What is mental health?

Mental health is a question of balance. Photo by Katerina Jerabkova on Unsplash


The mind is not the brain, and it is not the body.  The human mind is a network of thoughts, constantly flowing, constantly balancing similarity and difference, singularity and plurality, aloneness and community, peace and conflict, attachment and detachment, chaos and order, dependence and independence.


If a mind falls out of balance, then it is likely a person will show signs of mental distress.  For example, if someone we are very attached to dies, or leaves us, then we will feel the extreme pain of the pull, as our attachment to them tries to find a way of existing without being fed.  The pain of loss is only resolved when the mind reaches a new equilibrium, attached enough to remember, but detached enough to lose.


If a mind is able to achieve pretty much constant balance, experiencing life without falling into extremes, then this wisdom can lead to good mental health.  This kind of mind is flexible and supple, and needs less by way of support from other people.  Although we cannot be totally independent from others, we can certainly learn to be happy at a reasonable distance from them, whilst remaining connected.  Good mental health is usually balanced between social dependence and social independence.


Counselling and psychotherapy are ways of helping a mind, usually one-to-one, to gain better equilibrium.  A client will often present with a set of imbalances which lie behind their suffering.  The therapist’s job is to work alongside the client, and discover with them what changes can bring the mind into better balance with itself and the world.


Anxiety, viewed in this way, is the mind’s way of demonstrating to the body that there is an imbalance, or a conflict, to resolve.  The anxiety will often reduce when either the conflict is understood better, or the environment is changed to reduce the pressure leading to conflict.


Depression, viewed in this way, is the mind’s way of demonstrating to the body that there is no more energy left (at least for the moment) to fight life’s battles.  The conflict has been so unceasingly unresolved that the mind and body stop responding with alertness, and simply slump into defeat.


Whether using therapy or not, if we want to be happy, all of us have to find ways of reconciling the extremes we can fall into.  In relationships, we must find a balance between attachment and non-attachment.  With food, we must find a balance between comfort and necessity.  In our thinking about life, we must find a balance between avoidance of risk and acceptance of danger.


Our mental health is, essentially, our balance.  Where we feel painful tension, we are receiving a message that something needs realigning.  Wisdom, or health, is simply the ability to manage this kind of realignment flexibly and continuously.