The 7 Components of Mental Health
Writer: Lisa Quigley
Imagine this scenario- you go to your doctor because you are having prolonged, really uncomfortable stomach issues. What tests do you expect they will run? What prescriptions do you suspect they will write? Similarly, imagine you go to a massage therapist or physio for very tense, uncomfortable neck and shoulder pain. You see them every few weeks, but the pain always creeps back. Sure, you’ve been under a lot of stress, and have been struggling to sleep or concentrate, but that’s not what you are there for- melatonin at night and coffee in the morning will hopefully do the trick. In both of these scenarios, only the acute pain is addressed, without considering the multidimensional components of the presented physical symptoms, or asking the necessary questions to discover a possible underlying root cause.
According to the American Psychological Association, we often do not recognize the effects of stress or mental illness until it shows up in some form of a physical symptom https://pillarsofwellness.ca/psychotherapy/what-are-the-7-components-of-good-mental-health/. Although our mental state can take a huge toll on our emotional wellbeing, physical and even intellectual health, many of us don’t have the understanding or language to explain our psychological experiences. As well, many with mental illness don’t address it because they don’t know how to talk about it or feel shame about their symptoms. Many of us instead only seek professional help once it shows up as a physical ailment or are in a crisis and we have something tangible to show and ‘fix’.
Health issues, whether physical or mental, are more often than not addressed in this way by Western medicine- acute, episodic care. In reality, our brain and body are one entity, completely interconnected, where mental health greatly affects our physical health, and vice versa. Mental health is too often discussed in silo from physical health, and also from aspects such as environmental health. Prescribing antidepressants can be very beneficial, however if a person’s environment doesn’t change, they will not be able to improve their mental health in a foundational, meaningful and long lasting way.
Learning language to describe or better understand our experiences can be immensely helpful in learning how to manage. To that effect, many of us use the term mental health without a clear definition, so here is one we like to use:
In this harmonious relationship between our body and mind, there are 7 main components to mental health https://pillarsofwellness.ca/psychotherapy/what-are-the-7-components-of-good-mental-health/. These things all work together to ensure you can maintain emotional, physical, and mental wellbeing. The 7 components include support, community, physical, intellectual, and environmental health, boundaries and self-care.
All these things are connected and an imbalance in one area can affect all others. Whether it’s an environmental stressor, a lack of boundaries, or something affecting our physical health, managing our mental health requires us to make ourselves the priority in all of these areas. It is difficult to juggle them all and requires a lot of unlearning from the hospitality industry and our society at large.
The 7 components:
When using the term support, we’re referring to professional support. Professional support looks different for everyone and it doesn’t always mean talk therapy. Many folks choose not to enter the mental health industrial complex and that must be respected. Here are a list of different examples of professional support that are not talk therapy: somatic healing, medication, meditation, psychedelic treatments, exercise, workplace mental health training, calling or texting a support hotline, sharing with your friends, family or community and many more!
If someone does choose one of the various forms of talk therapy (see our article on different types of talk therapy here), informing a professional of your current mental state may result in a prescription, or a referral to a psychiatrist. Or if it isn’t fitting to go on medication, it is important for them to be in the know so they can document and help track your mental health status.
Friends and family are exceptionally important support as well. Most of us benefit from an objective opinion or professional to bounce thoughts and experiences off of to help us recognize our patterns of behaviour and emotions.
Your community can be a wide array of people, from friends and family, to in-person or online peer support groups. Even services and exchanges that in some way contribute to real, authentic conversations or small moments that remind you that you are not alone, can contribute to your quality of life.
Have you ever heard the saying, ‘you are the company you keep?’ Being consistent with surrounding yourself with supportive people who prioritise a healthy, well-rounded lifestyle and have similar goals and desires as you will play a big role in your own daily life and mental health journey. Community care goes a long way in helping folks manage mental health and substance use challenges.
Your body is an intricate network of systems all working together in seamless synchronicity to keep you moving and grooving, day in and day out. It’s nothing short of miraculous. This network includes your brain, and the health of one affects the health of the other. Although miraculous, it is not invincible, and if we do not take care of ourselves, the system will start to crash. Adequate and consistent sleep, exercise, hydration and healthy eating are integral to overall health. Caring for your physical health not only helps create a more positive outlook on life, but it also majorly contributes to life longevity.
Your environment can significantly contribute to your mental wellbeing. This may include workplace conditions, living conditions, social interactions, relationships, access to green spaces, nature and fresh air often. The stresses that inevitably come with inadequate environmental conditions can slowly and subconsciously take a huge toll on your overall well being. Doing what you can in your power to remove certain stressors or change unhealthy environments often comes with great improvement to overall health, wellbeing and cognitive functioning.
Our brains are a muscle just like those in our bodies, which means they also need to be consistently exercised to grow and maintain. Committing yourself to be a lifelong learner, whether it be through meditation, reflection, taking on a new skill or acquiring fresh knowledge, all contribute to mental wellbeing https://pillarsofwellness.ca/psychotherapy/what-are-the-7-components-of-good-mental-health/. Not only does it keep your brain sharp, but it also helps improve quality of life through feelings of purpose. You may find that you are more in tune with yourself, or you may end up joining a new community with similar interests.
Boundaries are not set to keep people out. Boundaries are set to prioritise and maintain your own mental wellbeing. They have actually been shown to strengthen relationships, not diminish, when set in a direct, honest, and respectful way https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/setting-boundaries#:~:text=When%20you’re%20clear%20about,Build%20greater%20self%2Desteem.
Boundaries will be different for every individual. Communicating your personal boundaries can help to develop healthy independence and greater self-esteem, avoid burnout, help you gain clarity on who you are and what your values are, and enhance overall mental and emotional wellbeing https://www.webmd.com/mental-health/setting-boundaries#:~:text=When%20you’re%20clear%20about,Build%20greater%20self%2Desteem.
It can feel exceptionally uncomfortable and challenging at first to set your own boundaries. Lean into the discomfort and avoid the tendency to ignore your own feelings out of ‘politeness.’ It is time to unlearn the unhealthy, potentially harmful practice of people pleasing and put your own wellbeing and limits first.
Self-care is a general term to describe everything you do deliberately for your mental, physical and emotional wellbeing https://www.wth.org/blog/why-self-care-is-an-essential-for-your-mental-health/. It sounds simple, but so many of us do very little for ourselves to properly recharge and refresh. Self-care is different for everyone, but foundationally it relies on increased self-awareness to identify what practices or situations either improve or diminish your mental health.
Self-care can be treating your body well with nutritious food, exercise and prioritising sleep. Self-care may be meditation and journaling or creating a financial budget. It may be taking quick mental surveys of your body in various situations to acknowledge how you really feel in that present moment. It may be bingeing your favourite show. The difference between bingeing a show for self-care, and self-loathing or languishing, is the intention behind it. Do you feel good in the moment, but then feel guilty and anxious afterward? Or do you feel relaxed and recharged from allowing yourself a pleasurable break? Having awareness of what you feel during and after will tell you if it is self-care or not.
It may seem like a daunting list to practice and work into your daily life, but that is all that it requires: practice. No one does all of the things above all the time, let alone perfectly, and that is completely okay. Actually, it is better than okay, because another contributor to mental health not explicitly outlined above is psychological flexibility. This means you are mentally flexible enough that you will not spiral if you happen to break routine or structure.
We are humans, and life happens. Some things, rather, lots of things, are out of our control. Learning to accept the things we can’t change is integral to mental health and wellbeing. Having this awareness, and continuing to practice the things that are in your control is a liberating form of boundaries and self-care.
As humans, we are constantly changing and adapting, which means what we need in order to maintain and improve our mental well being will change too. It is important to try to make a consistent effort to address these pillars, stay psychologically flexible and show ourselves compassion along the way. Just like how our body and brain can’t not affect each other, neither can the 7 pillars on our mental health and overall quality of life.
To read more about common types of talk therapy, click here.
To read a personal piece about burnout from an imbalance of the 7 pillars of mental health, click here.
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ID: Three sections, a dark blue over half the post with white text reading “Support, Community, Physical Health, Intellectual Health, Environmental Health, Boundaries, Self-care. The other half of the post is divided into two, purple background with navy text reading “Seven components of mental health.” and a light purple background with a half heart half brain picture in white and @not9to5_ written in yellow.
ID: Definition of mental health in black text on a green background, which reads:
Mental health is a dynamic state of internal balance that enables individuals to use their:
Abilities in harmony with universal values of society
Basic cognitive and social skills
Ability to recognize, express and modulate emotions
Capacity to empathize with others
Adaptability to cope with adverse life events and function in social roles.
In addition, the harmonious relationship between body and mind represent important components of mental health that contribute to the state of internal balance.