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C1 Module 1.3

What is mental health?

Before You Begin

How would you define mental health right now?

Let’s do a quick experiment. Before you dive into this module, write a couple of sentences on what “mental health” actually means to you. At the end of the module we’ll do it again and compare the answers.

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MindMatters promotes positive mental health — but what does that mean?

Talking the same language

MindMatters promotes positive mental health — but what does that mean? Ask around and you will find everyone has a different definition. Most of the time that wouldn’t matter, but if you’re trying to work together to solve a problem then it’s a lot easier if everyone can agree on what the problem actually is.

That’s why in this module we’ll give you a simple and practical definition of mental health. We’ll introduce terms used throughout MindMatters, and make a case for why we should have a positive mental health strategy in secondary schools.

This is not about mental illness

We tend to think of mental health as something to do with anxiety, depression or schizophrenia, but these are mental health difficulties, like having a physical injury or illness. Mental health is a state of positive function, and much like physical health we shouldn’t take it for granted. Everyone’s mental health can change based on time and circumstances, and MindMatters is a framework to help you support positive mental health within school communities.

Resilience, risk factors and protective factors

There are many definitions of mental health. They vary on the details but one thing they have in common is an emphasis on resilience, meaning your ability to bounce back from disruptions in your life and progress towards whatever goals you set for yourself, however big or small.

If you have a high degree of resilience you tend to be positive, productive and adaptable. If you are lacking in resilience then you tend to be knocked off course easily, and can have a hard time getting back on track. In extreme cases this lack of resilience turns into depression, anxiety and other mental health issues.

Mental health is not a fixed trait, it is a dynamic state shaped by what are called risk factors and protective factors. Risk factors can include abusive family, poor health or drug and alcohol problems, while protective factors include strong relationships, a sense of community and belonging, and a sense of self-efficacy.

Why target mental health in secondary schools?

If you want to improve the mental health of a whole population, you need to find a place where you can engage enough people for enough time. School is one of the best places to do this. Almost all of us go to school, we’re there for a number of years, and by the time we are reaching secondary school we are entering a sometimes challenging transition into adulthood, when extra support is most valuable. While school might make a convenient catchment for students, does targeting mental health in this context actually work? The answer is yes: there is extensive evidence to show that schools which take a strategic approach to improving mental health can experience other benefits such as improved academic performance, and reductions in behavioural and disciplinary issues.

OK, now how would you define mental health?

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NEXT STEPS

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