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How do you define mental health?

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To commemorate Mental Health Awareness Month, we asked a number of our clinicians the question:

How do you define mental health?

From Brooke Hartman, LCSW:

A state of psychological and social well-being; the ability to adaptively cope with stressors in life, to be productive, to meet potential, and to thrive. I like World Health Organization’s definition of health (including Mental Health) as written in its constitution:  “Health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”

From David Hauser, PhD:

Interpersonal neurobiologist, Dr. Dan Siegel, likes to say “health is adaptation.”  For me this definition works quite well for mental health as well.  Mental health is the ability for a person to get their needs met, while adapting to and navigating through the environmental constraints that stand in the way of their needs being attended to.  Pursuing one’s own needs, while remaining empathic toward others’ needs is a true sign of mental health.


But by this definition, it is imperative first for individuals to identify what their needs are. Setting a course to meet goals that are not in sync with a person’s underlying wants and drives can be the catalyst for many mental health disorders.  I think too often, people think “knowing your own needs” is self-evident or obvious.  I think it is much harder to discover and then articulate one’s own needs than people realize.  Much “white noise,” such as media messages, social norms, and familial pressure can distract people from what they really want, and only by detecting what lay beneath this noise can one find what drives them and what will lead them to happiness and greater mental health.


The Family Institute offers affordable family, couples and individual counseling at our Evanston, downtown Chicago, La Grange Park and Northbrook locations. Visit our website to learn more.

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