Overview: Mental “Health”

Overview: Mental “Health”

The ACMHI model frames mental wellness and life assets, stigma, mental illness, addictions and mental health issues within a Mentally Healthy Campus approach.

Choosing to use a Mentally Healthy Campus as your approach, or frame, influences how your strategy is oriented.  This means it is important to understand what is meant by:

  • Mental wellness and life assets;
  • Mental illness, addictions and mental health issues; and
  • Stigma;
  • The Environmental factors of a campus that can enable or hamper a person’s mental wellness.

Clarifying what you mean by these terms is important for you to be purposeful about choosing your strategies for supporting students and other members of a campus community. It also helps you better understand how you want to orient your evaluation and learning.  For example, many people use the term ‘mental health’ to refer to mental illness or mental illness. The ACMHI model makes it clear that these are different.  This section focuses on those aspects of the person.

What is a Mentally Healthy Campus? provides additional background, particularly about social, physical, digital and organizational factors. That discussion can help you understand why influencing the systemic factors in the environment may matter more than trying to influence individual willpower and behavior.

It can be complicated to clarify

Helping people to be comfortable talking about and taking action on mental issues is complicated because the terms are used in so many different ways. You may have noticed that lots of times people say ‘mental health’ when they are really talking about illness or mental health issues. For some, using the term ‘mental health’ is a way to talk about something that is too challenging if you call it ‘mental illness.’ For others, anything that starts with the word ‘mental’ is fearful and to be completely avoided.

It’s also complicated because it’s not just one thing. It’s pretty commonly understood that physical health includes a variety of aspects – fitness, heart health, injuries such as broken bones, as well as illnesses such as diabetes, cancer etc.  In the same way, there are a variety of aspects included in mental wellness and mental illness – including emotional and other competences, cognitive capabilities as well as the range of severe or persistent mental illnesses, issues and addictions.

Orienting a Strategy – The ACMHI Narrative

Understanding all these aspects of ‘mental’ helps you orient your mentally healthy campus strategy around a core narrative – this can bring some coherence to a range of actions. A core narrative is important because otherwise people lose sight of the main goal in the flurry of activities.

The ACMHI Narrative is one of working together and building strengths – of supporting students to build their mental wellness and life assets whether or not they experience mental illness, and on continuously growing a campus social environment with social norms of inclusion and belonging. Working together is important because each group brings important and unique contributions but depends on others to make sure many different parts of the puzzle are in place – and student – led initiatives are an important piece of the puzzle.

Moreover, the ACMHI Narrative orients the strategy to the campus as a community – so students make contributions to the community as well as being beneficiaries. Having a community also means that physical, social and policy environmental factors are recognized.

This contrasts to other narratives that focus on people individually, on their vulnerability and dependence, and on professionally based services – orienting their strategy around individuals and around treating or preventing mental illness, addictions and issues.

ACMHI uses ‘mental wellness’ in place of mental health to help make it clear that it’s not about mental illness.

There are four key foundations to the ACMHI strategy:

  1. Mental wellness and mental illness are not opposites;
  2. Mental wellness is a process as well as a state and can be influenced;
  3. Mental wellness is both individual and collective;
  4. We contribute to, and are influenced by our environments.We contribute to, as well as benefit from, positive enabling environments.

More information on each of these is available here.

More information

There is lots of information to help you think about what strategies you want to use, depending on what outcomes you want to achieve with your activities. These four briefs give quick overviews that you’ll find helpful for developing your Mentally Healthy Campus strategy and knowing what to look for to know you’re making progress.

  • It’s usual for humans to… gives a quick overview of stress, grief, fear and other expected human emotions as well as brain development and plasticity through life.
  • Understanding Mental wellness and life assets gives a quick overview of the symptoms of mental wellness – and how to move beyond stress relief or stress management coping skills to developing life assets – emotional and other competences that are valuable for success in career and life.
  • Understanding Mental illness, addictions and mental issues gives a quick overview of the range of conditions included within these terms, the environmental factors that can influence them, as well as the illness- or recovery-oriented approach to supporting people who experience such conditions. It includes Stigma and Marginalization.
  • Stigma or Inclusion, other Environmental Factors that influence an individual’s mental health, illness or addictions] describes the social environment (stigma or inclusion), the physical environments (natural and built environments) and the digital environments as part of a mentally healthy campus and community.

You can use the reference list as a starting point for exploring the topics more broadly if you want further information.

**These are intended as informational resources, not for professional guidance. If you or someone you know is having persistent or severe challenges or symptoms that are affecting their normal daily activities or relationships with others, then please consult professional help on your campus or in your community.