If you look-up the meaning of 'mental health' online, you'll find literally hundreds of definitions - from researchers to experts, from scholars to philosophers - everyone has an opinion on the meaning of 'mental health'. But no single definition can possibly capture everyone's perspective. Even the World Health Organization acknowledges that "from a cross-cultural perspective, it is nearly impossible to define mental health comprehensively."
What's common to many definitions is that mental health isn't just about the absence of mental health disorders; and it's not about being happy all of the time.
Mental health ...
... is a part of your overall health. It's about:
how you feel, think, and behave;
how you cope with the ups and downs of everyday life;
how you feel about yourself and your life;
how you see yourself and your future;
how stress affects you;
how you deal with negative things that happen in your life;
your self-esteem or confidence.
We all experience mental health problems from time to time: Feelings like sadness, worry, anger, fear and grief are understandable reactions to negative events in our lives, and don't typically last very long. But if these feelings continue for long periods of time, become overwhelming, and 'get in the way' of daily life, then something more serious than a mental health problem may be happening.
A mental (health) disorder ...
... is a behavioural, emotional or cognitive pattern of functioning in an individual that is associated with distress, suffering, or impairment in one or more areas of life – such as school, work, or social and family interactions.
Mental health disorders can occur at any age. Each type of disorder has its own specific pattern of symptoms and levels of severity. Some people may experience a sudden onset of symptoms, while others will notice a gradual development.
There is combination of factors that are believed to cause mental health disorders, including:
- biological factors – e.g., genetic influences, chemical imbalances, exposure to environmental toxins
- negative early life experiences – e.g., abuse, neglect, death of a relative or other losses and trauma
- individual factors – e.g., self-esteem or way of thinking
- current social circumstances – e.g., school, work, financial, relationship or family stress, or negative life events
Types of mental health disorders
You're probably already familiar with some of the more commonly-occurring disorders below. We invite you to explore this site because learning about mental health (disorders) can lead to improved recognition, earlier treatment, greater understanding and compassion: and ultimately, can improve a young person's quality of life.
- Anxiety Disorders
- Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD)
- Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)
- Behaviour Disorders (Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD), Conduct Disorder (CD))
- Mood Disorders (Depression, Bipolar Disorder (Manic-Depression))
- Eating Disorders
- Substance Abuse
- Tourette Syndrome
Children, Youth and Women's Health Service (CYWHS). Mental Health. Retrieved 07-12-2009.
World Health Organization (WHO). Understanding mental health. Retrieved 15-12-2009.
Canadian Psychiatric Association (CPA). Youth and Mental Illness. Retrieved 15-12-2009