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5.1: What Is Mental Health?

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    • Erin O'Hara-Leslie, Amdra C. Wade, Kimberly B. McLain, SUNY Broome
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    Mental health is the ability to adjust to the changes and stressors of life. Mentally healthy people are people who are able to adapt to life changes and stressful situations in positive ways.

    Mentally healthy people are able to:

    • Communicate their thoughts and feelings effectively
    • Accept affection and love
    • Give affection and love
    • Accept and give compliments and praise
    • Get along with and cooperate with others
    • Listen to and respect those around them
    • Control their impulses
    • See consequences of actions
    • Tolerate a certain amount of anxiety and frustration
    • Take responsibility for actions and decisions
    • Not blame others for what has gone wrong
    • Respect themselves and others
    • Accept disappointments and understand things do not always go their way
    • Use positive coping skills to deal with their stressors

    Mental health is important for good physical health. Having good coping skills is helpful for people to deal with changes that occur throughout the lifespan. If a person has positive coping skills and good mental health, they will better be able to deal with changes that occur if they or a loved one experiences physical illness or disability.

    Everybody becomes stressed, anxious, or depressed from time to time. Under great stress, even a mentally healthy person can exhibit (demonstrate) poor coping behaviors. This is normal. The difference for a mentally healthy person is that they already know good coping skills and will eventually begin to use them after they recover from the initial shock, grief, or stress of a situation.

    Positive Coping Skills:

    • Talk about feelings and thoughts with a trusted person
    • Write feelings and thoughts down on paper, such as in a journal
    • Engage in creative outlets such as writing poetry, working on art, creating music, cooking, building something, completing an activity, working on a hobby, or learning a new skill
    • Use self-talk to help one see the positive of a situation instead of the negative
    • Learn to forgive others when angry or disappointed
    • Turn to one’s religious or spiritual beliefs
    • Engage in physical activity or exercise
    • Set goals that are achievable and planning for the future
    • Practice meditation, yoga, deep breathing, and other relaxation techniques
    • Pray, attend a religious service, or speak with clergy
    • Look at the situation objectively in order to be more positive and realistic
    • Accept responsibility for your own part in a situation and figure out how not to do those same behaviors next time
    • Spend time with family and friends and meet new people

    Negative Coping Skills:

    • Excessively worrying or obsessing about a situation
    • Blaming oneself for situations in which one has no control over
    • Seeking revenge to get even with someone who caused you harm
    • Withdrawing and isolating from others
    • Oversleeping or not sleeping enough
    • Overeating or not eating enough
    • Smoking or using nicotine
    • Drinking alcohol
    • Using medications or illegal substances to “dull the pain” and make you “forget”
    • Engaging in impulsive behaviors (such as spending a lot of money, having unsafe sex, or making big decisions without carefully considering the consequences)
    • Procrastinating and hoping things get better even though you are not dealing with them
    Self Check Activity \(\PageIndex{1}\)

    1. Which of the following are examples of positive coping skills?

    a. Seeking revenge

    b. Procrastination

    c. Exercising

    d. Writing poetry

    e. Drinking alcohol

    f. Talking to a friend

    g. Praying

    h. Writing in a journal

    i. Withdrawing from others

    j. Use positive self-talk


    C, D, F, G, H, J


    Exercising, writing poetry or in a journal, talking with a friend or trusted clergy person, praying, attending religious services, and using positive self-talk are all positive coping skills that demonstrate mental health. These types of activities can help a person adapt to a stressful situation. Negative coping skills such as seeking revenge, procrastinating, drinking alcohol or abusing drugs, and withdrawing from others are all negative ways to deal with stress. These types of behaviors will cause further problems for the person in the long run.

    Defense Mechanisms

    Defense mechanisms are special mechanisms that we use to deal with stressful situations or thoughts. Oftentimes they are unconscious (we are not aware we are using them). Defense mechanisms are used because they can help protect us from the unpleasantness of a situation, feelings of guilt, shame, rage, or profound sadness.

    At one point or another, everyone uses defense mechanisms, even mentally healthy people. However, people who are mentally ill or those with poor coping skills use defense mechanisms more often. It is not healthy to use defense mechanisms on a regular basis as doing so prevents you from truly understanding and being able to change a situation, and from effectively coping with one’s stressors. Using defense mechanisms often to cope with stress may eventually result in a person using them on a regular basis. They may become part of a person’s routine behavior and thoughts.

    Defense Mechanisms: Unhealthy Coping Behaviors

    • Projection: blaming others for one’s behaviors or actions or seeing behaviors or emotions in other people that are really true about ourselves. For example, a child who throws a toy at their sibling says, “She made me do it because she made me mad!”
    • Rationalizing: making excuses for one’s behaviors to justify the situation. For example, a teen who steals something from the store tells her parent, “But everybody does it!”
    • Regression: becoming less mature. For example, an adult has a temper tantrum, or a child who is toilet trained begins to wet the bed.
    • Denial: pretending or acting as if thoughts or feelings about a situation are not real. For example, a person who is angry at their spouse pretends they are not and denies they are angry when asked.
    • Repression: blocking out or “forgetting” a bad situation. For example, an adult who was sexually abused as a child “forgets” that they were sexually abused.
    • Compensation: Making up for a lack in one area or having done something wrong by being good in another area. For example, a man who cheats on his wife brings her home flowers and takes her out to dinner to make up for what he did.
    • Avoidance: refusing to become involved with a situation, person, or place as the person believes will be stressful or unpleasant. For example, a wife avoids going to the hospital to visit a friend because her husband passed away there recently.
    • Displacement: Displacing feelings about a person or situation to another one. For example, a patient who has lost his leg is angry about that situation and takes it out on his family by yelling at them.
    Self Check Activity \(\PageIndex{22}\)

    Fill in the blank: conscious or unconscious

    1. A defense mechanism is an _______________way we deal with stressors in our lives.

    Fill in the blank with the type of defense mechanism used:

    Choices: Rationalization, Regression, Denial, Compensation, Avoidance, Displacement, Repression, Projection

    2. A patient just learned he has terminal cancer. He yells at the Home Health Aide and says, “You can’t do anything right!” ___________________

    3. A patient the Home Health Aide works with is now disabled due to a motor vehicle accident. They say that they have no memory of the event that caused their disability. __________________

    4. A 7 year old child who has been toilet trained for several years begins to wet the bed and wants to drink from a bottle when a new baby joins the family. _______________

    5. A patient refuses to leave the house even though they used to enjoy walks. The last time they left the house they fell and broke their hip. _______________________

    6. A 15 year old girl ignored her parents’ rule of not wearing makeup to school. She wore makeup to school and washed it off before she came home. She offers to set the table for the evening meal and to wash the dishes. ________________________

    7. A patient with whom the HHA/PCA is working is sitting in a chair crying. The HHA/PCA asks the patient if they would like to talk about what they are feeling. The patient says, “I’m fine! There is nothing wrong!” __________________

    8. A college student does not enjoy biology and has not been doing well in the course. She dislikes her teacher and often complains about the teacher to her friends. She says, “My teacher hates me.” ________________________

    9. A patient who has diabetes eats a lot of candy and ice cream, even though they know that this is not allowed on their diet. When the physician talks with the patient about how damaging their food choices are to their health, the patient says, “But everyone in my house eats candy!” __________________


    1. Unconscious

    2. Displacement

    3. Repression

    4. Regression

    5. Avoidance

    6. Compensation

    7. Denial

    8. Projection

    9. Rationalization

    This page titled 5.1: What Is Mental Health? is shared under a CC BY 4.0 license and was authored, remixed, and/or curated by Erin O'Hara-Leslie, Amdra C. Wade, Kimberly B. McLain, SUNY Broome (OpenSUNY) via source content that was edited to the style and standards of the LibreTexts platform; a detailed edit history is available upon request.