The pursuit of happiness: It’s something we have all aspired to. It’s a concept so common as to have inspired countless books, movies and art. It’s even in the Declaration of Independence! Yet, it is the pursuit of mental wellness that will actually give people the effect they truly desire. That is because ordinary happiness is a state one feels when he or she is mentally well.
The Mental Health Spectrum
Similar to most things in life, mental well-being is a spectrum. Everyone falls somewhere on the spectrum at any given time. The following are a few identified points:
- Mental Illness: A mental illness (also known as a mental disorder) is diagnosed by a physician or licensed clinician, and every diagnosis has varied criteria. For example, a person must meet five of the diagnostic criteria of depression to meet the diagnosis. The identified symptoms significantly impair a person’s functioning in everyday life and impact how the person experiences and makes sense of the world. Much like any other type of illness, there are treatment guidelines for mental disorders; some are chronic and require ongoing support services, and others are short term and can be treated to the point of symptom abatement.
- At-Risk: Sometimes people can be identified as at-risk for developing a mental disorder based on their current symptoms or temperamental risk factors, such as genetic or family history, stress levels, and available support systems. The types of interventions for at-risk are similar to those who meet criteria.
- Worried Well: Some people have symptoms of a mental illness, such as elevated anxiety or depression levels, but their functioning isn’t impaired. For the most part, these folks are living life as they wish and only certain aspects of their lives are impacted. For example, a lack of belief in oneself might cause someone not to chase a promotion at work. It is this group of people who could frequently benefit from therapy services, but they don’t recognize the need or opportunity to reach a greater potential.
- Mental Wellness: People experiencing mental wellness are identified by professionals as taking an intentional approach to staying balanced and mentally fit. It is defined by a person’s ability to have stable, meaningful relationships; overcome adversity; handle the stress of life; manage day-to-day responsibilities; and live in and contribute to society in a healthy way. These people are less at risk for developing a mental disorder and have achieved ordinary happiness.
Mental Wellness vs. Mental Illness
As you can see, the absence of mental wellness does not automatically indicate a mental illness—it’s a varied and complicated spectrum. Furthermore, the terms mental wellness and mental illness are often misused in our current language.
An example is when a mass shooting occurs and the term mental illness is used to rationalize the action. While the general public knows that a mental illness is defined by a diagnosis with specific criteria, a lot of people might not recognize that there is no specific diagnosis that explains a mass murder. But even if mass murderers can’t be diagnosed, they are not mentally well either.
To be clear, the vast majority of the mentally ill do not pose any threat to the public. Distorted portrayals and inaccurate information can be harmful to the person with a diagnosis, as well as society’s willingness to seek help.
Improving Mental Wellness
Regardless of where you land on the spectrum, there are steps you can take to move yourself along the spectrum and improve your mental well-being.
- Focus on Values
You’ll often find that values-driven people find more joy and more happiness in daily life than those living lives in conflict with their values. This seems like a simple fact to grasp, but it can be harder to live out. Start by defining your personal values and then use those values to guide the choices you make in life. This will lead to much less conflict in your mental and emotional state.
- Prioritize Needs
It goes without saying that mental well-being is much easier when your basic human needs are met. Unfortunately, people get caught up in striving for things they want without realizing the difference between want and need—and that can lead to problems when not everything can be achieved. Start by differentiating your needs from your wants, and prioritize your needs.
- Tend to Relationships
One of the biggest regrets you often hear about from people nearing the end of their lives is a failure to spend time with loved ones. Not only is this time essential to our immediate mental well-being, it also sustains the relationships we come to rely on at other points in life. Tending to these relationships is paramount to keeping your support system intact, and when the uncertainties of life come around, that support system is critical.
- Manage Stress
Stress is a necessary physical process by which the human brain prepares the human body for attack. This “flight or fight” response was great for cavemen. But not so great when we modern humans have to juggle it with jobs, and families, and responsibilities. It’s people who have learned to manage their stress who enjoy a healthy, balanced mental and emotional state and are able to recuperate more quickly when adversity comes their way.
- Take Care of Your Body
Physical health plays a large role in mental well-being—and vice versa. Pain, fatigue and other physical health problems all exacerbate stress and take a toll on your mental health. Eating well, exercising, and addressing any physical illnesses gives your body the best chance at supporting you throughout your life and contributing to your mental well-being.
Having achieved mental wellness, happiness is a stage in which a person feels joy. All of the therapy services offered at St. Louis Center for Family Development have a focus on moving people from wherever they fall on the mental health spectrum toward a healthier, stronger emotional and mental state. When people are experiencing disorders, STLCFD offers a range of scientifically backed treatments to help bring them out of that space. Given all our services are evidence-informed, we have the tools to help you achieve the life you deserve.
Let us help you in your pursuit of mental wellness. Contact the STLCFD office today to schedule a consultation.