(Excerpted from World Psychiatry, June, 2015)
The concept that mental health is not merely the absence of mental illness [1, 2] was unanimously endorsed, while the equivalence between mental health and well-being/ functioning was not, and a definition leaving room for a variety of emotional states and for “imperfect functioning” was drafted.
The proposed definition is reported herewith:
Mental health is a dynamic state of internal equilibrium which enables individuals to use their abilities in harmony with universal values of society. Basic cognitive and social skills; ability to recognize, express and modulate one’s own emotions, as well as empathize with others; flexibility and ability to cope with adverse life events and function in social roles; and harmonious relationship between body and mind represent important components of mental health which contribute, to varying degrees, to the state of internal equilibrium.
The addition of a note explaining what is meant in the definition by the expression “universal values” is deemed necessary, in the light of the misleading use of this expression in certain political and social circumstances. The values we are referring to are: respect and care for oneself and other living beings; recognition of connectedness between people; respect for the environment; respect for one’s own and others’ freedom.
The concept of “dynamic state of internal equilibrium” is meant to reflect the fact that different life epochs require changes in the achieved equilibrium: adolescent crises, marriage, becoming a parent or retirement are good examples of life epochs requiring an active search for a new mental equilibrium. This concept also incorporates and acknowledges the reality that mentally healthy people may experience appropriate human emotions – including for example fear, anger, sadness and grief – whilst at the same time possessing sufficient resilience to timeously restore the dynamic state of internal equilibrium.
All components proposed in the definition represent important but not mandatory aspects of mental health; as a matter of fact, they may contribute to a varying degree to the state of equilibrium, so that fully developed functions may offset an impairment in another aspect of mental functioning. For instance, a very empathetic person, highly interested in mutual sharing, may compensate for a moderate degree of cognitive impairment, and still find a satisfactory equilibrium and pursue her/his life goals.
Above is an excerpt. Graphics and emphasis via italics were added by Emma Bragdon. Complete article:
Toward a New Definition of Mental Health. S. Galderisi, A. Heinz, M. Kastrup, J. Beezhold & N. Sartorius in World Psychiatry, Volume 14, Issue 2, pages 231–233, June 2015, DOI: 10.1002/wps.20231
1. World Health Organization. Promoting mental health: concepts, emerging evidence, practice (Summary Report). Geneva: World Health Organization, 2004.
2. U.S. Department of Health and Human Services. Mental health: a report of the Surgeon General. Rockville: U.S. Public Health Service, 1999.