Much talk about mental health focuses on mental illness. But there is more to mental well-being than simply being without mental illness.

Think about mental health and a list of mental illnesses often comes to mind – there are depression, anxiety, eating disorders, addiction, schizophrenia, and bipolar disorder, to name a few.

Efforts to raise awareness of mental illness mean that most of us are now somewhat familiar with the most common mental disorders, even if we had no personal experience at all.

But in recent years, researchers and doctors have moved away from viewing mental health in terms of the presence or absence of symptoms. Instead, they sought to discover what it means to be in good mental health, and what we can do to advance our mental well-being.

According to Tim Sharp, founder and chief happiness officer at The Happiness Institute, the turnaround was significant. Instead of spending most of his time preventing people from being at their worst, he now devotes much of his working life to ensuring that people are at their best.

What is good mental health?

Psychologist Martin Seligman has raised positive psychology over the past two decades.

Seligman’s idea of ?? good mental health is summed up in five main areas that together make up the acronym PERMA: positive emotions, engagement, relationships, meaning, purpose, and accomplishments. However, other researchers believe that additional factors also play a role.

Felicia Hubert, director of the Welling Institute at Cambridge University and professor of psychology at the Institute for Positive Psychology and Education at the Australian Catholic University, has taught mental health for more than two decades. It describes mental health as a spectrum.

“On one side, there are common mental disorders [of anxiety and depression] and at the other end, positive mental health is, or it thrives,” she says.

To define the meaning of prosperity, Hubert explained that positive mental health features will be the opposite of those that define poor mental health. Looking at the internationally agreed measures of depression and anxiety and setting the opposite of all of their symptoms, Hubert distilled a list of 10 features of positive rest.
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