Reframing Mental Health
Reframing Mental Health
This stage of our programme seeks to reframe the term ‘mental health’. Whilst often used synonymously, mental health and mental illness are very different things. Mental health is something we should aspire to. Mental health describes a situation in which we are functioning well, and good mental health is a situation where we are functioning optimally. Mental illness describes not only the absence of mental health, but a situation in which one or more aspects of mental function is making it difficult, if not impossible, to cope with the daily challenges of life. For example, depression isn't always a mental illness because an individual can be depressed but still cope very well with life. Anxiety isn't always a mental illness because again, you can be anxious. In fact, sometimes anxiety brings out the best in people.
But misconceptions as to the nature of mental health – and specifically the too strong association with mental illness - are implicated in a range of problems that are often exacerbated in the organisational environment:
Critical to our understanding of mental health and mental illness is that they are not simply a function of the brain. The mind, far from being solely a function of the brain, is in a very real neurobiological respect, the function of the whole body. Physical illness can cause quite significant impairment to our mental health (depression and chronic anxiety are for example common comorbidities with many medical conditions), in the same way that mental illness can cause quite significant impairment to our physical health.
And not all phenomena we associate with negative aspects of mental health are negative. Feeling stressed when there is something in your environment that is stressful indicates good mental health in the same sense that an immune response that causes inflammation and fever indicates good physical health. Feeling stress when there's nothing particularly stressful out there is not good. Burnout, however, which is extraordinarily common in the corporate organisational context, but which is all too often seen as part and parcel of corporate life and ignored, is often either a borderline or clinical mental illness, simply because when people are burnt out, they often cannot cope.