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A view on mental health

Updated: Nov 6, 2020

Feelings of well-being: healthy or unhealthy

By Caryn Childs

South African BodyTalk Association

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health is “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to society”

The above statement suggests that positive feelings and functioning are key factors for mental health. It does not allow for the realities of live, the challenging situations we find ourselves in, those times when we may question our own abilities, be severely stressed and not productive at all.

Sometimes feelings of well- being may actually be unhealthy. How do we look at a terrorist shooting the enemy, feeling stress free, confident in his abilities and honestly thinking his deed is necessary for society? Most would consider his behaviour unhealthy.

The reality is people in good mental health are sometimes sad; they are sometimes unwell, unhappy, angry and fearful. These emotions are all part and parcel to living a full life, of being human. Our emotions are an important part of our ability to navigate this world. If we should lose a loved one, it is important that we should grieve, be sad and possibly angry. Yet society has deemed that unhealthy, because good mental health is defined as someone who is happy and in control of their emotions and their environment.

I often explain emotions to my clients in the following way. If you are a mother and mother’s day comes around… What would you like? They will all answer acknowledgement and appreciation.

Just like those mothers, your emotions carry an energetic resonance. If you do not acknowledge and appreciate why they are there and you suppress them, then their resonance multiplies with each time they are ignored and pushed away. Anger pushed down and unacknowledged eventually gathers enough momentum to become rage. Sadness pushed down and unacknowledged over time becomes depression. Just like the mother who feels unacknowledged and unappreciated and may become resentful.

See the anger. Embrace the anger and see it dissipate. All it wanted was for you to see it and acknowledge that it is there.

By following the WHO definition, we are excluding a wide spectrum of the population and this is dangerous. Because, whenever anyone feels less happy, productive, and integrated, we assume that they must be having mental health problems. The space for being human and vulnerable becomes dangerous territory and stops people from talking about how they truly feel, because they do not want to be labelled or judged.

For me, mental health is about balance. It is the ability to recognise and express your emotions in a constructive way. It is the ability to adapt to situations and embrace the emotions that comes with that adaption. To realize that anxiety when you are starting a new job is necessary, healthy, and normal. It is the ability to empathize with others. It is a harmonious relationship between the mind and body.

It is about falling in love with yourself and not berating yourself for not responding and behaving like the other people in the room. Some people laugh when they are in a stressful situation, others cry, others attack… all are perfectly normal responses for perfectly unique human beings.

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