What Is Mental Health And Who Is In Control Of It?

By McDonald, T. | Date 3rd of October 2018

Mental health is a phrase banded about by more and more people.  Mental health encompasses a wide range of disorders listed in the international classification of disorders (ICD 10) and in the diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (DSM 5) Recently I was asked on social media by Wendy Dignan, ‘How do I maintain a balanced mental health?’  This is a perplexing question since it is firstly difficult to explain what mental health is and secondly why should we assume that mental health is something that has a balance and is solely in our control?  

What is Mental Health?

Firstly, how can mental health be described; what is mental health?  Is it something to do with the way a person feels or is it more to do with how a person copes under stress?  If it is to do with how a person feels, surely it is easy to heal people and if it is to do with stress then why do some of the most successful people with no stress suffer with depression or other mental disorder? Subsequently, the question of how to maintain a balance mental health is never going to be an easy one to answer.  If we assume that mental health is the condition of the mind and that the mind is the brain that is part of the nervous system, we can quickly see that the mind is a system of components. Following on from this, it is possible to think of mental health as a system of components; thus, begin analysing each component in the system.  If this is the case, then what are the components?  A list of possible components might be immediate safety, family relations, creativity and self-esteem (Maslow 1950s, cited in Gross, 2005). With this in mind, is it possible to maintain a balanced mental health by maintaining each of the components within the systemWe can test this by asking a few questions. Obviously, there are many questions that could be asked, but here are just three to make the point: 
    • Will having a safe place to sleep every night help balance mental health?  
    • Will good relations with friends and family help? 
    • Will gardening help a person’s mental health?  
      The three points above can all contribute to a person’s mental health and need to be in the correct balance since spending time in the garden at the expense of the family is never going to be good. However, would a person experience good mental health if they only had a safe place to sleep three or four times a week? No, because people need a safe place to sleep every night.  

      Now, if we think of mental health as a set of needs that need to be satisfied we come back to Maslow and the hierarchy of needs again.  Looking at the questions again, if a person has no safe place to sleep, are they going to be worried how the garden looks? No. Baring all this in mind how can we say what mental health is?  

      Balance and Control

      Secondly, is mental health something to be balanced and is it under our control? The question of balance has already been looked at in the last chapter, but there is more to it than just what is it that a person must keep in balance.  For instance, do you think it is possible to cure a personality disorder or schizophrenia simply by visiting family and sleeping in a safe place?  No, there is no magic walk or diet or checklist that cures people of all and every mental health problem.  According to the DSM, personality disorders need a good combination of medication and intense psychotherapy for at least ten years, while schizophrenia is not curable and can only be managed with medication and psychotherapy.  

      Now, the question of who is in control of are mental health.  Is our mental health affected by existential events?  Yes, it is!   If a person is mugged or burgled, is it possible the event could have an impact on that person’s mental health? Yes, it is very possible.  Likewise, will medication stop the kitchen falling apart and leaking everywhere while the landlord is refusing to fix it?  Now, let's go back to the question of balance: what exactly is it being balanced? 

      Who is in control of a person’s mental health is, obviously, a combination of the individual and the people that person is surrounded by.  For example, if your boss has borderline personality disorder and exhibits splitting as well as being mean and vindictive, do you think this would impact on your mental health?  What if a parent died?  Would that impact on your mental health? According to Daniel Freeman (2008) from Kings College London in a podcast with Raj Persaud, people can experience paranoid thoughts after being mugged or even after a virtual train ride.  Therefore, we can see that a person’s mental health is not always controlled by that person.  It could be argued that a person can control the way they feel about something that has happened that was out of their control.  Nevertheless, would you tell a grieving relative that their pain is their own fault for not looking at the death of their loved one in the correct way?  No, that would be a hideous thing to do.  Mental health is not about one thing or balancing many things, it is likely to be something to do with the way we process external and internal events.  Such events will need a combination of therapy and medication if they are serious enough.  Mental health is not a matter of balance and is not a choice people make. 

      To conclude, what is mental health and is it possible to balance it?  How can we assume anything about mental health since it is so difficult to explain?  However, we can see that mental health has both internal and external factors; a person’s mental health is not a choice and so how can it be controlled?  Many more people well experience mental health problems, but while we keep the conversation going hope is ever nearer. 


      Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders, 5th ed, [Book], American Psychiatric Association (2013).

      Gross, R. 'Psychology: The Science of Mind and Behaviour', chapter 9 Motivation, fifth edition, [Book], Hodder Arnold, (2005).

      Persaud, R. (2008) 'Virtual reality study of paranoid thinking in the general population', Royal College Of Psychiatrists [Podcast], (2008), Available at https://www.rcpsych.ac.uk/default.aspx?page=4438  Accessed on (29/09/2018). 

      The tweet that sparked this blog.  
      I hope you have enjoyed this blog.  Please leave a comment and give a rating.  Thanks.


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