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What Exactly Is Mental Health?

a cartoon brain with flowers growing from it while a woman holds a water can and a man holds a magnifying glass symbolizing mental health

What is it about the suicidal death of a brilliant star that stuns us to our core?

Could it be our culture’s belief that the famous, by their very definition, experience a level of happiness the rest of us can only dream about? Or, maybe because our society worships so many of them, that somehow, they are less human that the rest of us? And therefore, that celebrities are ‘above’ the trials and tribulations of the average man?

The truth is, recent data from the Mayo Clinic* shows nearly one in five U.S. adults experience some form of mental health issue in any given year. That’s nearly 19% of adults. And, that’s just adults.

The fastest growing segment of the American population with mental health concerns is children, registering at close to 24% per year.

To put it another way, at any given time, one-in-four Americans (all ages) is suffering from a diagnosable mental illness**.

Research also shows that a tremendous stigma is still attached to being labeled as “crazy”. It’s exactly this stigma that prevents most people from reaching out for help to professionals, or even loved ones.

Maybe that’s one of the reasons why it is so hard to wrap our brains around the suicides of such brilliant stars as Robin Williams, Kurt Cobain, and more recently Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain; all of whom were known to be mentally ill.

While these tragic deaths have refocused the media’s attention on the subject, with more and more A-listers coming forward to tell their stories of battles with mental illness, much of the public still seems as confused as ever.

What exactly is meant by the term “Mental Health?ˮ

The answer is – Mental Health*** is one of the 6 health types that make up who we are. These are:

  • Physical
  • Social Emotional
  • Spiritual
  • Environmental
  • Mental

Mental Health also is the umbrella category under which falls Mental Illness and Mental Disorders.

Of these six, Mental Health is the foundation for our thinking, communicating, learning, resilience, and self-esteem. It is key to our ability to initiate and maintain relationships, our personal and emotional well-being and our ability to contribute to community or society. In short, you can think of Mental Health as anything involving the effective functioning of daily activities that result in:

  • Productive activities (work, school, caregiving)
  • Healthy relationships
  • Ability to adapt to change and cope with adversity


Characteristics of mentally healthy people typically include, but are not limited to:

  • Exercising control over your emotions
  • Being accepting of your own shortcomings
  • Establishing and maintaining satisfying relationships
  • Doing something about your problems when they arise
  • Setting realistic goals, and making use of your potential

While the above may sound like everyone you know, the key is whether the list still applies when a person is all alone and being totally honest with themselves. That’s one of the reasons why it can be so hard to determine the state of an individual’s mental health. Only highly trained professionals should do that.

In the meantime, our aim is to give you the information you need to decide whether you should take that first step to seek out professional help.

Guest Author: Peggy Roosa



* The Mayo Clinic,

** Tash Fit Life: Welcome to Chaos,

*** 6 Types of Health That Make Up Who We Are, Kat’s Health Corner: The adventures of a Public Health graduate,

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