Positive Mental Health

Positive mental health is a state of psychological well-being and optimal functioning. After decades of activity in understanding mental illness and developing interventions for alleviation of psychological suffering, psychologists have realized the efforts to conceptualize positive mental health and optimal human functioning lagged behind the work on mental illness. What began as a small, pocket-sized book called Diagnostic and Statistical Manual (DSM) with a list of glossary in 1952 has come a long way and evolved into an impressive and influential 943-page document covering the symptoms of mental illness in 2000. Psychologists have also started to work actively to build the science of psychological well-being which they call Positive Psychology. Social psychologist Marie Jahoda (1958) was among the first to introduce the concept of Positive Mental Health in her book. She characterized mental health as the positive condition that is driven by a person’s psychological resources and desires for personal growth. She described these six characteristics of the mentally healthy person:

1. A personal attitude toward self that includes self-acceptance, self-esteem, and accuracy of self-perception

2. The pursuit of one’s potentials

3. Focused drives that are integrated into one’s personality

4. An identity and values that contribute to a sense of autonomy

5. World perceptions that are accurate and not distorted because of subjective needs

6. Mastery of the environment and enjoyment of love, work, and play


Is Mental Health = Mental Illness??


Definitely, No! But this kind of misconception is widespread not only in Nepal but around the world.  For example: if you go to the site of National Institute of Mental Health and read their slogan (Transforming the understanding and treatment of mental illnesses through research), you will get similar message that mental health is equivalent to mental illness and its treatment. I remember Martin Seligman, pioneer in positive psychology, writing in one of his articles that it should be renamed as National Institute of Mental Illness. Such misconception needs to be corrected through general awareness about mental health that it encompasses the state beyond the mere absence of diseases.

Marie Jahoda (1958) in her book “Current Concepts of Positive Mental Health (Basic Books Inc.)”writes in the opening paragraph of her book:

“There is hardly a term in current psychological thought as vague, elusive, and ambiguous as the term “mental health.” That it means many things to many people is bad enough. That many people use it without even attempting to specify the idiosyncratic meaning the term has for them makes the situation worse, both for those who wish to promote mental health and for those who wish to introduce concern with mental health into systematic psychological theory and research.”

This is true indeed. Mental health term usage and understanding is so varied among people. People mostly talk about problems and treatment or prevention. Why? One explanation to this kind of scenario is that the attainment of positive mental health is a passive process, whereas the remediation/treatment of mental illness is an active process that demands more resources.  I think if we focus equally upon promotion of positive mental health, over half of the problems are reduced or never occur. In a resource poor country like Nepal where there are very limited human resources to meet the demand for services, promoting positive mental health is an important step towards preventing mental illness and growing resilience. Paraprofessionals and volunteers can play supportive role with the help of professionals such as psychologists, psychiatrists, social workers, etc to fulfill the demand for services.

The research in positive psychology is helping us to understand how it could be promoted and what kind of interventions work. Therefore, I recommend there is a need of more doing research on psychological well-being and positive mental health. There is a need of developing locally appropriate interventions for increasing psychological well-being for people in Nepal as it culturally differs from Western countries. We also have to identify the social resources that are available in our community and embedded in our local culture that promotes mental health. For eg: life rituals performed during important milestones during the course of individual’s life play an important role in safeguarding mental health and preventing emotional distress & psychological problems.

It is important to remember that our mind can feel unwell like our body does. Like the physical problems, psychological problems are also treatable. Psychology has achieved immense success in the area of curing mental illness. 14 of the disorders are treatable and 2 of them are curable. People are often nervous when it comes to psychological problems, seeing the psychiatrist is the worst thing they can imagine because it means being crazy and being abnormal in the eyes of others which brings a lot of stigma to self and family in the society. Well, it is normal to have the ups & downs inside our mind. Please, don’t hesitate to seek for professional help when it is necessary.

Benefits of Positive Mental Health

Lower Risks of Physical Health Hazards

•Optimism is negatively correlated with cardiovascular disease (CVD) and mortality.

•In looking at more severe physiological events, positive affect and positive explanatory styles have been found to protective against stroke.



•Resilience in psychology is the positive capacity of people to cope with stress and adversity.

•Healthy human development can take place under conditions of even great adversity due to a process of resilience that is common and completely ordinary.


Gratitude (Expressing thankfulness)

•People who express gratitude on a regular basis have better physical health, optimism, progress toward goals, well-being, and help others more.



•Optimism can protect people from mental and physical illness.

•People who are optimistic or happy have better performance in work, school and sports, are less depressed, have fewer physical health problems, and have better relationships with other people. Further, optimism can be learned.


Positive Relationships

•The happiest people all appear to have strong social relationships.

•Positive relationships give a lot of social and emotional support.

•Married people are comparatively happier than single or windowed or separated.

Happy Mental Health Day!! Let’s Promote Positive Mental Health.

Some portion of this post has been published last year in https://sujenman.wordpress.com/2010/10/10/world-mental-health-day/
all images used in the post were found via Google images.

9 thoughts on “Positive Mental Health

  1. very interesting to read about the relation of mental health and mental illness.. but i wonder how it is possible to achieve positive mental health in the very repulsive and unfavorable situations and setups? May be people will not be able to understand positive psychology with empty stomachs..

    1. It is possible to achieve postive mental health in very adverse conditions as well. it has been studied like in slums (see below) and concentration camps (Victor Frankl). but they definitely need some psychological and spiritual resources to do that. that is why we need to focus upon promoting positive mental health together with providing mental health services where necessary.


      Biswas-Diener, R., & Diener, E. (2001). Making the best of a bad situation: Satisfaction in the slums of Calcutta. Social Indicators Research, 55, 329-352.

  2. Those customers were genuinely rude and disrespectful, anyone would agree with you.
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