Wellness is a relatively new paradigm in health care, and the subject of mental wellness is newer still. The study of characteristics that make up mental health is called Positive Psychology, which was introduced only in 1998. Mental wellness in counseling and therapy is even more recent, being introduced in 2001.
Mental wellness is more than a pop psychology term; it is a part of the future of medicine, which is moving daily toward a concept of holistic treatment. Both presidential candidates envision more holistic health care, and medical practices across the nation are taking up the idea of treating the whole person, rather than just handing out prescriptions.
This post defines mental wellness as it is understood by its originators, and as it is used in this blog. It is the second post in the series defining the terms mental health, mental wellness, and mental wholeness as it relates to this blog’s tag line, “Living with Health, Wellness and Wholeness.”
What is mental wellness?
Wellness refers to a holistic approach in which mind, body, and spirit are integrated
As mentioned, the concept of mental wellness is relatively new, introduced only in 2001. In my research for this post, I looked at well over 50 internet sites that were classified under “wellness.” Only two even mentioned mental health. Most of the rest emphasized physical wellness, and quite a few were full of gimmicks and hype for products from spa treatments to shower heads (really!). None had anything resembling spiritual wellness in their contents. Perhaps mental and spiritual wellness are ignored because they have few commercial possibilities!
The best definition of mental wellness that I could find was by Dr. Jane Myers of the University of North Carolina, one of the founders of the concept. She says,
Wellness refers to a holistic approach in which mind, body, and spirit are integrated. It is a way of life oriented toward optimal health and well-being in which body, mind, and spirit are integrated in a purposeful manner with a goal of living life more fully… Wellness is more than the absence of disease, [or] a state defined as “health.” [It] incorporates a concern for optimal functioning.
Being mentally well is intertwined with being physically and spiritually well
Mental wellness, physical wellness and spiritual wellness are co-equal
By its very essence, mental wellness cannot be separated from physical and spiritual wellness. The three work together to produce the very concept of wellness.
The following list was compiled by Dr. Myers as a general guide to what it is to live in wellness. These are essential areas of concern along life’s way and not an absolute checklist that measures success or failure. You may not even agree with them all. Choose the ones you want to aspire to and make them your milestones along the mental wellness continuum.
Note that most of the points below deal with mental health and wellness in some way:
- Thinking. Being mentally active and open-minded. The ability to be creative and experimental. Having a sense of curiosity. The ability to apply problem-solving strategies to social conflicts.
- Emotions. Being aware of or in touch with your feelings. The ability to express appropriately positive and negative feelings.
- Control. Beliefs about your competence, confidence, and personal mastery. Beliefs that you can usually achieve the goals you set out for yourself.
- Work. Satisfaction with your work. Feeling that your skills are used appropriately. Feeling you can manage one’s workload. Feeling a sense of job security. Feeling appreciated in the work you do.
- Positive Humor. Being able to laugh at your own mistakes. The ability to use humor to accomplish even serious tasks.
- Leisure. Satisfaction with your time spent in leisure. Feeling that your skills are used appropriately.
- Stress Management. On-going self-assessment of your coping resources. The ability to organize and manage resources such as time, energy, and setting limits.
- Self-Worth. Accepting who and what you are, positive qualities along with imperfections. A sense of being genuine within yourself and with others.
- Realistic Beliefs. Ability to process information and perceive reality accurately. The absence of persistent irrational beliefs and thoughts and need for perfection.
- Friendship. Social relationships that involve a connection with others individually or in community, but which do not have a marital, sexual, or familial commitment. Having a capacity to trust others. Having empathy for others. Feeling understood by others.
- Love. The ability to be intimate, trusting, self-disclosing with another. The ability to give as well as express affection with significant others and to accept others without conditions.
- Spirituality. Personal beliefs and behaviors practiced as part of the recognition that we are more than the material aspects of mind and body. Belief in a higher power. Hope and optimism. Practice of worship, prayer, and/or meditation; purpose in life. Compassion for others. Moral values. Transcendence (a sense of oneness with the universe).
- Gender Identity. Satisfaction with and feeling supported in one’s gender. Ability to be androgynous.
- Cultural Identity. Satisfaction with and feeling supported in one’s cultural identity. Cultural assimilation.
- Self-Care. Taking responsibility for one’s wellness through self-care and safety habits that are preventive in nature.
- Nutrition. Eating a nutritionally balanced diet. Maintaining a normal weight (within 15% of the ideal).
- Exercise. Engaging in sufficient physical activity through exercise or in your work to keep in good physical condition.
General Feeling of Well-Being
- Perceived Wellness. The extent to which you believe you have achieved wellness in all areas, or total wellness. Your estimate of your total wellness.
- Perceived Safety. The extent to which you believe you are safe in your home, neighborhood, and community, and the extent to which you feel safe from harm by terrorists.
- Context. The extent to which your wellness is influenced, in a conscious manner, by individual, institutional, and global contexts, and the extent to which you are aware of and intentional in responding positively to changes in wellness over time.
My definition of mental wellness
Mental wellness is part of a healthy life balance
Mental wellness is thoroughly integrated with physical and spiritual wellness, and should receive the same attention as either. It is proactive, not waiting until something goes wrong to fix the problem, but actively working on mental health as our lives progress and change. Above all, it is being self-aware, self-understanding and self-forgiving, so that a healthy balance can be maintained in all areas of life.
What do you think?
- How would you define mental wellness? Or do you even believe in the concept?
- Do you have any items that you add to or remove from the list?
- Do you think that the emphasis on spiritual wellness as equal to mental and physical wellness is appropriate?
As always, your comments are welcome!
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Resources used in this post:
Bessinger, Donivan. (2000). Carl G. Jung: A Brief Introduction to His Ideas. Retrieved from Journey into Wholeness Web site: http://users.aol.com/journeywh/jwjung.htm
Myers, Jane. (2004, April 23). Wellness Models, Assessment, Research. Retrieved August 4, 2008 from University of North Carolina at Greensboro Web site: http://www.uncg.edu/~jemyers/wellness/docs/wellness.htm
Satcher, David. (1999). Mental Health: A Report of the Surgeon General 1999. Retrieved July 29, 2008 from US Department of Health and Human Services Web site: http://mentalhealth.samhsa.gov/cre/ch1_scope.asp
Discovery Health: What Is Mental Health? http://health.discovery.com/centers/mental/whatis/whatis.html
Mental Wellness Information Emotional Wellness Mental Fitness Health Advice, Dr. Ron Sterling http://www.mentalwellness.ws/
Moving Towards Wholeness http://lessonsforliving.com/moving_towards_wholeness.htm