for their self-worth, is not able to express their needs and feels responsible for managing their partner’s emotions.
It’s not just relationships with others that determine whether someone is mentally healthy. It’s also about having a good relationship with themselves, feeling positive about who they are and demonstrating a good level of self-esteem.
Living life on their own terms
A mentally healthy person will have the energy and the inclination to take care of themselves, to work and to take part in activities they enjoy. They’ll feel that their life is valuable and worthwhile.
Physical health has a big impact on mental health. A mentally healthy person is likely to sleep well, eat well and be physically active too. And physical activity can be anything that gets your moving, from going for a run to yoga, to jumping on new and revived trends like rollerskating - how about giving one of these a go? Check out this free yoga class or put on a pair of skates, get out in nature and learn (or revisit) a new skill while you’re at it.
Ways to improve your mental health
So what should you do if your mental health isn’t so great at the moment? There are lots of ways to improve your mental health and wellbeing.
Eat well – A healthy diet, without lots of junk food and alcohol, is good for both your body and your brain. One of the best ways to ramp up your healthy eating is to increase the variety of the foods you eat. We love this veggie curry from the BDA that includes seven different vegetables and a real flavour punch, try it out!
Be active – Getting regular exercise is good for your mental health. It boosts your self-esteem, helps you to sleep better and helps to keep your body healthy too.
Practice mindfulness – Finding ways to be more conscious of the present moment can help you appreciate life more and understand yourself better. The great thing about mindfulness is that it can be incorporated into different stages of your day, try this guided visualisation exercise or breathwork session.
Do something new – Both learning a new skill and helping others have been shown to improve mental health. Have you tried cold water swimming or pottery?
Speak to someone – Never be afraid to ask for help or support. Sharing your problems with a close friend, a support group or a therapist can help you to see things much more clearly. Everyone’s different and we all have different bodies, minds and needs.
Getting the right mental health help
If you feel in need of some expert mental health support, Augmentive can help. We offer a free and confidential discovery call run by therapist Sarah Norman, who can point you in the right direction based on your individual needs.
The Augmentive philosophy is that feeling your best doesn't have to be a struggle. The team have curated a wide range of support so that you can find the right combination for your body, mind and lifestyle.
Alternatively, if you’re struggling and need to speak to someone urgently, call one of these mental health support centres:
· Call Samaritans on 116 123 (UK-wide)
· Text SHOUT to 85258 (UK-wide)
Call C.A.L.L. on 0800 132 737 (Wales only)