Mental Health & Mental Wellness: Two Sides of the Same Coin

We live in a highly medicalized society; this is an indisputable fact. While this comes with many benefits, an unfortunate side-effect is that health has almost completely been reduced to the presence, or lack thereof, of illness. Doctor’s visits tend to focus on whether or not you feel sick, not whether you feel well, and physicians are quick to assess you as ‘healthy’ as long as you show no obvious symptoms. This mentality has permeated the domain of mental health as well, transforming the term into a negative concept wherein the absence of a mental illness indicates “health.”

However, just as physical health is much more than simply not being sick, mental health is much more than simply not being mentally ill. This is where the term ‘mental wellness’, or mental well-being comes in (millennials are so good at coining new phrases, aren’t we?). Mind defines mental well-being as “your mental state - how you are feeling and how well you can cope with day-to-day life.” It’s essentially a complement to mental health: ideally, when you are mentally healthy, you are mentally well, and improving your mental wellness ultimately improves your mental health.

Think of it the same way you would physical well-being. When you take part in activities that are beneficial for your physical well-being, such as exercising, eating right and getting enough sleep, you experience more positive physical health outcomes, such as more energy and fewer instances of sickness. In terms of mental health and wellness, this relates to activities that improve your mental well-being, such as self-care and communication, and positive mental health outcomes, such as lowered anxiety and better overall moods.

Of course, it’s not always as simple as going for a run and calling your mom, especially given the fast paced nature of our society. Many institutions and social structures are counterproductive in promoting mental wellness, even if things are beginning to improve. At Western, for example, the new October reading week provides a much needed stress break for students in the midst of midterms, and the Wellness Education Centre in the UCC offers counselling services as well as programs on healthy eating, exercise and mood management. And yet, many students still unintentionally promote poor mental wellness by discussing lack of sleep and uber-high stress levels as if it’s some sort of convoluted competition to see who is working themselves harder.

Mental health and mental wellness are two sides of the same coin: neither can exist independently, and only by improving one can you improve the other. That’s why it’s so important that more focus be placed on mental wellness, both independently, colloquially and societally.

Talk about your feelings with your friends, get a full eight hours of sleep, and don’t be afraid to brag about it -- after all, taking care of your mental wellness is the best thing you can do for you.

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