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Mental Health. Part 1: Basic Definitions of Human Mental Health and the Level of Normality

Tuesday, February 1, 2022

Startup Jedi

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Triggering factors that we are exposed to challenge our mental health, causing a broad range of disorders.

In our "Mental Health" series we will talk about mental health nowadays based on the insights from the Mental Health discussion group of the Founders club startup studio. We’ll touch upon the mental health problems of generation Z, taking into account their psychological and behavioral characteristics, as well as modern methods of treating such problems and turning them into triggers for development.

Understanding mental health is key to self-diagnosis

 

In the flow of daily routine, we experience the most diverse range of positive and negative emotions. The key question is how we can differentiate our negative emotions and understand which of them are a natural reaction of the body, a psychological reaction to external factors, and which are pathologically destructive in nature and require the attention of a specialist?

To answer these questions, it is critical to understand what mental health is.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), "Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." We can conclude that there is more to mental health than merely the absence of mental disorders and pathologies.

Mental health is a state of 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. As we can see, the WHO definition of mental health is based on a person's well-being and effective functioning (productivity).

It is important to note the determinants (factors) of mental health. The state of human mental health at any given time is determined by numerous social, psychological and biological (genetic) factors. Thus, violence, socio-economic pressure, crisis and pandemic are recognized as risk factors for mental health.

The state of mental health is also associated with rapid social changes, stressful situations at work, gender and generational discrimination, social exclusion and so on.

Based on the WHO definition of mental health, we see that the defining postulates are well-being and our productivity. Yet, is such a definition correct in the context of understanding our mental health? After all, along with high efficiency and productivity, a person can have a completely different state of mental health, and sometimes even suffer from the destructive effects of external factors and determinants.

A new approach to defining mental health

 

An international team of psychiatric scientists from Italy, Germany, Denmark, the United Kingdom and Switzerland propose in their study a new approach to the definition of mental health —  different from the definition proposed by WHO and mentioned above, which is based on issues of human well-being and productivity. At the heart of the new definition of psychological health is the complexity of human life experience.

The definition of mental health proposed by WHO is built on the basis of hedonistic (Hedonism is the doctrine according to which pleasure is the highest good and the meaning of life, the only terminal value — Startup Jedi) and eudaimonic (Eudemonism is a philosophical and ethical tradition and attitude, according to which the only and the highest human good is happiness — Startup Jedi) positions where the key role is assigned to the well-being and productivity of a person. 

The authors of the study are concerned about including well-being as the desired goal of many people in the definition of mental health. According to another study, well-being includes emotional, psychological and social well-being: positive feelings and emotions (for example, happiness, satisfaction), social integration and others.

However, people with good mental health experience a wide range of emotions, including sadness, anger, or unhappiness. A large number of adolescents and young adults are often dissatisfied with the existing social organization and may lack social cohesion. Does this mean they have poor mental health? For example, a person who is responsible for their family may experience despair after leaving their job, especially in a situation of limited professional opportunities. Should we question their mental health?

Psychiatric scientists claim in their proposed new definition of mental health research that raising the bar on mental health can create unrealistic expectations, encourage people to hide much of their emotions by pretending to be happy all the time, and even promote isolation when they are sad, angry, or worried.

Based on the above considerations, the following definition was proposed:

Mental health is a dynamic state of inner balance that enables people to use their abilities in harmony with the universal values ​​of society. Namely basic cognitive and social skills; the ability to recognize, express and modulate one's own emotions, as well as empathize with others; flexibility and ability to cope with adverse life events and fulfill social roles; A harmonious relationship between the body and mind is an important component of mental health, which in varying degrees contributes to a state of inner balance.

In this definition, internal balance is considered as a dynamic state, mainly to reflect the fact that different life periods (different generations — zetas, millennials, adolescence, retirement, etc.) challenge the achieved balance at a certain stage of life, which requires internal changes.

It is important to note that some well-developed components of mental health can compensate for others. For example, a very empathetic person can compensate for a moderate degree of cognitive impairment, yet develop very good social contacts, maintain inner balance, and pursue their life goals to the fullest.

Mental health components

Basic cognitive and social skills are considered important components of mental health in light of their impact on all aspects of daily life. This includes the ability to pay attention, remember and organize information, solve problems, make decisions, and use one's own set of verbal/non-verbal abilities to communicate and interact with others.

The term "basic" is intended to clarify that mild degrees of impairment are compatible with mental health, while moderate and severe degrees of impairment, especially if not balanced by other aspects, may require social support. 

The ability to recognize, express and modulate one's own emotions is also considered an important component of mental health. This ability is a mediator of adaptation to stress, and its impairment is a risk factor for mental and physical disorders. 

Empathy, the ability to experience and understand what others are feeling, is important for effective communication and interaction, and for predicting the actions, intentions, and feelings of others. 

Flexibility refers to the ability to change one's behavior or ideas in the light of unpredictable events or new evidence. Lack of flexibility can lead to severe stress in a person undergoing sudden and / or important changes in life.

What the new definition of mental health explains

The new definition of mental health seeks to overcome idealistic, hedonistic and eudaimonic perspectives in favor of an inclusive approach that reflects as much as possible the complexity of the human experience of life, which is sometimes joyful and sometimes sad or disgustingly frightening, satisfying or not so much.

The authors of the study emphasize that the new definition is also consistent with the current perspective of recovery from mental illness, seen as a process through which a person can achieve a fulfilling life, based on the changes and functions brought about by the disease.

This is very important, especially since various mental illnesses can leave a significant imprint on a person's mental health and, as a result, it is often difficult for them to integrate into society. However, you should keep in mind that a new understanding of psychological health is based on the use of one's abilities in harmony with the universal values of society, including taking into account those changes and violations of the functions of the human body that were introduced by the disease.

Thus, the new definition of mental health helps us understand the following: 
  1. Our mental health is primarily a dynamic state, reflecting the fact that the complexity of mental experience in different life periods shifts the balance achieved at a certain stage of life and requires internal changes.

  2. The term "basic cognitive and social skills" is intended to clarify that mild degrees of impairment are compatible with mental health. We gave an example above that a very empathetic person can compensate for a moderate degree of cognitive impairment, while developing very good social contacts, maintaining internal balance and pursuing their life goals to the fullest.

  3. The prospect of mental recovery after a disease is based on the use of one's abilities in harmony with the universal values ​​of society, including taking into account those changes and violations of the functions of the human body that were brought about by the disease.

The modern understanding of mental health, which takes into account the complexity of a person's psychological experience, in contrast to its idealistic definition, shows that the definition of "normality" lies in the plane of deep and multifaceted psychological experience, when some well-developed aspects of mental health can compensate for minor deviations of other aspects as in the example above.

In the light of the new definition of psychological health, namely in the perspective of recovery from illness, through which a person can achieve a full life, relying on the functions (changes) preserved by the disease, the integration of such people into society leads us to the following question — what is normality in the context of psychological health and what are the limits of the variations of the norm, or "normality" in relation to psychological health? 

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In the next part, we will try to touch upon the fundamental concept of psychiatry and the definition of "normality" in modern society.

1 Feb 2022

 

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