Our mental health is an essential part of our overall well-being : feeling comfortable, healthy and balanced.

The World Health Organisation defines mental health as:

 A “state of well-being in which every individual realises their own potential, 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.”

This definition, like many others has its limits and it does not fully capture the concept of mental health. It is merely a snapshot. Mental health is something fluid, dynamic and always in motion. Similar to ourselves it evolves, regresses, grows, shrinks or stays flat. It is affected by the amount of interest, time and energy we invest in acknowledging, maintaining and improving it. 

How does mental health affect our lives?

It affects:

• The way we feel about ourselves

• The quality of our relationships

• The ability to manage our feelings and handle stress

• The ability to deal with challenges, disappointments and losses.

Mental Health is more than just the absence of an illness, it refers to someone’s ability to thrive mentally, to be resilient and able to cope with the stresses and strains of life.

Mental health is connected with our emotional, sexual, physical and social health. They are all part of our overall well-being. 


Taking care of your mental health involves knowing when you need help, recognising the signs and knowing where to look for it. Mental health is related to mental fitness, and like physical fitness it is something we can work at. Certain activities are better than others for maintaining our mental health. This is an ongoing process, whose purpose is to allow us to cope with life events in a useful, healthy and constructive way. 

What is mental health?

Mental health can be considered under the same parameters as physical health.

To stay Physically fit we have to exercise and eat well.  To stay mentally fit we have to exercise our brain and eat (words and experiences) well.

What does this mean.

For physical fitness I might go for a walk, go to the gym, go swimming etc.

For mental fitness, I might do any of these activities but I also need to engage with something outside of myself.

So, I can stay physically fit without ever engaging in an activity outside of myself.  But to stay mentally fit, I need to engage with others. I need to mobilise my desire and find what it is I like to do, and I need to do it. It is more complex than physical fitness because there are many facets to it. 

Mental illness is a different thing again, it is like physical illness and it needs to be treated.  But similar to physical illness, staying fit and taking regular care of ourselves lessens our chances of developing a mental illness.  Also, like physical illness, there are some mental illnesses we are born with.

Mental health is also an individual thing.  Going to the gym might be what some people find useful to help them mentally, for others it is meeting a friend for a coffee or taking some time to themselves.  For others it could be doing yoga or hugging a tree or writing a journal.  The important thing to stress here is that it is completely individual, what works for one, will not necessarily work for another.  To develop mental resilience, it is important that we find many different ways to maintain our mental health.  This is for a number of reasons, but to use the physical analogy again, if all we do is weights to train our biceps, our leg muscles will not be fit.  There are many muscle groups in our body, similarly there are many different mental health patterns in our psyche.

For physical health there are a number of experts that can help us.  There are doctors, nurses, physiotherapists, physical therapists, coaches, and personal trainers.  For mental health there are also experts that can help us, there are psychiatrists, psychologists, psychotherapists, and counselors.  Like physical health, there are many things we can do for ourselves, activities, routines and habits that ward off ill health and increase our fitness and ability to fight off illness.  There are overlaps between physical and mental health, exercise, diet and sleep play a part in both.

Everyone suffers from mental health problems from time to time as they do physical problems.  We wouldn’t stigmatise someone for spraining their ankle or breaking a leg.  Trauma’s can also have an impact on our mental health and the more coping mechanisms we have the better and quicker we heal. 


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