Mental Health


Everyone struggles in life at one time or another, and life’s journey has many ups and downs, twists and turns.  Life is never a straight and even path and may require the occasional detour to get to where we want to be in life. Whether you have experienced traumatic events or not, and most of us have, we all experience times when we doubt ourselves, are fearful, uncertain and feel inadequate. This is part of being human.

Trauma can affect our mental health but it doesn’t mean we are crazy, sick or ill. Remember, trauma is an injury that happens to us.

Many people think mental health is simply the absence of a mental illness. Mental health and mental illness are however two very different things.  Mental health is the sense of well-being that comes from knowing that you can cope with whatever life sends our way.  Mental health is about a quality of life and finding balance between all aspects of our lives – social, physical, spiritual and emotional.  The World Health Organization defines mental health as “a state of well being in which the individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his own community.” The Public Health Agency of Canada defines mental health as being “the capacity of each of us to feel, think and act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life, and deal with the challenges we face. It is a positive sense of emotional and spiritual well being that respects the importance of culture, equity, social justice, interconnections and personal dignity.

Good mental health can actually prevent mental illness. It is understandable and very normal that when we experience traumatic events we can feel less confident in our ability to cope with what life throws at us, you might  feel more  guarded, less trusting, less sure of yourself and of others.  It can change the way you view and interact with the world around you.  This can affect your mental health, disrupt your sense of life balance, your confidence, your connection with others and interfere with your quality of life.  While it can feel crazy making but it doesn’t mean you are crazy.  Your reactions and feelings are normal reactions to abnormal events.

You survived these traumatic events because of strengths you have and internal and external resources you could access.  This also took courage.  Recovering from the affects of trauma and enhancing your mental health is about understanding and knowing your strengths and knowing yourself. No one has perfect mental health and everyone can do things to improve their mental health.  It’s a life long journey that gets easier as you travel down the road you have already started.  You are actually farther down that road than what you might think.

So what defines and contributes to our mental health?

Dr. Corey Keyes described three types of well being; Emotional, Psychological and Social Well Being. We will also include spiritual well-being.   All of these types of well being contribute to our mental health and recovery:

Emotional Well Being refers to the presence of positive feelings (i.e. happy or feeling interested in life, as well as a general satisfaction with life, being able to experience moments of joy.)

Psychological well being can be divided into six components:

  • Self Acceptance – a positive self concept and ability to acknowledge both the positive and the negative aspects of ourselves.
  • Positive relations with others- having warm, satisfying and trusting relationships with others.  This includes being concerned with the welfare of others, an ability to display empathy, affection, intimacy and compassion.
  • Autonomy – Self determined and independent, being able to resist social pressure to think and behave in particular ways, to know and abide by our own individual standards and values.
  • Environmental Mastery- an ability to take advantage of available opportunities and shape our surroundings to adequately meet our own needs without restricting the freedom and opportunities of others.
  • Purpose in Life- having and pursuing goals, feeling that life has meaning and having beliefs that give life purpose.
  • Personal Growth- continually developing ourselves, recognizing our own potential, welcoming new experiences, and being able to change ways that demonstrate an increased sense of self-awareness and effectiveness.  Being curious.

  • Social Integration – Feeling that we have things in common with others, feeling connected to both a community and the larger society. Having an interest in people and the world around us and a sense of belonging.
  • Social Acceptance- Trusting others, seeing people as kind and generally holding favorable views of humanity.
  • Social Contribution – believing we are important, valued and effective members of society.
  • Social Coherence – Caring about the world we live in and understanding the way things work within it.
  • Social Actualization – Having a hopeful outlook that society is improving, can or will improve. This would also include believing that people can change and that you can change and grow.

As mentioned earlier a fourth type of well being is “Spiritual Well Being”.  Spirituality is about a search for understanding essential core meanings of existence.  It is the aspect of being human that refers to the way individuals seek and express meaning and purpose and the way they experience connectedness to the moment, to self, to others, to nature, the earth and to the significant or sacred.

There are many ways to express and experience spirituality and a connection to the world around you.  For some it make be a matter of faith or belonging to a spiritual community, it might involve prayer, it could involve dancing, singing, chanting, meditation, yoga, hiking, mountain climbing, walking in a park or, staring at the stars.  It is what every helps you feel connected with yourself, with others, the natural world around you and gives you feeling that life has hope, meaning and purpose. Whenever you strive to discover and nurture what gives your life meaning, purpose, hope and a greater connection with the world around you, you are striving to be spiritually healthy. One method, one way, and one size does not fit all.

When you think about the nature of traumatic experiences it is not surprising that some of these aspects of us and our mental health would be challenged.  For example when people who were supposed to care for and look out for us instead hurt us it makes perfect sense that it might affect how we see and approach people and the world around us.


Enhancing your Mental Health

So how can you go about enhancing your emotional, psychological, social and spiritual well being?  Perhaps consider some of these questions:

Emotional Well Being

  • What do you do to create or enhance your quality of life?
  • What do you do in a day that is important to you and that makes you feel better about the day or yourself?
  • How do you manage stress and cope with difficult emotions?
  • How do you take care of yourself? What gives you pleasure?
  • Do you notice and pay attention to when you are feeling good or do you only pay attention and notice when you’re feeling bad?

Psychological Well Being

  • What gives your life meaning, purpose and/or a sense of direction?
  • What choices and efforts do you make so that the world around you meets your needs?
  • How does it make you feel when you do?
  • Do you feel comfortable in expressing your own ideas and opinions?
  • What parts of yourself do you most like and value?
  • What experiences have challenged you to grow and become a better person?

Social Well Being

  • Who are the people you have trusting warm relationships with?
  • Do you believe that people are basically good?
  • Would you like to strengthen these relationships?
  • Do you believe that people, society and you can change? What are your beliefs about people in general?
  • What do you do to contribute to society?

Spiritual Well-being

  • Do you let yourself day dream and imagine without placing limits on your dreaming?
  • Do you claim time to sit quietly with yourself?
  • Do you ask yourself what your essential beliefs are for meaning in life? Do you let yourself play aimlessly?
  • What is hope for you?
  • What are the safe places and people in your life, people or places that can strengthen your life meaning?
  • Do you stop, look and listen?
  • Do you have rituals and practices that keep you in touch with yourself and a core meaning?

Thinking about your own mental health without judgment, and considering these questions can help you chart own path to recovery and  enjoying life more.  It can help you better understand yourself, your needs, your strengths and those areas that you might want to strengthen.  It is not about finding fault, weaknesses or failings.  Becoming aware of ourselves is not about tearing ourselves down or apart, rather it is about building ourselves up, knowing and honoring our strengths, knowing more about what we want, need or desire, the direction we want our lives to take Everyone has a right to be happy and enjoy good mental health and that includes you.

This journey is also about knowing and using our strengths.  What are the things that give you strength and how are you using them.  Strengths* can include such things as:

  • Family support
  • Positive friends
  • Mentors- people who guide, teach and challenge us
  • Healthy activities
  • Medical/professional  services or support
  • Generosity

(* Source: Sources of Strength,

Research in the United Kingdom has identified the five activities that make the biggest difference to our mental health and well, they are:


Connect with people. Invest time in building relationships at home, work, in your neighborhood.

Be Active

Discover physical activities you enjoy and that suit your mobility and level of fitness.

Take Notice

Be curious. Savor the moment and be aware of the world around you. Practice mindfulness, being aware of sensations, thoughts and feelings without judgement.

Keep Learning

Try something new or rediscover an old interest.


Be generous, do something nice for someone else. Thank someone. Smile. Volunteer. Get involved.

When your life has been affected by trauma doing some or all of these things can be difficult.  It can be harder to connect with people, be active, learn, and give when people and the world doesn’t seem to be particularly safe or caring. You might find that you are always taking notice but you might be constantly taking notice of our potential threats to your safety or well being.    Nurturing our mental health is a lifelong process.  Take your time and with small steps. Celebrate the small accomplishments; they are bigger than you think.

"Everyone has a right to have a present and future that are not completely dominated and dictated by the past" - Karen Saakvitne