What is Mental Wellness? Living with Health, Wellness and Wholeness

– Posted in: Opinion

Mental wellness is part of the tag line for this blog, “Living with Health, Wellness and Wholeness.”

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:

Creative Self

  • 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.

Coping Self

  • 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.

Social Self

  • 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.

Essential Self

  • 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.

 Physical Self

  • 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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Related posts:


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

Further reading:

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

10 comments… add one
Kim Woodbridge October 28, 2008, 10:35 pm

Hi Mike,

I love humor – even in a serious post so I had to laugh about the shower heads. :-)

I think it is important to have all facets of wellness intertwined. I think all of us, however, falter in one of those categories. For me, it would definitely be the relationship area. I can love and have some friends but am very much a loner. I prefer being alone. And I didn’t get married until I was over 30 and it didn’t even last 7 years, so I don’t think I’m very good at opening up and sustaining them.

But if we excelled in all of those area, even when we are well, then I don’t think we would be quite human.

I’m really enjoying this series Mike.

Mike October 29, 2008, 4:49 pm

Thanks for the comment, Kim. I’m really glad you’re enjoying the series. It has been one of the most difficult to write of all my posts. It requires really thinking deeply about my blog, and my purposes for writing. And of course, writing the words to describe this cogently has taken a great deal of work.

I’m a loner, too. I think it’s because I’m an introvert who needs a lot of time alone. Fortunately, I married another introvert who understands this need in 1972, and we’ve gotten along well because of the matching needs. Curiously, our children are a mixed bag: our son is an extrovert of the first water, and our daughter is an introvert like us.

I’m planning on writing a post about introverts soon, as I find its relationship to the Anxiety Disorders intriguing. There’s a great article by Jonathan Rauch that you might like to read, Caring for Your Introvert that has made me feel a lot better about myself!

Val August 27, 2011, 11:44 am

I think this is right on. More and more research suggests that up to 80% of all illness has its roots in the mental/emotional/spiritual. Whether you lump the three of those together or separate them out, this part of our wellness can’t be ignored if you want to be truly healthy and well.

Tom February 7, 2012, 5:50 pm

I am a web developer and once provided my services for a very inspirational man. He has fought through schizophrenia and is truly “mentally well”.

I was particularly moved by his story and his definition of mental wellness which was defined as “When you would rather be yourself more than any other person in the world, you are truly mentally well”.

What a thought? When regardless of reasoning, weight, intelligence, money, relationship status or anything else you would rather be you.

Ties in with your definition indicated above. It’s a state of being one with who you are and who you aim to be. You’ve accomplished your dreams for yourself and have no jealousies or desires of anyone else.


Thought I’d share.

Lerato July 6, 2016, 6:14 am

i believe that m stable but i only with hold certain things inside, i turn to start behaving wierd when m uncomfortable e.g i talk a lot and avoid awkward silences. but i hold things inside and m not really shy i am more introverted.

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