Danielle Ibelema, MD
Treating the Whole Self: Why Mental Health Matters
What comes to mind when you read the words ‘mental health’? Unfortunately, these words often carry a negative connotation due to the way we are inclined to conceptualize our health. We tend to view mental and physical health very differently. A distinction is often made between mind and body. Yet, when reflecting on your wellbeing, mental health and physical health should not be thought of as separate.
We all have mental health in the same way that we all have physical health. As with most components of health, mental health exists on a spectrum. Yet, mental health is not simply the absence of mental illness; mental health refers to the presence of certain characteristics. The World Health Organization defines mental health as "a state of well-being in which every 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 community". Based on this definition, good mental health is an essential component of overall health and wellbeing. Poor physical health is associated with an increased risk of developing certain mental health conditions. Similarly, poor mental health can negatively impact physical health, and lead to an increased risk of physical illness
When thinking about wellness and health prevention, it’s important to not exclude your mental health. We hear a good deal about preventive medicine in the context of decreasing physical ailments. However, it’s also important to have a proactive health plan that takes into account your mental wellbeing as well. Hopefully, you have a primary care doctor; but do you have a mental health care doctor or therapist? Do you get ‘checkups’ for your mental health? What measures have you taken to enhance your mental health?