Mental wellness is a topic that seems to be more relevant than ever in today's fast-paced and stressful school and work environment. However, defining mental wellness can get complicated. It is often used interchangeably with mental health, which is not necessarily accurate.

Mental health is currently described by the World Health Organization as “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community” (WHO, 2014).

This definition is a clear step away from the typical and misguiding concept of mental health as simply the absence of mental illness (Galderisi, 2015). However, WHO’s current definition highlights positive and fully-functioning characteristics as contributors to “mental health,” which may not be fully representative of the reality of – and nuances within – understanding mental health.

What may not come as a surprise is that highs, lows, anger, sadness, happiness, and emotional versatility is inherently human and normal, and each person experiences various levels of personal satisfaction day-to-day. This being said, how can anyone truly say that someone is “mentally healthy?”

A proposed definition from the National Institutes of Health US National Library of Medicine states that “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” (Galderisi, 2015).

The new definition aims to bring “universal values” to the forefront. These values include: “respect and care for oneself and other living beings, recognition of connectedness between people, respect for the environment, and respect for one's own and others' freedom” (Galderisi, 2015). Also accounted for is the reality that mental health can encompass the full range of human emotions with regard for negative and more difficult emotions and subsequent coping, as discussed prior.

Mental health does not fit into a box - or even a multitude of boxes. In truth, mental wellness can be a concept that is even harder to pin down. This stems from a multitude of influential factors like gender, socioeconomic status, education, family, culture, history, ethnicity, etc. An intersectional approach to the subject with encouragement and support is crucial in improving mental health.

Mental wellness, as opposed to mental health, is relatively new in terms of medical and psychological studies, research, and teachings. Despite the knowledge gaps that exist behind this terminology, mental wellness has become an increasingly important and relevant factor in overall health and well-being, especially among educational institutions.

The difference between mental health and mental wellness is now being emphasized in order to include more breadth on the subject, and to highlight proactive prevention rather than reactive treatment.  

In fact, student programming in higher education has been one of the leading faculties in advocating for and implementing mental wellness best practices. Researchers are looking into the value of on-campus mental wellness resources more and more, finding that students who do not suffer from mental illness are less likely to drop out, abuse alcohol and other substances, and engage in other risky or life-threatening behaviors (Eisenberg, Golberstein, Hunt, 2009), substantiating campus administrative efforts to keep students healthy.

As old approaches to mental illness fall away, the focus on preventative measures becomes ever more apparent. People are realizing that prevention is best practice, and emphasizing programming towards mental wellness is key in building safe and thriving campus communities.

Perhaps mental wellness is not easily defined, but it can surely be put into action. Here are some tips from Consumer Health Digest to start practicing mental wellness today:

Those around us may also be struggling with their mental health, whether you can see it outwardly or not. You have the power to help and positively influence the well-being of others. You can be their lifeline. Here are some ways you can encourage others to prioritize mental wellness:

For more resources on mental wellness, mental health, and mental illness, visit

In Community,

Posted on:
January 30, 2019

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