I have a problem with many of the things published and talked about during mental health awareness week. It’s the same problem I have with discussions about mental health at any time of year. We are not talking about mental health. We’re talking about mental illness.
Now please understand that it’s important to talk about mental illness. We need to remove the terrible stigma there is about it. It should be no more embarrassing to talk about depression than it is to talk about a broken leg. But that’s not mental health.
As a Positive Psychologist I firmly believe that health is not just the absence of illness. If we were to discuss cancer, diabetes or even the common cold, that would not constitute understanding physical health. It is a discussion about physical illness. The same is true mentally. We cannot just talk about illness; we have to talk about wellness.
From workplaces to schools, from social media to TV shows it seems to me we are missing something important – how we can flourish and thrive both mentally and physically. Thanks to the work of Martin Seligman and many others we now know more about what it takes to live happier lives, to overcome adversity and to recover from setbacks than we have done at any time in the past.
We have list upon list of evidence-based ways to help us flourish and thrive. From gratitude and savouring to meditation and acts of kindness, there are dozens of ways to increase our levels of wellbeing every day.
Bringing these, and many other interventions to workplaces and schools is a passion of mine. Whether I work with the CEOs of major corporations or eight-year-olds in a classroom I find sharing these simple and powerful tools a delight and a privilege.
We certainly need to keep the conversation going – but please let’s talk about wellness not just illness. Let’s talk about what can go right not just what can go wrong, and remember that the more we can prevent, the less we have to fix later.