What is Mental Health?

Because social emotional health is the intersection of social emotional learning and mental health, we talk a lot about mental health. But, what is mental health and how does it fit into overall health?

By Momentous Institute | Jan 18, 2021
Mental Health For Adults

On this blog, we talk a lot about mental health. After all, our work is centered around the intersection of mental health and education. But one important layer to any discussion about mental health is a broader discussion about overall health. When it comes to discussions about health, they often center around physical health. From a young age, we are able to articulate how we feel physically. However, we are not as accustomed to being in tune with how we feel mentally. This is because we often think of health as a purely physical thing. But that’s simply not the case. Physical health is just one component of health; mental health is equally important.

Think of this as an equation: Physical Health + Mental Health = Overall Health

So, let’s talk a bit more about mental health.

Discussions about mental health are more mainstream now than they were, say, a decade ago. However, even today, discussions about mental health often center around mental health disorders or illness. When we only focus on something in the negative, it tends to become a taboo topic. Conversations around mental health illness are extremely important, but so are conversations about general mental health. Mental health is a component to your overall health, it doesn’t only exist when there is a problem.

The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of wellbeing in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” In other words, mental health is an essential part of our daily lives.

Think about a time something in your body was bothering you – a crick in your neck, a sore ankle, a blister on your foot, a headache. What did you do to address that pain?  Did you have the tools and resources you needed to know how to take care of your body and minimize the pain?

Now, think about a time something was bothering you mentally – you felt sad or anxious, agitated or worried. What did you do to address your mental health? Did you have the tools or resources you needed to know how to take care of yourself appropriately?

Typically, addressing our physical needs and concerns is instinctive, but addressing our mental needs and concerns usually requires a little more effort. This is in part because a physical concern such as a headache feels more urgent than feeling sad or agitated, but also because we tend to only think of mental health in terms of something that only exists as a disorder, we don’t think of it as simply part of our overall health.

Ultimately, we hope to shift the thinking about mental health. It’s not something we should only be aware of when something’s not quite feeling right, but something we should be thinking about regularly. We should strive to meet our mental health needs the same way we do our physical health needs, by knowing what we need to do to take care of ourselves and taking steps to stay healthy, physically and mentally.