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Mental health is an important factor in overall health. It can be defined as a state of well-being in which an individual realizes their potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community. Positive mental health is impacted by a wide range of factors, including personal experiences, family relationships, social environments, and other socio-economic conditions. Possessing positive mental health reduces the risk for experiencing poor mental health or mental illness.

Everyone has mental health, just as they have physical health. In fact, mental health and physical health are fundamentally linked. For example, those who have physical health conditions are at greater risk for experiencing mental health challenges, and those with mental health challenges are at greater risk for experiencing physical health conditions. As a result, taking care of mental health is just as important as taking care of physical health. There is no health without mental health (WHO, 2018).

Mental health and mental illness are two terms that are often discussed inter-changeably. While mental health and mental illness are related concepts, they are not exactly the same. It is possible for individuals to have positive mental health at the same time as having a mental illness, just as it is possible to have poor mental health without having a mental illness. Mental health is more than the absence of a mental illness – it is the ability for individuals to enjoy, participate, and thrive in everyday life. For more information on mental illness, please visit the Mental Illness section of this website.

Protective factors for positive mental health are conditions that improve an individual’s resistance to risk factors and/or mental health challenges. There are many conditions that can help to protect mental health on the individual, family, community, and societal levels.

Individual level protective factors for positive mental health include, but are not limited to:

  • Resilience – Abilities to cope with stress and adapt/recover from life’s challenges
  • Emotional Well-Being – Interest and enjoyment in life, satisfaction with life, and overall feelings of happiness
  • Psychological Well-Being – Warm and trusting relationships with others, a sense of purpose or meaning in life, high self-esteem/confidence, and a positive sense of self  
  • Social Well-Being – Strong social connections and relationships, feelings of social belonging, and good social skills  
  • Physical Health – Physical activity, good nutrition, adequate sleep, absence of chronic health conditions, and healthy behaviours
  • Financial Health – Financial stability and manageable debt

Family level factors that can protect mental health at the individual level include, but are not limited, to:

  • A nourishing and loving family environment
  • Positive and healthy parent-to-child relationships, such as strong emotional attachment and a lack of parent-child conflict
  • Absence of intimate partner or family violence
  • Adequate household income and access to basic living necessities, such as food, shelter, and clothing

Community level factors that can protect mental health at the individual level include, but are not limited to:

  • Access to healthy/supportive school environments and a quality education
  • Access to healthy/supportive workplace environments
  • Stable employment and income
  • Community involvement in organizations, groups, associations, and clubs
  • Strong social networks and a sense of community connectedness

Societal level factors that can protect mental health at the individual level include, but are not limited to:

  • Access to affordable/quality housing and food security
  • Absence of stigma and discrimination
  • Social equality, legal recognition of rights, and the ability to participate politically
  • Access to community services and programs, such as transportation services, community spaces, social environments, and political representation
  • Thriving, safe, and secure neighbourhoods and communities 

Risk factors for mental health are conditions that are associated with an increased risk for developing new or worsening mental health concerns, challenges, or illnesses. There are many conditions that increase the risk for individuals to experience mental health challenges, including factors at the individual, family, community, and societal levels.

  • Individual Level Factors
    • Physical or chronic health conditions
    • Difficulties in managing feelings of stress, anxiety, sadness, or anger
    • Substance use
    • Social isolation, disconnectedness, or loneliness 
    • Workplace, school, or job stress
    • Financial instability or unemployment
    • Personal loss or bereavement
  • Family Level Factors
    • Intimate partner or family violence
    • Childhood neglect or abuse
    • Parent-child or family conflict
    • Family disorganization (e.g., divorce)
    • Parental/family mental illness or substance use
  • Community & Societal Level Factors
    • Poverty, homelessness, or poor living conditions
    • Food insecurity
    • Stigma, discrimination, inequality, and societal injustice
    • Neighbourhood disorganization, violence, victimization, or economic deprivation
    • Lack of access to community services, such as transportation, community and social spaces, and quality/ accessible physical and mental healthcare 

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