Components of Mental Health
This article starts below.
When the human brain is working at its best, it is capable of doing 9 things that contribute to what we might commonly consider, “good mental health.” They are:
- Body Regulation. The ability to keep the organs of the body and the autonomic nervous system (e.g, heart rate, respiration, body temperature) coordinated and balanced. Body regulation isn't just about physical health. Emotions begin as an embodied experience. For example; a racing heart and shallow respiration often precipitate feelings of panic/anxiety. Feelings of exhaustion or under-stimulation often precipitate depression.
- Attuned Communication. The ability to pick up on the meaning of subtle, non-verbal, physical cues (facial expressions, tones of voice, posture) that indicate another person's emotional states and degree of well-being. People with Autism spectrum disorders especially have a difficult time with this.
- Emotional Balance. The ability to maintain optimal emotional functioning. That is, I know how to be emotionally stimulated enough to be aware and engaged in my circumstances and relationships but not so emotionally stimulated that I am regularly flooded by my feelings and carried away by them.
- Response Flexibility. The ability to pause before acting on my impulses and willfully change the direction of my actions if doing so suits me better than my initial impulses. People with ADHD, pathological anger, addictions, and other impulse control problems struggle with this skill.
- Fear Modulation. Reducing fear. Self-explanatory. People with anxiety and panic disorders, especially, have a difficult time modulating the brain's fear responses. They become easily flooded with anxiety where others might just experience nervousness or even excitement.
- Insight. The ability to reflect on my life experiences in a way that links my past, present, and future in a coherent, cohesive, compassionate manner. In sight helps me make sense of both the things that have happened to me in the past and the things that are happening to me now.
- Empathy. Essentially, empathy is the ability to have insight (as defined above) into other people. Empathy is the ability to imagine what it is like to be another person, and to reflect on their experiences in a way that links their past, present, and future in coherent, cohesive. compassionate manner. Empathy helps you make sense of other people's lives, the way they think, and their feelings.
- Morality. The ability to imagine, reason, and behave from the perspective of the greater good. Includes the ability to delay gratification and find ways to get my needs met while understanding and accommodating the needs of others.
- Intuition. Having access to the input from the body and its non-rational ways of knowing that fuel wisdom. One's “gut sense” of things is actually based on a complex process by which one's right brain makes “quick and dirty” global assessments of one's feelings and circumstances.
We have seen from decades of research that the human brain, when it is experiencing optimal functioning, is able to do all of these things. The degree to which you can say you are “mentally healthy” is the degree to which you can say these things are true about you. The exciting thing about this definition of mental health is that a person does not have to wait until their life, work, or relationships are suffering before they get help. A person could reasonably look at this list and say, “I want to do a better job with this mental skill” enabling them to seek professional help long before their marriage, work, or life begins to fall apart because of those deficits.