Everyone has a unique relationship with their mental health – and that means everyone’s idea of what ‘good mental health’ means is different. Below, we hear from nine women about what good mental health means to them.
In Stylist’s digital series Picture of Health, we investigate what health looks like for women today – from redefining mental health and fitness, to examining issues around race and disability inclusivity. For investigations, first-person essays and features check here.
When you think of someone with ‘good mental health’, what do you imagine? At first thought, you might picture someone with a big smile on their face – someone who’s able to navigate the world with relative ease.
The reality, however, is a lot more complicated. While the idea of good mental health is often conflated with happiness, the two are not one and the same.
Someone with good mental health may naturally be happier than someone who’s struggling, but that’s just one part of the puzzle. Just like good physical health or fitness, good mental health is more than just an absence of problems – it’s the presence of certain knowledge and qualities which often take work (and regular maintenance) to achieve.
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However, that doesn’t mean there’s one definition of good mental health, either. Everyone’s relationship with their mental health and wellbeing is different – and that means everyone’s version of good mental health varies, too.
So, to explore what ‘good mental health’ really means in 2022, we asked nine women to share what it looks like for them. From self-awareness to accepting negative emotions, here’s what they had to say.
“To me, good mental health is when I’m able to prioritise myself – when I don’t wait until I’m on the edge before I start to take care of myself. Doing regular self-care adds up – it fills your emotional cup.”
Feeling in control
“As someone with OCD, I know I’m in a good place with my mental health when I can look after myself and deal with the normal stresses of life without allowing myself to get to a stage where I feel overwhelmed.
“Sometimes even just making myself a meal or cleaning my space can feel like a massive chore and something I can’t cope with, but when I feel confident, adaptable and hopeful, I know that my mental health is heading in the right direction. However, I always make sure to maintain some self-compassion and recognise that recovery isn’t linear.”
Having the right support
“To me, good mental health is when I’m making sure to give myself enough of the right kind of support in my life. I am naturally anxious and, although I’ve learned to manage it better via a lot of therapy and effort, it’s probably never going to go away completely. So, I have learned that I need certain things, like enough time off from work, enough time connecting with other humans and enough time not being a parent.
“I also need enough sleep and enough of the right kind of food and enough exercise… all of which is hard to achieve and often doesn’t happen! But if I can get somewhere close to getting enough of the things I need to keep me steady then my mental health doesn’t dip and drop as it has done in the past.”
“Making myself a priority and protecting my personal boundaries are non-negotiables I know I need in order to maintain good mental health. For me this looks like setting out time in my schedule for self-care, regularly practising meditation and yoga and knowing it’s OK to say ‘no’ to things in order to protect my energy.”
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“As someone who takes antidepressants, to me good mental health means taking my medication, and not being ashamed to do so. I used to feel so frustrated and annoyed at myself for needing to take something to support my mental health, but I’ve been able to reframe my perspective and now see it as just another way I take care of myself. I know I’m in a good place when I can do this with confidence.”
Having real-time awareness
“For me, good mental health means having an actual, real-time awareness of my energy, my emotional wellbeing and my mindset. Not only that, but being willing to take action and create change if I notice any downward spirals.
“Abuse, breakdown, burnout and depression are all part of my past. Having spent years learning, training and developing tools to improve my own outlook, I’m now hyper-vigilant and do all I can to keep my mental health in a positive place.”
Accepting your emotions
“To me, good mental health means accepting my emotions as they are and learning from them. Learning how to understand my emotions through dialectical behaviour therapy (DBT) has been a game-changer – I gained a new perspective about my emotions, and learned it’s OK to accept them as they are. There are often lots of reasons why a particular emotion might be coming up for you and it’s important to take a step back, observe what’s going on, and then you have a chance to respond.”
Celebrating the little victories
“To me, good mental health means being able to celebrate the little victories every day. You got out of bed even though you were in pain? Amazing! You’ve managed to have a shower even though it’s exhausting to do so? Well done! You’ve managed to get a bit further on that project you’re working on even though your sleep has been awful this week? You’re doing so well!
“With a physical disability, life can be difficult and it can really affect your mental health, so I find that being able to be proud of the little bits I can manage to do does wonders if I’m struggling.”
Being able to juggle everything
“For me, good mental health means being able to manage everything on my to-do list, both in work and in my personal life. I know when things are getting too much when I feel too stressed to try and tackle the problem at all.”
In Stylist’s new digital series Picture of Health, we investigate what health looks like for women today – from redefining mental health and fitness, to examining issues around race and disability inclusivity. For investigations, first-person essays and features check back here daily.
This article was originally published in November 2021 and has since been updated throughout.
Images: Ella Byworth
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