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Learn to Be Well: Define


Before we can assess or address mental health, we first need to understand what it is (and what it isn't).

What is mental health?

Mental health is not about feeling good. It's about having the right feelings at the right time, and being able to manage those emotions effectively.

-Dr. Lisa Damour, PhD - Clinical Psychology

Mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to:

  • cope with the stresses of life
  • realize their abilities
  • learn well and work well
  • contribute to their community

It is an integral component of health and well-being that underpins our individual and collective abilities to make decisions, build relationships and shape the world we live in.

-World Health Organization

Mental health is a state of mind characterized by:

  • emotional well-being
  • good behavioral adjustment
  • relative freedom from anxiety and disabling symptoms
  • a capacity to establish constructive relationships
  • a capacity to cope with the ordinary demands and stresses of life

-American Psychological Association 


Hedonic vs. Eudaimonic Wellbeing

Hedonic wellbeing is the type of happiness or contentment that is achieved when pleasure is obtained and pain is avoided.

-APA Dictionary of Psychology

Eudaimonic wellbeing is the type of happiness or contentment that is achieved through self-actualization and having meaningful purpose in one’s life.

-APA Dictionary of Psychology

Psychologists believe that a balance between the two is necessary for wellbeing.

Scale with hedonic on one side and eudaimonic on the other. Hedonic shows two people doing karaoke. Eudaimonic shows a dad helping his child read.

Mental Health Risk Factors and Protective Factors

Risk factors include: 

  • genetic predisposition 
  • homelessness and unemployment
  • alcohol and other drug use
  • discrimination and racial injustice
  • family conflict 
  • stressful life events

Protective factors include: 

  • personal attributes, including the ability to cope with stress, face adversity and problem-solving skills 
  • physical health and healthy behaviors 
  • physical activity levels
  • social support and inclusion 
  • strong cultural identity

 -Western Australia Mental Health Commission 

Mental Illness Warning Signs and Symptoms

Stress & Anxiety

Stress is a normal and healthy aspect of being human. It occurs any time we need to adapt to new demands and it almost always fosters growth. Stress is only considered to be harmful under two conditions: when it is traumatic, meaning that it overwhelms a person's coping resources, or when it is chronic, meaning that it becomes unrelenting.

Anxiety is a healthy, protective emotion that alerts us to threats. We diagnose anxiety disorders only when anxiety occurs in the absence of a threat or when the anxiety response is far too intense given the threat that brought it about.

-Dr. Lisa Damour, PhD - Clinical Psychology 

Positive Psychology

The social science known as psychology has, overall, had a strong focus on the absence of mental health, e.g., mental health disturbances and disorders. In the 1990s, prominent psychologist Martin Seligman wondered what would happen if he studied well-being instead of unhappiness, accomplishment instead of failure, strength instead of sickness? He hypothesized that psychology would become more useful, and Positive Psychology was born. 

"Positive psychology is a branch of psychology focused on the character strengths and behaviors that allow individuals to build a life of meaning and purpose—to move beyond surviving to flourishing. Theorists and researchers in the field have sought to identify the elements of a good life. They have also proposed and tested practices for improving life satisfaction and well-being."

-Psychology Today

This guide relies on premise of positive psychology - that wellbeing can be defined, measured, and taught.