“Mental health is health” wrote Madalyn Parker who gained publicity for her candid email to her colleagues informing them that she was going to have a day off to focus on her mental health so that she could come back to work ‘refreshed and back to 100%’.
What was even more uplifting was the response from her CEO who not only thanked her for her email, yet also took the opportunity to remind his employees that we should all bring our whole selves to work.
You can read the article here if you’re not familiar with the story.
Unfortunately bosses or even workplace cultures like that of Madalyn’s are far and few in between.
Mental health problems is still very much a stigma – not only in the workplace, yet also in family settings.
Despite shedding light on mental health through the media and education, it’s really the experiences and stories like that of Madalyn Parker that are tangibly changing people’s perception of mental health.
Mental Health vs. Mental Illness
First off let’s make a distinction here – mental health is NOT another definition for mental illness and more importantly, mental health is NOT simply the absence of mental illness.
It appears it’s much easier to define mental illness than it is mental health.
Mental illnesses are health conditions involving changes in thinking, emotion or behaviour (or a combination of these).
Mental illnesses are associated with distress and/or problems functioning in social, work or family activities.
And even though many of us don’t suffer from a diagnosable mental disorder, it’s quite clear that some of us are mentally healthier than others.
Then what is Mental Health?
Mental health may not have a strict or a clear cut definition as does mental illness or mental disorder, however, probably the best way to describe mental health is through the characteristics that are associated with a healthier state of mind.
So what are the characteristics of mental health?
The Ability to Enjoy Life
The ability to enjoy life is essential to good mental health.
Living in the moment and truly appreciating ‘now time’ is one of the simplest ways to enjoy life.
The practice of mindfulness meditation is one way to cultivate the ability to enjoy the present.
Learning from the past and planning for the future are part of everyday life, yet the past and possible future events need not define you.
The ability to bounce back from adversity has been referred to as ‘resilience’.
It has been long known that some people handle stress better than others.
One war veteran could be handicapped, physically and mentally, for life while another may go on to build a new life for themselves.
Why do some adults raised in alcoholic families do well, while others have repeated problems in life?
The characteristic of ‘resilience’ is shared by those who cope well with stress.
Balance in life tends to result in greater mental health.
For example, we all need to balance time spent socially with time spent alone.
Those who spend all of their time alone may get labelled as loners and they may lose many of their social skills.
Those who ignore the need for some solitary time, operate at the other extreme.
Balancing these two needs seems to be the key – although we all balance these differently.
Other areas where balance seems to be important include the balance between work and play, the balance between sleep and wakefulness, the balance between rest and exercise, and even the balance between time spent indoors and time spent outdoors.
We’ve all come across people with very rigid opinions and no amount of discussion can change their views.
Such people are setting themselves up for added stress by the rigid expectations that they hold.
Working on making our expectations more flexible can improve our mental health.
Emotional flexibility may be just as important as cognitive flexibility.
Mentally healthy people experience a range of emotions and allow themselves to express these feelings.
Emotional rigidity may result in other mental health problems.
We’ve all been given gifts, yet, how well do use them?
We all know people who have surpassed their potential and others who seem to have squandered their gifts.
We first need to recognise our gifts and the process of recognition is part of the path toward self-actualization.
Mentally healthy people are in the process of actualizing their potential and of course, in order to do this, we must first feel secure.
No doubt there are other characteristics of mentally healthy people, yet, these 5 characteristics are a good starting point for the journey to mental health and wellbeing.
Workplace Rehabilitation Management