What is Mental Health? What is it good for?

Mental Health is on the minds of Canadians since they have recognised that it is part of one’s health. The list of Canadians includes: business owners, nurses, teachers, parents, athletes, and students among many others.

The recognition of mental health has already occurred in the minds of international experts and researchers for years. Evidence of its longstanding recognition can be found in the general definition of health provided by the World Health Organisation (WHO, 2016). They described health as a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being that contributes to efficient human functioning and not merely the absence of disease.

The recognition of mental health in Canada actually stems from the Indigenous Peoples. They had included mental health as part of overall health and evidence can be found when examining their sacred medicine wheel. Here, mental health is positioned as one of four elements of wellness along with physical, emotional, and spiritual elements. Wellness is passed down from Elders and traditional healers leading to a perspective on wellness that reflects each person.

Despite these origins, mental health is typically described in accordance with the definition provided by the United States Department of Health and Human Services. They describe mental health as: a state of successful mental function that allows people to realise their potential, cope with the stress of life, work productively, and make meaningful contributions to their communities (National Prevention Strategy, 2010).

According to this description, mental health is a resource.  

As a resource, mental health is good for providing stability when faced with traumatic events or placed in difficult situations. For many Canadians, these events or situations are unintended and unplanned. They may compromise one’s mental health momentarily or for a prolonged period leading to the onset of a mental illness, particularly in vulnerable populations (Mental Health 101, 2018). They may also exacerbate an existing mental illness.

Genetics, brain chemistry, and family history of mental illness are risk factors that could also facilitate the onset of a mental illness (Mental Health, 2018).

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) estimated that $51 billion is spent annually on mental health care costs and 30% of all disability claims are related to mental illness (Facts and Statistics, 2018). 

These costs mean that many Canadians have had their mental health compromised and it’s expensive. 

Compromised mental health can be viewed as people that are low functioning across a variety of contexts such as home, work, school, and recreation. In fact, the CAMH estimated that 1 in 2 Canadians will experience a mental illness by 40 years of age (Facts and Statistics, 2018).

However, the difference between mental health and mental illness is oversimplified.

Rather, there is an emerging view about mental health being situated at one end of the continuum while mental illness can be found at the opposite end.

In between, there are five degrees:

  1. Peak performance
  2. Good mental health
  3. Occasional symptoms, which is normal
  4. Frequent symptoms related to one illness
  5. Mental illness

There is also a great difference in terms of mental health based on context.

For a business owner, mental health means that they are effectively overseeing their employees and their activities, creating and sustaining relationships with clients and customers, and findings innovative ways to sustain their operations (Henderson & Robertson, 1999).

For a nurse, mental health means that they can handle difficult and demanding patients while negotiating a potentially exhausting and diverse workload. Mental health can serve as a buffer to prevent burnout from job related stress (Jenkins & Elliot, 2004).

For a teacher, mental health means that they have professional strategies designed to have a trusting relationship with their principal, a clear engagement plan for extracurricular activities, and a means for constructing student competencies and motivation in the classroom. They may also have personal strategies (ex. bath, workout) and social networks (ex., coaching, walk with a friend) that will help them when they return home (Harvey, 2002). 

For a parent, mental health means that they are strengthened in difficult moments with their children. There are endless examples that begin with conception, pregnancy, child labour, and post-partum adjustments. Babies and infants pose challenges related to high engagement and physical exhaustion. Children and teenagers require role models and advice throughout. A parent’s mental health can be further challenged by a setback in their children’s health and well-being or even a special need (Thomas & Zimmer-Gembeck, 2007).

For athletes, mental health means that they return from an injury, get promoted to the next level, and maintain their involvement at the highest level. They select the coping strategies that mobilise their resources and those in their network to manage the demands that they face and the barriers preventing them from addressing the demands (Battochio, Schinke & Stambulova, 2017). 

For a student, mental health means that they handle the struggle bus with some humor (Schill et O’Laughlin, 1984) before they tackle the endless assignments, tests, and exams that are a traditional part of each course. Tackling these expectations means that they must recruit their teachers and their professors to ensure that expectations are clear. Colleagues in class are equally important when it comes to tackling class expectations.

Now you know what it is and what is it good for…everything!


Battochio, R.C., Schinke, R.J., & Stambulova, N. (2017). Retrived from http://hh.diva-portal.org/smash/record.jsf?pid=diva2%3A1165484&dswid=-5447

Facts and Statistics. (2018). Retrieved from https://www.camh.ca/en/driving-change/the-crisis-is-real/mental-health-statistics

Harvey, Y. (2002). Le problème du stress et sa gestion chez les enseignants à l’ordre primaire: une exploration. Université du Québec à Chicoutimi.

Henderson, R., & Robertson, M. (1999). Who wants to be an entrepreneur? young adult attitudes to entrepreneurship as a career. Education & Training, 41(4), 236-245. Retrieved fromhttps://search.proquest.com/docview/237066565?accountid=12005

Jenkins, R., & Elliott, P. (2004). Stressors, burnout and social support: nurses in acute mental health settings. Journal of advanced nursing48(6), 622-631.

Mental Health (2018). Retrieved from https://www.mentalhealth.gov/basics/what-is-mental-health

Mental Health 101 (2018). Retrieved from https://moodle8.camhx.ca/moodle/mod/book/view.php?id=48

National Prevention Strategy, (2010). Retrieved from https://www.surgeongeneral.gov/priorities/prevention/strategy/mental-emotional-well-being.pdf

Schill, T., & O’Laughlin, S. (1984). Humor preference and coping with stress. Psychological reports55(1), 309-310.

Thomas, R., & Zimmer-Gembeck, M. J. (2007). Behavioral outcomes of parent-child interaction therapy and Triple P—Positive Parenting Program: A review and meta-analysis. Journal of abnormal child psychology35(3), 475-495.

WHO. (2016). Retrieved from https://www.who.int/about/mission/en/



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