If I say 'mental health,' what comes to mind?
Depression? Anxiety? Illness?
I ask this question in workplaces and despite my healthy audiences, the responses include mental illnesses, symptoms of mental illness, mental health concerns and words like 'sadness, 'challenges,' 'stigma,' even 'crazy.'
It seems that when we think of mental health, it's still mental illness that comes to mind.
I've written before about my desire for a mind switch when it comes to mental health. Not because I'm not concerned about the 20% of our population experiencing mental ill-health each year or because I'm not distressed by our rising rates of suicide. I just wonder whether we can't turn these stats around with prevention rather than treatment or cure?
Whether we should shift some of the focus to the 80% of us who are not unwell?
Making the world healthy
Remember the Life Be In It campaign in Australia in the 1970s and 80s?
This one - Participating - is a mental health ad before its time, with a very catchy tune (Earworm alert). Its message? Forget about what's going wrong, what's not working. Get out, participate in life, have fun, be active, be engaged, giggle and have fun.
It's not a campaign for those struggling with mental ill-health - the 20%. We've focused on that for the past ten years with some great and compelling public education campaigns. This is an ad for the rest of us - the 80%. It's an ad that will help us - more of us - to get mentally healthy.
But it's over 30 years old.
Where are today's public health campaigns for participation? For fun and engagement and enjoyment in life? Could the whole population benefit from a greater focus on flourishing?
What is mental health?
Mental health is more than the absence of mental illness. Just as you can be unhealthy without being unwell, you can be mentally unhealthy without being mentally unwell. In positive psychology we call this 'languishing' - a state of feeling hollow and empty - and its believed to affect about 15% of us.
A further 54% of us are moderately mentally healthy and 11% of us hit the high point of flourishing - the feeling that life is going well.
What do we need to flourish?
It's more than feeling happy. We need to:
- Feel competent at what we do
- Have some stability in our emotions
- Be engaged in life
- Have a sense of meaning and purpose
- Be optimistic about the future
- Experience some positive feelings during our day
- Have positive relationships in our lives
- Be resilient
- Possess sound self-esteem
- Feel vital and alive.
If we can get more of us flourishing we're not only improving our life satisfaction and well-being, we're moving the population away from mental ill-health. We're all moving up the mental health spectrum.
I am passionate about getting our population mentally healthy, happy and flourishing. It's why I named my business Potential Psychology Services almost 15 years ago, because I want us all to reach our potential.
I might not be able to influence public policy to reinstate campaigns like Life Be In It* (not directly anyway) but maybe I can help you and together we can take individual steps to make the whole world happy?
I reckon it's worth a try.
Homework: How can you flourish?
There are some great tips here and I have some suggestions for you to try:
- For one week, focus less on how happy you are feeling and more on how competent you feel. Every day, ask yourself, am I feeling competent and capable right now? Notice how it makes you feel.
- Build your resilience. If you strike a challenge or something doesn't work out as you'd hoped focus less on feeling demotivated, disappointed or angry and ask yourself, 'What am I learning from this?'
- Feel alive. Do something that makes you feel energised and alive. It might be fun with a friend, music, dancing, exercise, get involved with a group or activity you love or try something new.
*Life Be In It continues to exist but no longer receives Australian Federal government funding.