The Benefits of Mental Health According to Science

Mental Health BenefitsAttempts by policymakers and mental health professionals to reduce mental illness have not always been entirely successful.

Instead, promoting and protecting mental health may be more effective approaches for targeting psychological wellness (Keyes, Dhingra, & Simoes, 2010).

After all, mental health is vital. It encourages us to flourish in the present while feeling good about the future, with the capacity to handle stressful times and events in all areas of our lives (Seligman, 2011).

Before you continue, we thought you might like to download our three Stress & Burnout Prevention Exercises (PDF) for free. These science-based exercises will equip you and those you work with, with tools to manage stress better and find a healthier balance in your life.

The Benefits of Being Mentally Healthy

When we talk about mental health, we typically refer to our cognitive, behavioral, and emotional wellbeing.

Moreover, while being mentally healthy is sometimes considered the absence of mental disorders, it is perhaps more beneficial and more accurate to see it as learning to flourish (Felman & Tee-Melegrito, 2022; Seligman, 2011).

Martin Seligman, often referred to as the father of positive psychology, proposes that removing clients’ sadness, anxiety, or anger does not make them mentally healthy (Seligman, 2011).

Indeed, even when the therapeutic work is done, it may not lead to a happy patient. Instead, according to Seligman, positive mental health is the presence of positive emotions, engagement, good relationships, meaning, and accomplishment (Seligman, 2011).

The World Health Organization (WHO), therefore, describes mental health as “a state of mental wellbeing that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community” (WHO, 2022, para. 1).

According to the WHO, mental health is of positive value, integral to our wellness, and underpins our ability to shape our lives and our world.

Mental health is such a fundamental human need that it is considered a basic human right (WHO, 2022).

And yet, what benefits does being mentally healthy bring with it?

According to the research, good mental health (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021; Seligman, 2011; Snyder, 2021):

  • Is vital at every stage of life, helping us manage stress, relate to others, and make positive choices in line with our values;
  • Is intimately connected with physical health—one affects the other. Indeed, poor mental health-as indicated by depression and long-term anxiety can be a factor in many severe or chronic health conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes, and strokes. Therefore, maintaining good mental health can have a protective effect on our overall health.
  • Encourages feelings of being useful and relevant to society and offers the sense that our output is valued and worthwhile;
  • Increases our feelings of calm, happiness, satisfaction, and the sense that we have a fulfilling life. Indeed, such positive emotions lead to an increasing upward spiral of flourishing.

4+ Positive Mental Health Facts

Being mentally healthyThe goal of mental health promotion and protection is to maintain and elevate mental health and offer protection from its potential reduction or loss.

Furthermore, it is vital to both the flourishing of an individual now and throughout their future (Keyes et al., 2010):

  1. A 2010 study found that “[g]ains in mental health predicted declines in mental illness,” with the authors concluding that measuring contributing factors and triggers is a valuable approach for screening against future mental health issues (Keyes et al., 2010, 12).
  2. More recently, research has also identified mental health as a predictor and a factor in recovery from mental illness. While a high degree of mental health offers protection from mental illness, those higher in it are more likely to recover from an affective disorder. While mental health and mental illness are separate constructs, promoting the former reduces the impact and burden of the latter (Iasiello et al., 2019)
  3. While mental health can be targeted for improvement at any age, research suggests the importance of regular engagement early on. Indeed, studies show that mental health promotion and protection are most beneficial throughout our lifespan, starting in early youth (Keyes, 2013).
  4. Individuals and society must recognize that poor mental health can affect anyone and is not linked to intelligence, income, or social status. Indeed, mental illnesses are like physical illnesses—indiscriminate. They are beyond our choice and willpower and can be experienced at any point in our lives. Therefore, early and ongoing mental wellness support is essential (Felman & Tee-Melegrito, 2022).

9 More Advantages of Mental Health

When measuring or identifying our client’s degree of happiness, we typically look for specific markers or indicators. As such, they confirm some benefits of good mental health, including (Snyder, 2021):

  • A more positive attitude and outlook toward self and others.
  • Increased openness to new, different, and challenging experiences.
  • An increasingly optimistic outlook regarding the potential of individuals, groups, and society to grow positively.
  • A heightened sense of purpose.
  • A boosted capacity for managing complex environments and situations and shaping them in positive ways.
  • More engagement, curiosity, and interest in society, social life, and the needs of others.
  • Ability to resist unhelpful, unsavory influences to maintain goal and value-driven paths – ultimately a show of heightened autonomy.
  • Experiencing a sense of belonging to the community; deriving both comfort and support from their support and connections.
  • Engagement in warm and trusting relationships, showing intimacy and empathy.

How to Make Every Day a Mental Health Day

mental health dayGood mental health increases our sense of flourishing.

It should not be separate from how we live but form part of our work, relationships, hobbies, and achievements, encouraging our experiences of meaning and fulfillment (Seligman, 2011).

We can create many micro self-care activities in our daily routines, such as time away from our desks, pausing to engage with friends and colleagues, and putting in place appropriate work-life barriers. And yet, it is equally important to identify and schedule specific pastimes, activities, and practices that prioritize our flourishing ­– making time and space in our busy lives to boost our mental health (Bush, 2015).

Indeed, Seligman’s original positive psychology model for wellbeing has been expanded beyond positive emotions, engagement, positive relationships, meaningful living, and achievements (PERMA) to include health. Where health is considered vital for our wellbeing and forms part of a more holistic view that integrates psychological and physical health (Seligman, 2011; Morgan & Simmons, 2021).

Research has shown each of the following activities and pastimes to have a positive impact on our mental health. There is value in setting aside time to incorporate the following into our daily lives:

Yoga

Yoga has been used for thousands of years as a tool for self-improvement. While it has essential physical elements, the target of yoga is predominantly the mind. In the modern world, and throughout medicine and therapy, such ancient practices are finding their place in supporting individuals in building mental health and overcoming lifestyle disorders.

Research confirms that yoga-based interventions can improve mental wellness and provide “significant benefits in mental disorders such as depression, anxiety, and psychosis” (Varambally & Gangadhar, 2016, p. 233).

Exercise

We never evolved to exercise – at least in exerting energy in a non-essential sense.

Nevertheless, we evolved to run, carry, reproduce, hunt, and perform other activities necessary to increase the likelihood of our survival and the passing on of our genes.

However, most of us live in a world where physical effort is unnecessary and may even be considered uncomfortable. And yet, there are tremendous benefits.

“The brains of more physically active people have enlarged memory regions, more cells, and increased blood supply,” writes evolutionary biologist Daniel Lieberman (2021, p. 334).

Moreover, directly for our mental health, those that regularly exercise are less reactive to stressful situations, reducing levels of cortisol, and experiencing less depression and anxiety.

Exercise also boosts our confidence and strengthens our belief that we can achieve goals—all essential to good mental health (Lieberman, 2021).

Nature

Nature is known to have a significant impact on our overall health. It is no surprise that spending time outdoors in forests, near rivers, or beside the sea boosts our mental wellbeing.

And, while many of the studies focus on the adult population, research has found that children receive positive impacts on their physical, mental, and social dimensions. A 2018 review confirms that experiences in the natural world “have a beneficial influence on children’s and teenagers’ mental health” (Tillmann et al., 2018, p. 964).

Such findings have far-reaching implications, from town development, and designing school environments, to creating therapeutic interventions.

Meditation

Mindfulness is used as a therapeutic treatment for clients experiencing mental health disorders and has widespread use in the general population, where it is recognized for its positive effects (Shapiro, 2020).

Recent research has also found that mindful meditation apps can benefit our mental health. Such interventions show small to medium effects on perceived stress, anxiety, and anxiety symptoms (Gál, Ștefan, & Cristea, 2021).

Other research suggests that a regular meditation habit also increases our experience of positive emotions associated with good mental health, such as joy, optimism, and hope, redressing the negativity bias many of us experience (Shapiro, 2020).

Music

Music is often our go-to during times of both happiness and sadness. We seek out direct and indirect connections with the words, rhythm, and beat.

A 2021 review of the existing research on the effects of music on our mental health recognizes that music engagement is linked with “quality of life, wellbeing, prosocial behavior, social connectedness, and emotional competence” (Gustavson et al., 2021, p. 1).

While unclear exactly how music benefits our mental wellbeing, it has been found to help with depression, anxiety, and substance abuse, and can have a powerful effect on our everyday experiences–including social and cultural identities, cognition, and personality (Gustavson et al., 2021).

Mental Health Therapy Benefits

Therapy to improve or regain mental health can take various forms, including psychoanalysis, behavioral, cognitive, and humanistic treatments.

Each theory of psychotherapy and counseling guides the mental health practitioner in the process of understanding the needs of their clients and identifying their problems while working with them to find solutions (American Psychological Association, 2009).

Therapies, including–but not exclusively–talking therapies, can benefit anyone going through difficult times and, research suggests, may be more effective than medicine.

Such treatments often offer a positive outcome because a trained counselor is an excellent listener, giving clients time to talk, show their emotions, and stop and think. Such opportunities may not always be available or possible elsewhere with a friend or family member (NHS, 2018).

Furthermore, there are many other benefits to mental health therapy. After all, depending on the environment we were brought up in or experienced at work, we may not have been encouraged–or may even be actively discouraged–from sharing how we feel.

This avoidance of recognizing and sharing our emotions is potentially damaging. Therapy provides a safe opportunity to talk about our symptoms and the underlying problems impacting our mental wellness. Deep engagement, listening to, and working through our feelings can unchain us from the past and affect long-lasting change (Walton, 2022).

Another unexpected benefit of undergoing mental health therapy is the positive effect it can have on our physical health. When people engage in therapy and express how they feel–sometimes for the first time in years–they can undergo physical changes. Sleeping problems, discomfort, and stomach pains can reduce or even go away in response to therapeutic intervention (Walton, 2022).

Ultimately, the aim and hoped-for benefit of mental health therapy is to feel better. That does not mean that the problem that brought the client to seek help no longer exists but that they have found a better way to cope (NHS, 2018).

Best Resources From PositivePsychology.com

Self-care and self-compassion are both essential factors in mental health and wellbeing. We have many resources available for therapists supporting clients in their mental wellness.

Why not download our free self-compassion pack and try out the powerful tools contained within, including:

  • Applying the Yin Yang of Self-Compassion
    Use this valuable exercise based on traditional Chinese philosophy to encourage and promote self-compassion, self-kindness, common humanity, and mindfulness.
  • Learning to Rate Behavior Rather Than The Self
    Self-acceptance is vital to our overall mental wellbeing. Indeed, rather than self-evaluation, we must accept ourselves unconditionally to maximize our chance of a healthy relationship with the self.

Other free resources include:

  • Preventing Mental Health Relapse
    We can maximize our likelihood of good mental health by identifying those mental health issues’ triggers and indicators and developing suitable coping mechanisms.
  • Self-Care Checkup
    Putting in place self-care mechanisms can have a protective and preventive effect and encourage mental health maintenance.

More extensive versions of the following tools are available with a subscription to the Positive Psychology Toolkit©, but they are described briefly below:

  • Goal Visualization

Setting goals motivates and energizes and offers a pathway to a more valued and fulfilling life while promoting mental health. In fact, imagining possible selves increases the likelihood that associated events occur.

The Goal Visualization tool comprises two powerful steps:

    • Step 1 – the client is guided through the visualization using a script to consider how their life may look in the weeks and months ahead.
    • Step 2 – the client is encouraged to evaluate how they felt performing the exercise and what any learnings might mean to them.
  • Mental Contrasting Using the WOOP Method
    While positive thinking is typically helpful, in excess, it can distort reality and potentially harm mental health. Mental contrasting helps focus attention on desired outcomes and the perceived feasibility of success:

    • Step 1 – Begin with a wish. What would the client like to achieve?
    • Step 2 – Next, encourage them to imagine the result they wish to create.
    • Step 3 – Now ask them to imagine the obstacles standing in their way.
    • Step 4 – Plan one or more actions to get around the obstacle.

Lastly, if you’re looking for more science-based ways to help others enhance their wellbeing, this signature collection contains 17 validated positive psychology tools for practitioners. Use them to help others flourish and thrive.

A Take-Home Message

Mental health is not a nice-to-have; it is essential to living a fulfilling life where the client is engaged in what they do, engaged with the people around them, and having meaningful goals.

Mental health is also protective – helping individuals bounce back after difficult times, return to a new normal, and persevere when things are tough. For the positive psychology practitioner, mental health is less about helping clients fix what is wrong and more a focus on where and whom they want to be.

Therapists can help their clients create environments that foster creativity, goal-directed behavior, and deeper connections that promote the positive emotions associated with wellness and human flourishing.

While mental health is vital at any age, the most significant gains may be found through focusing on youths and young adults as they experience some of the most significant cognitive, emotional, and behavioral adjustments in their lives.

While mental health professionals should consider mental wellness part of their clients’ everyday living, they can also be directed to engage in specific pursuits that they find enjoyable and intrinsically rewarding. Such activities must be prioritized, with time carved out of busy schedules to ensure they take place.

As therapists, coaches, and counselors, helping our clients to maintain or regain mental health is vital. A high degree of mental wellbeing ultimately leads to the flourishing of the individual, those around them, and society itself.

We hope you enjoyed reading this article. Don’t forget to download our three Stress & Burnout Prevention Exercises (PDF) for free.

References

  • American Psychological Association. (2009). Different approaches to psychotherapy. Retrieved October 28, 2022, from https://www.apa.org/topics/psychotherapy/approaches
  • Bush, A. D. (2015). Simple self-care for therapists: Restorative practices to weave through your workday. New York: W.W. Norton & Company.
  • Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2021). About Mental Health. Retrieved October 27, 2022, from https://www.cdc.gov/mentalhealth/learn/index.htm
  • Felman, A., & Tee-Melegrito, R. A. (2022). Mental health: Definition, common disorders, early signs, and more. Retrieved October 27, 2022, from https://www.medicalnewstoday.com/articles/154543
  • Gál, É, Ștefan, S., & Cristea, I. A. (2021). The efficacy of mindfulness meditation apps in enhancing users’ wellbeing and mental health related outcomes: A meta-analysis of randomized controlled trials. Journal of Affective Disorders, 279, 131-142.
  • Gustavson, D. E., Coleman, P. L., Iversen, J. R., Maes, H. H., Gordon, R. L., & Lense, M. D. (2021). Mental Health and Music engagement: Review, Framework, and Guidelines for Future Studies.
  • Iasiello, M., Van Agteren, J., Keyes, C. L., & Cochrane, E. M. (2019). Positive mental health as a predictor of recovery from mental illness. Journal of Affective Disorders, 251, 227-230.
  • Keyes, C. L., Dhingra, S. S., & Simoes, E. J. (2010). Change in level of positive mental health as a predictor of future risk of mental illness. American Journal of Public Health, 100(12), 2366-2371.
  • Keyes, C. L. M. (2013). Promoting and Protecting Positive Mental Health: Early and Often Throughout the Lifespan. In: Keyes, C. (eds) Mental Wellbeing. Springer, Dordrecht. 3-28
  • Lieberman, D. (2021). Exercised: The science of physical activity, rest and health. S.l.: Penguin Books.
  • Morgan, B., & Simmons, L. (2021). A ‘perma’ response to the pandemic: An online positive education programme to promote wellbeing in University Students. Frontiers in Education, 6.
  • NHS. (2018). Benefits of talking therapies. Retrieved October 28, 2022, from https://www.nhs.uk/mental-health/talking-therapies-medicine-treatments/talking-therapies-and-counselling/benefits-of-talking-therapies/
  • Seligman, M. (2011). Flourish: A new understanding of happiness and wellbeing and how to achieve them. London: Nicholas Brealey Publishing.
  • Shapiro, S. L. (2020). Rewire your mind: Discover the science + practice of mindfulness. London: Aster.
  • Snyder, C. R. (2021). The Oxford Handbook of Positive Psychology. New York: Oxford University Press.
  • Tillmann, S., Tobin, D., Avison, W., & Gilliland, J. (2018). Mental health benefits of interactions with nature in children and teenagers: A systematic review. Journal of Epidemiology and Community Health, 72(10), 958-966.
  • Varambally, S., & Gangadhar, B. N. (2016). Current status of Yoga in Mental Health Services. International Review of Psychiatry, 28(3), 233-235.
  • Walton, A. (2022). 11 intriguing reasons to give talk therapy a try. Retrieved October 28, 2022, from https://www.forbes.com/sites/alicegwalton/2014/06/03/11-intriguing-reasons-to-give-talk-therapy-a-try/?sh=4c0cd2b34ebb
  • WHO. (2022). Mental health: Strengthening our response. Retrieved October 27, 2022, from https://www.who.int/news-room/fact-sheets/detail/mental-health-strengthening-our-response

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  2. Men Mental Health,

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