It is widely agreed that physical health is not just the absence of disease but rather the presence of well-being and vitality. Someone who does not currently have a diagnosable illness but is unable to perform daily functions well due to extremely poor physical fitness is not generally considered to be healthy. Mental Health must be considered in the same way. Mental health does not mean simply the absence of any Mental Illness as identified in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Version 5 which is the current definitive manual of Mental Illnesses. Rather, Mental Health must mean a sense of Mental Wellbeing and the ability to do what one wishes to do without being constrained by any Mental Health issues
It is possible to be free of Mental Illness yet not have good Mental Health just as it is possible to be free of disease and yet not have good physical health. For example, a person may feel displeased with their body to the point that they decline invitations to do certain activities such as swimming where there body would be highlighted by their swimming costume, yet fall far short of the definition of the Mental Illness Body Dysmorphic Disorder. This person would not meet the definition of Mental Illness but is nevertheless being impacted by poor Mental Health.
While it is impossible to determine whether the cause is that doctors are more accurately and thoroughly diagnosing the Mental Health Issues and Mental Illness of those that they treat, that people have greater awareness of Mental Health Issues and Mental Illness and are seeking treatment more than in the past, or whether due to an actual increase in Mental Health Issues and Mental Illness, the fact remains that the rate of Mental Health Issues and Mental Illness diagnosed in the population is at an all-time high. While some might consider this to be a sign of problems in society, it is actually a very positive situation. Due to lack of knowledge of Mental Health Issues and Mental Illness, lack of access to Mental Health care, or stigmatization of Mental Health Issues and Mental Illness many people throughout history have needlessly suffered without support and treatment for their Mental Health Issues or Mental Illness resulting in everything from lack of enjoyment of life and productivity to self-harm, suicide, and even violence against others.
It is important that people make themselves aware of Mental Health Issues and Mental Illness and consider whether they or someone they know may be suffering with these. Mental Health Issues and Mental Illness are not something to be embarrassed by or stigmatised any more than one should be embarrassed by having caught the common cold; they are not a sign of weakness. Just as one would seek treatment for physical illness, people need to seek treatment for Mental Illness and just as one would improve one’s diet, sleep, and exercise routine to achieve good physical health, one should improve one’s lifestyle including one’s diet, sleep, and exercise routine to achieve good Mental Health, as good Mental Health is closely associated with good physical health. In this era of Social Media and celebrity worship, one of the greatest threats to good Mental Health is the comparison of one’s real life to the carefully curated and often faked or Photoshopped pictures displayed by others on social media platforms. These often lead to feelings of being ugly, unsuccessful, and unpopular which adversely impact Mental Health. Just as one must feed their body good food to stay physically healthy, one must feed their mind positive ideas about one’s self to stay mentally healthy.
If you are someone you know is feeling mentally unhealthy or could be suffering from a mental illness please immediately seek help from a licensed mental health professional.
Olivia Goncalves, Lecturer in Psychology
Olivia is a lecturer in Psychology and Deputy Director of Foundation Psychology. She holds an MSc in Business Psychology and a BSc in Psychology with Management. Prior to joining the University of Birmingham, Olivia led the School of Foundation studies for another overseas University in the UAE.
She is passionate about learning and the student experience and has significant experience in Higher Education in the Middle East.