The World Health Organization (WHO) defines health as: … a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.
Mental health is clearly an integral part of this definition. The goals and traditions of public health and health promotion can be applied just as usefully in the field of mental health as they have been in heart health, infectious diseases and tobacco control.
Mental health is more than the absence of mental illness: it is vital to individuals, families and societies
Mental health is described by WHO as: … a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community (WHO 2001a, p.1). In this positive sense mental health is the foundation for well-being and effective functioning for an individual and for a community. This core concept of mental heath is consistent with its wide and varied interpretation across cultures.
Mental health is determined by socioeconomic and environmental factors
Mental health and mental illnesses are determined by multiple and interacting social, psychological, and biological factors, just as health and illness in general. The clearest evidence for this relates to the risk of mental illnesses, which in the developed and developing world is associated with indicators of poverty, including low levels of education, and in some studies with poor housing and low income. The greater vulnerability of disadvantaged people in each community to mental illnesses may be explained by such factors as the experience of insecurity and hopelessness, rapid social change, and the risks of violence and physical ill-health.
Mental health is linked to behaviour
Mental, social, and behavioural health problems may interact so as to intensify their effects on behaviour and well-being. Substance abuse, violence, and abuses of women and children on the one hand, and health problems such as heart disease, depression, and anxiety on the other, are more prevalent and more difficult to cope with in conditions of high unemployment, low income, limited education, stressful work conditions, gender discrimination, unhealthy lifestyle, and human rights violations.