Mental Health is something I have been yapping on about for more than a year. I always talk about how important it is to talk about it and how important it is to remove the stigma around mental illnesses. A very peculiar and irritating thing I noticed is that everyone around me wants to promote it but very few know what it is.

What is “Mental Health”?

It is a question that popped in my mind a few weeks back. Is it just an absence of mental illness? Or is it something more than that? What does being mentally healthy even mean?

The interesting bit about this question is that there is no particular answer to it yet.

Previously, there had been an implicit assumption that it could be best defined as the antonym of mental illness, but accepting that assumption is to underestimate human potential. Mental illness can be defined as the presence of selected symptoms, but health is something more than the absence of symptoms.

For a long time it was defined as being the absence of mental illness. It was Erik Erikson who pointed out that in order to remove an illness; we need to have a definition of what being healthy is. He said, “We cannot even really know what causes neurotic suffering until we have an idea of what causes real health.”

Cautions of a Definition

Defining mental health like physical health is not very easy. There are many precautions that one needs to keep in mind while doing so. First, the definition must be cross-cultural. It means that what is mental health in India must also be what it is in USA. A definition which stands the scrutiny of multiple global cultures is hard to construct.

Second, we need to keep in mind that ‘average’ mental health isn’t always good. Average means that there is some bad as well. Third, we need to look at the difference between a state and a trait. Cristiano Ronaldo with a sprained ankle (state) would be considered healthier than a man with Type 1- Diabetes (trait). A temporary state of low energy would be healthier than the manic phase of someone with bipolar disorder.

Finally, it needs to be seen in context as well. Sickle cell anemia trait for example is considered unhealthy in European countries. In African countries on the other hand, that trait is considered healthy since it prevents the person from contracting Malaria.


Another important part to consider is that if it is ‘good’; who is it good for? Is it good for the person or the whole community? Does being mentally healthy mean you can fit in well in a society? If so, then is creativity a mental illness?!

Defining it is a very complicated task and there are 6 major view-points currently that try to do so in their own way. Each view is a valid one and makes some good points and each of them needs to be discussed separately. I will write a separate article for each one to be as informative as possible.

As we know, when it comes to mental health, things aren’t always as easy as they seem.

Even the concept of ‘mental health’ is a complicated one.


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