Relatively recently, specifically on October 10, World Mental Health Day was celebrated internationally. Although for a large part of the population this fact has remained unnoticed, the truth is that this celebration allows us to talk and make visible many aspects of the psyche, often related to the presence of disorders such as schizophrenia, OCDbipolar disorder, phobias, substance abuse or anxiety problems.
It is important to talk about these facts, given that mental health problems are highly invisible and even today many of them continue to carry a significant social stigma.
Likewise, it should be noted that although the majority of people could identify or define at least superficially what a mental disorder is, curiously the same does not happen with the apparently opposite concept. And it is that… What exactly do we call mental health? We are going to discuss it throughout this article.
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Mental health: definition of the concept
The term mental health may be seemingly simple, but the truth is that deep down it is a highly complex concept for which there is no single global definition. And it depends on who does it and from the discipline and biological and cultural perspective from which what is understood as mental health can be very different.
In a general way, it is possible to define mental health as the subjective state of well-being in which the person is able to cope with the psychosocial demands of day-to-day lifeis aware of his abilities and can, thanks to them, adapt and integrate effectively into the world around him.
We would be faced with a state of balance between the person and the cognitive, emotional and behavioral world, in which the former feels and is able to function adequately, and can not only satisfy their needs but also feel good and fulfilled. Likewise, it must be taken into account that health is not considered as an objective per se, but as something that It is part of our daily life and that allows us to carry out our aspirations. The concept of mental health also includes the ability to carry out the behaviors necessary to maintain and promote one’s own physical and mental health.
It is important to keep in mind that mental health and mental disorder are not opposites, since it is not enough to not have any type of pathology to be considered healthy.
On the other hand, it is worth noting that The concept of mental health is not a purely descriptive idea, but also draws on morality, because our concept of what it means to enjoy good health depends on what we understand as “good” and “bad.” Thus, it transcends the field of science and invites us to reflect and debate about the quality of life to which we should aspire and which we should ensure at a social level.
It is not about not having physical or mental illnesses or disorders., but also to enjoy a biopsychosocial balance that allows us to stay in good condition, be able to adapt to the environment and enjoy our daily lives. In other words, it is necessary to have a good state of psychological well-being to be considered good mental health.
Criticisms of this concept
In the field of psychology, not everyone finds the concept of mental health useful. This occurs especially in the behavior analysis paradigm, in which the tendency to see psychological problems as health problems is seen critically, phenomena of an organic nature whose main causes begin and end in the organism, whether at the level of organs, tissues, cells, etc. From this perspective, psychological problems seem to be above all alterations of the body, and that is why the biomedical model would be the one that best adapts to the investigation and treatment of these forms of discomfort.
Therefore, from this point of view the objective of psychology applied to well-being is not so much to enhance something called mental health, but rather to focus on the inappropriate behaviors themselves, and promote other more adaptive ones.
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Psychological well-being: what does it imply?
As we have seen, mental health implies a state of well-being, not only on a physical level but also psychologically. In this sense, we understand psychological well-being to be the set of positive sensations derived from mental functioning in which self-realization and the ability to cope or adapt to environmental situations and demands.
Subjective well-being is mainly configured, according to Carol Ryff’s model, by the presence of high self-acceptance or the ability to validate both the good and the bad of oneself in such a way that one is satisfied with who one is, the search and maintenance of positive and deep relationships with the environment, the ability to influence the environment and the perception of said ability, the existence of the ability to choose independently and make one’s own decisions based on one’s own beliefs, the possibility of grow and develop personally in such a way that we can optimize ourselves as much as possible and, last but not least, the existence of vital purposes or goals to achieve.
To all this we can add the existence in daily life of a high proportion of positive affect and a low proportion of negative affect, satisfaction and a feeling of coherence, integration, and social acceptance. Besides The perception of being useful and generating something for the community also influences.
There are many aspects that must be considered when assessing mental health. In this sense, it may be interesting to point out and highlight different characteristics to take into account with regard to what the existence of mental health implies. Among them we can find the following.
1. It is not only the absence of disorder
As we have seen, when we talk about mental health we are not talking about the mere absence of mental disorders or problems but rather about a state of general well-being that allows good functioning and participation in the world and a correct relationship with oneself.
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2. Includes cognition, emotion and behavior
Often when we talk about mental health we usually imagine someone with some type of problem linked to the existence of cognitive problems. However, within mental health we also find emotional and motivational and even behavioral elements: mental health not only implies having a specific way of thinking, but also of feeling and doing.
3. It develops throughout life
The state of each one’s mental health does not appear out of nowhere, but rather It is the product of a long development process in which biological, environmental and biographical factors (the experiences and learning we do throughout life) will greatly influence us.
The experience of a state of well-being or lack of it can vary greatly from one person to another, and two different people or even the same person at two different moments in life can have a different opinion regarding their state of health. mental.
4. Cultural influence
As we have seen previously, the concept of mental health can be complex to define universally because Different cultures have different conceptions of what is and is not healthy.. In the same way, comparison with the reference group is generally used to assess one’s own state of mental health: something is considered healthy if it conforms to what society considers as such. Thus, the same subject can be considered mentally healthy in one context and not in another.
To give an example, in an individualistic country there will be more emphasis on autonomy and self-determination while in a collectivist country those who are able to think more about the group or community will be considered healthier. Another example is found in the management and consideration of emotions.: some cultures or countries tend to seek to hide or suppress negative ones, while others seek greater acceptance and validation of them.
5. Mental health as something dynamic and workable
As with physical health, the state of mental health can vary throughout life based on the different pathogens and experiences we have throughout our lives. In this sense, it is possible to work to improve mental health: mental health problems can be treated and the situation of each individual can improve greatly. In addition, We can establish strategies and measures that contribute to improving our state of mental health and preventing possible problems..
On the other hand, it is also possible that in certain situations a person with a good level of mental health may suffer some type of problem or pathology.
6. Body-mind interrelation
Another idea that needs to be taken into account when we talk about mental health is the fact that it is not possible to fully understand the functioning of the mind without the body or the body without the mind.
The presence of diseases and medical disorders is a factor to take into account when explaining the state of mental health, and vice versa. It is easily visible if we think about the effects that serious, chronic or very dangerous diseases can have on our psyche: the stress, fear and suffering that can lead to problems as important as cancera heart attack, diabetes or HIV infection.
In this sense, it is necessary to take into account both the possible impact of the disease on the state of mental health (for example, poisoning can generate mental alterations) and that which generates the perception of illness. This does not mean that mental health cannot be preserved despite having an illness, but it may represent a handicap or difficulty in maintaining a state of mental well-being.
Likewise, practicing sports and maintaining healthy lifestyle habits promotes mental health, balance and well-being. In the same way, mental health has an effect on physical health: good mental health helps the body stay healthy, while if there is a problem it is easier for fatigue, discomfort, physical pain, and a lowered immune system to occur. , somatizations… and this can lead to diseases.