May is Mental Health Month. There are lots of articles, videos, and more circulating right now that tell us how to be “mentally healthy” and how to improve our own mental wellness. But what is ‘Mental Health’, really?
According to Google’s dictionary, it’s “a person’s condition with regard to their psychological and emotional well-being.”
And according to the World Health Organization, Mental Health is “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.” (source)
These definitions are important when trying to form a generalization of “mental health” as it relates to our society and people as a whole.
In day-to-day life, though, these standard definitions leave something out: the individual.
Though we all have places our journeys intersect and our stories find common ground, we are individuals. We each have our own backstory, our own experiences and responses, and our own way of viewing the world around us.
In short: we are each unique.
When talking about mental health from a personal standpoint, the most important question is not “What is mental health” but “What is mental health to YOU?”
If you think about living a mentally healthy lifestyle, what does that look like for you? What does caring for your own mental well-being involve? When you view yourself as a holistic individual, with needs that go beyond the physical and encompass your emotional, mental, and spiritual well-being, too, how do you care for yourself?
Adopting someone else’s definition of mental health may help us in offering a general guideline or direction, but it doesn’t tell us about who we are as individuals, what we need, or how we thrive.
On the other hand, if we adopt our own definition of mental health, we are acknowledging ourselves and our own experiences. We are getting to know ourselves on a deeper level, learning and accepting our areas of strength and of struggle (which often are the same), and discovering what it means to deeply nourish and take care of our whole self.
Additionally, during a month like May, when the spotlight is on Mental Health and awareness is the goal, by defining mental health for ourselves and sharing these definitions, we can expand the conversation surrounding mental health and normalize mental health struggles.
In short, by sharing our uniqueness with others, we come together and realize we aren’t alone.
This month, whether you are an outspoken advocate, or a quiet supporter, whether you wish to take part in campaigns like our #RedefiningMH campaign, or are happier on the sidelines cheering others on, I encourage you to define mental health for YOU. Write it down, keep it close, and remember that no one can define your mental health or wellbeing for you.
You know yourself better than you think, and you know how to harm yourself just as well as you know how to help yourself, so choose the latter day after day, month after month, year after year.
Here’s to celebrating our stories, owning our experiences, validating our feelings, and championing our own mental health!
As for me, this is my personal definition of mental health:
I believe mental health is akin to physical health: it is something we all have and something we all can struggle with at different times and in a variety of ways. As individuals, I believe Mental Health looks different for each of us, and it is something I am constantly learning about and redefining for myself. Living a mentally healthy lifestyle, to me, is about finding a balance between awareness and action, overcoming and acceptance. In short: mental health is about knowing myself, being myself, and caring for myself.
What’s yours? Join us for Mental Health Month using #RedefiningMH!