Everyone has mental health. Our emotions, habits, thought patterns, neurobiology, and more all contribute to our overall mental state. If our mood on a particular day is the weather, our mental health is the climate of our mind.
Many people have the misunderstanding that mental health exists on a single spectrum, with optimal wellbeing on one hand and debilitating mental illness on the other. For example, happiness on one end, sadness near the middle, and Major Depressive Disorder (MDD) on the opposite end. Though there is some truth to this, this way of conceiving mental wellbeing can be dangerously misleading.
The presence of a mental disorder indicates that an individual's mind is processing information differently than most people. This could be the result of genetics, stress, trauma, or many factors combined.
The presence (or lack of) a mental disorder is not a measurement of an individual's emotional maturity, personality characteristics, or intelligence. People of all levels of intelligence, all stages of maturity, and all range of personalities can experience mental illness. In fact, it is possible (and not uncommon) for an individual with a mental illness to possess a higher level of emotional maturity and a stronger emotional intelligence than a peer who has not experienced mental illness; this is often because the experiences of mental illness and recovery have required the development of such strengths.
As you can see on the chart above, the totality of one's mental health exists on a double spectrum: one measuring the extent to which a mental illness is present if at all, and the other measuring the person's level of mental well-being.
It is completely possible for an individual who is experiencing mental illness (whether it be a mild or severe case) to have a high level of mental well-being, with the support of their loved ones and treatment team.
One helpful way to think about holistic well-being is through a tool developed by Abraham Maslow in 1943. Maslow proposed that our needs as human beings build on each other, beginning with our most fundamental physiological needs for survival and peaking with realizing our full potential.
For example, when someone is experiencing burnout or depression, they may neglect to meet their basic needs (e.g. food, sleep, etc.) and this then exacerbates the symptoms, because one's emotional and psychological needs cannot be sufficiently met until one's physiological needs are met first.
If you struggle with needs in the middle tiers, such as self-worth and intimacy, then it sometimes can help to look first at the lower tiers and ask "Am I taking care of myself well?".
It's only when we are meeting our own basic needs that we can sufficiently have our emotional and psychological needs fully met.
In order to take care of yourself, you have to know your own needs. Below are some useful things to know about yourself in order to care for your own mental well-being.