Mental Health Benefits from Preventative Measures, Too

As more Americans warm to the value of preventative health care for physical health, it’s a good time to address how prevention benefits mental health as well. In a report published in the American Journal of Public Health, researchers concluded that investments in “mental health promotion and protection” not only complements the treatment (e.g. therapy, counseling, etc.) of mental illness when it arises, but these investments can reduce the risk of mental illness in the first place.

When speaking in broad terms, people sometimes use “mental health” and “mental illness” interchangeably, as in “Raising awareness about mental health/illness” or “Mental illness/health issues.” But they’re not the same. Mental health, like physical health, speaks to an overall level of strength, well-being, balance and resilience. Mental and physical illnesses are specific problems that arise, which they’re more likely to do when a person is less healthy to begin with. For example: if a person eats poorly and doesn’t exercise,  most wouldn’t call them “healthy,” even before they develop heart disease (which they are more likely to do).

So what does a mentally healthy life look like? Much talk lately has centered on the notion of resilience: the ability to deal with and live through difficult experiences without acquiring long-term psychological baggage; this is, arguably, one of the strongest indicators of mental health. The American Journal of Public Health article referenced above referred to the need for “positive mental health” (emphasis ours), which suggests values such as higher self-esteem, social support, and happiness in general. And recently, a psychologist at the University of Tennessee, Knoxville, has documented what he describes as an essential human need for play time: “Play is an integral part of life and may make a life worth living,” he said. How exactly we foster greater mental health in our communities is a topic of much debate and brainstorming, but it’s clear that the goal is a worthy one.

© Copyright 2010 by By John Smith, therapist in Bellingham, Washington. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Oswald


    October 24th, 2010 at 7:15 PM

    Thanks for demystifying the terms first of all.And yes,prevention is really the best way forward and is better than the best if treatment or cure.There needs to be massive awareness campaigns if this needs to reach the people and a big portion of the population coming to know of it and actually implementing it.

  • Georgia


    October 25th, 2010 at 4:39 AM

    Preventative care only makes sense in every aspect of our lives. The more we do to prevent these illnesses from happeneing the better shape we are certain to be in. There are so many things that we can do to improve our overall physical helath- why shouldn’t the same type of thinking hold true when it comes to mental health as well? I know that doctors say that small things like doing crossword puzzles can keep your mind healthy and strong, and maybe engaging in activities like this that stretch your brain comfort level will turn out to be just as beneficial as eating right and exercising have proven to be for the body.

  • Victoria


    October 25th, 2010 at 8:59 AM

    People need to be told of the benefits that such preventive measures give them. They need to be told how simple things that they presently ignore can actually give them big rewards.

  • Gemma


    October 26th, 2010 at 4:49 AM

    Prevention is always a good thing. Much better to be proactive over always settling for reacting.

  • Regine


    October 27th, 2010 at 4:52 AM

    If we do not work to prevent these issues they will tend to get very out of control. But so much of what is done in this country is very heavily mandated by what the insurance companies will or will not pay for. Seems to be a very dangerous way to determine what is right for medical treatment and what is not, to allow people who in many cases have no physical or mental health training or background have such great control over our lives and our health.

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