Concept of Mental Health: A Beginner’s Guide

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The concept of Mental Health is as old as the development of scientific temperament on our societies but many people are not aware about the term “Mental Health” and “Mental Hygiene”. In India, most of the people are unaware about the word “Mental Health”, if anyone knows about it; they feel that mental health is a concept of foreign countries. But reality is that, over the course of life, most of the people face issue regarding mental health.

What is Mental Health?
The term “Mental Health” is sometimes used to mean, an absence of mental disorder. Mental health stresses on our cognitive, behavioural and emotional well-being.WHO defines mental health as mental 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. In this positive sense, mental health is the foundation for individual well-being and the effective functioning of a community as well. For attaining good mental health, we have to achieve a good MENTAL HYGIENE.
“Mental Hygiene” is an acknowledged concept which deals with the process of attaining mental health and preventing psychosis and neurosis
(mental illnesses). It is a lifelong process which begins at birth and continues till death. The difference between mental hygiene and mental
health is that, the former is “a means” and latter is the “end”. The movement of mental hygiene started in the first decade of 20th century with the publication of the book “A Mind that found itself” by “Clifford Beers”, in 1908. In his book, he shares his own experience and his book revolutionized the concept of mental health and spread awareness in general public regarding mental hygiene.

Main features of Mentally Healthy Person:
The psychologists have given a large number of features but we can
summarise them as follows:

  1. He/she has his/her own philosophy of life: This philosophy guides
    him/her in his/her various activities of life. He/she does not want to
    escape from the world but takes up his/her duties with a sense of
  2. A proper sense of Self-evaluation: A well-adjusted person knows
    about his capacities, his/her motives, strong points and limitations.
  3. A balanced self- regarding sentiment: He/she has a proper sense of
    personal respect. He/she thinks that he/she is an important member of
    the social group and can contribute something for its progress and
  4. Socially adjustable: We all are social beings. This social life requires
    social give and take. A mentally healthy person knows the art of social
    living and social give and take.
  5. A realistic approach: His/her approach to the various problem of life
    is realistic. He/she is not cowed down by imaginary fears and pitfalls
    which may come.
  6. Emotional maturity: Emotions like fear, anger, love, jealous etc., are
    generally seen in our social life. He/she has a control over them and
    express them according to the accepted social norms.

Factors that Affect Mental Health:
Various factors are responsible for the poor mental health. These may be
studied as follows,

  1. Heredity: A child with poor heredity has a low I.Q. He/she may be
    having a feeble mind which will not enable him/her to good mental
    health. He/she may also inherit some mental diseases which may
    disturb his/her mental health.
  2. Physical health: Individual with poor mental health, have a poor
    approach towards life and hence, cannot adjust to new situation due to
    lack of mental balance.
  3. Physical deformity : Any form of physical deformity leads to social
    stigma. This creates a sense of inferiority complex in the mind of the
    child. This leads to frustration and aggression by the child. This also
    disturbs the mental balance of the child. He is not able to adjust himself
    to various social situations.
  4. Role of the family: A good family is the cradle of all social virtues.
    However, under bad family conditions this is not possible for the
    following reasons:
  5. Role of the society: Bad social conditions lead to maladjustment of
    the child. Other important social factor which influences the children are
    social and religious conflict, high disparity between the rich and poor,
    the problem of untouchability etc.
  6. Role of the school:
    a) School atmosphere: Lack of respect for children, absence of
    individual attention, limited number of extra-mural activities, an
    atmosphere of fear and tension.
    b) School curriculum: It is a subject-centred curriculum which
    becomes a burden on the child and does not allow him/her the
    freedom that he/she wants.
    c) Methods of teaching: If teacher uses traditional methods of
    teaching, they restrict the liberty of the child and do not allow for
    the healthy grow of the mental abilities.

Importance of Mental Health in present scenario:

Mental health is important because it’s a vital part of our life and impacts our thoughts, behaviour and emotions. Being healthy emotionally can promote productivity and effectiveness in activities like work, school and caregiving. It plays an important part in the health of your relationships, and allows us to adapt to changes in your life and cope with diversity. More than 450 million people suffer from mental disorders. According to WHO, by the year 2020, depression will constitute the second largest disease burden worldwide (Murray & Lopez, 1996). Global burden of mental health will be well beyond the treatment capacities of developed and developing countries.
i. Physical health and mental health are closely associated and it is
proved beyond doubt that depression leads to heart and vascular
ii. Mental disorders also affect person’s health behaviour like eating
sensibly, regular exercise, adequate sleep, engaging in safe sexual
practices, alcohol and tobacco use, adhering to medical therapies thus
increasing the risk of physical illness.
iii. Mental ill health also leads to social problems like unemployment,
broken families, poverty, drug abuse and related crime.
iv. Poor mental health plays a significant role in diminished immune
v. Medically ill patients with depression have worse outcome than those
vi. Chronic illnesses like diabetes, cancer, heart disease increases the
risk of depression.

Students’ Mental Health:An important element of students’ success
Both colleges and students are reporting an increasing demand for student mental health services. More students are entering college with
mental health diagnosis and psychotropic medication needs; more students are accessing mental health services on campuses; and more
students are presenting with serious psychological issues than in years past. However, in this time of reduced financial support for higher
education, mental health services are sometimes seen as a luxury that campus cannot afford. But students‟ mental health services are not only needed to support the psychological well-being of students, they are also an important part of academic success and retention.
Academic success
Survey finds strong evidence that mental health needs are related to measures of academic success.
i. Students with high levels of psychological distress are less
academically successful: They have more test anxiety, low academic
self-efficacy, and less effective time management and use of study
ii. Students who experience mild or moderate symptoms of depression
or anxiety also demonstrate more academic difficulties than students
with no mental illness.
iii. Students who receive treatment for depression report substantial
gains. In academic performance: 31% of students at one university
receiving treatment for depression reported an increase in satisfaction
with their ability to study/work and 34% of students reported an
increased sense of satisfaction with how much school work they can

WHO’s response to Mental Health:
WHO (World Health Organization) supports governments in the goal of strengthening and promoting mental health. WHO has evaluated evidence for promoting mental health and is working with governments to disseminate this information and to integrate the effective strategies into policies and plans. Early childhood interventions (e.g. home visits for pregnant women, pre-school psycho-social activities, and combined nutritional and psycho-social help for disadvantaged populations).
i. Support to children (e.g. skills building programmes, child and youth
development programmes).
ii. Socio-economic empowerment of women (e.g. improving access to
education and micro credit schemes). iii. Social support for elderly
populations (e.g. Befriending initiatives, community and day centres for
the aged).
iv. Programmes targeted at vulnerable groups, including minorities,
indigenous people, migrants and people affected by conflicts and
disasters (e.g., psycho-social interventions after disasters).
v. Mental health interventions at work (e.g. stress prevention
vi. Housing policies (e.g. housing improvement).
vii. Violence prevention programmes (e.g. community policing initiatives);
and community development programmes (e.g. „Communities That
Care‟ initiatives, integrated rural development).

Mental health issues can affect our day to day schedule. This means it can hit all aspects of your life; physical, social, economic, spiritual and mental. It is so important we take mental health issues in children seriously. Anyone who suffers from mental health or illness are able to learn new coping strategies and reach out to get the proper help each person needs. People who have positive mental health are able to control their emotions and behaviours. They are able to handle life’s day to day stresses, build strong relationships and find resiliency in themselves.Positive mental health can be a choice, and we need to keep ourselves informed for that choice to be realised; there are tried and tested techniques to facilitate positive mental health. The field of mental health promotion has acquired world-wide recognition and new initiatives are being undertaken and new research is emerging globally. Promotion of mental health, early intervention services, and quality mental health services allow providers the opportunity to support adults, children, and youth so they man achieved mental health and their individual potential. It’s time to concentrate appropriately on the issue to improve the mental health as well as to reduce the personal, social and global burden of mental illness.
Overall, mental health is an issue that affects everyone. And hopefully, throughout the years, education will curve the stigma of these mental illnesses so that hate, bias judgement and discrimination will be gone.

If you’re searching for that person who will change your
life, take a look in the mirror.


Ufra Shahid is pursuing Master of Arts in Education from Aligarh Muslim University.
She can be reached at [email protected]


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