Concepts and definitions: what is mental health?


Although there is widespread agreement that mental health is more than the absence of

clinically defined mental illness, there is ongoing debate about what constitute the necessary

or sufficient elements making up ‘positive mental health’, ‘wellbeing’ or ‘flourishing’. Although definitions vary, mental health is generally seen as including:

 emotion (affect/feeling);

 cognition (perception, thinking, reasoning);

 social functioning (relations with others and society);

 coherence (sense of meaning and purpose these individual attributes and skills can be measured through a range of wellbeing scales which can include indicators of resilience, self esteem, self efficacy, optimism, life satisfaction, hopefulness, perceptions and judgments about sense of coherence and meaning in life, and social integration (NHS Health Scotland 2008; Parkinson 2008). A growing number of longitudinal studies confirm their power to predict outcomes, for example, longevity, physical health, quality of life, criminality, drug and alcohol use, employment, earnings and pro-social behaviour, for example volunteering (Pressman and cohen 2005; Lyubomirsky et al 2005; Dolan et al 2006).

concepts of mental health include subjective wellbeing, perceived selfefficacy, autonomy, competence,intergenerational dependence and recognition of the ability to realize one’s intellectual and emotional potential. It has also been defined as a state ofwellbeing whereby individuals recognize their abilities, are able to cope with the normal stresses of life, work productively and fruitfully, and make a contribution to their communities.


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