Multiple, interdependent aspects

Multiple, Interdependent Aspects

There are multiple, interdependent aspects to mental wellness and these develop along their own trajectories.

It’s well recognized that physical health and illness encompasses many aspects – heart health, injuries such as broken bones, illnesses or cancers of different organs and systems are only a beginning.  The range of aspects of mental wellness however is less well recognized.

Emotional, cognitive, and relational aspects are all included within “mental wellness”. This includes a feeling of belonging. Some include spiritual wellness, and may or may not include religious practices within that term.

In the emotional realm, symptoms of mental wellness include both feelings and functioning:

  • Positive feelings (emotional wellbeing): including positive affect, happiness and life satisfaction;
  • Positive functioning (psychological wellbeing): self-acceptance, self-efficacy, personal growth, purpose in life, environmental mastery, autonomy;
  • Positive functioning (social wellbeing): social acceptance, social actualization, social contribution, social coherence and social integration.

For more information on these, see references by Keyes in the references list.

In the cognitive domain of mental wellness, the developmental psychologist Kegan, has identified three stages of cognitive development.  People at each increasing developmental stage have capabilities necessary for resolving situations with higher ambiguity and more complex, interdependent factors. See Immunity to Change in the [references] list for a more comprehensive understanding of these stages. –link references mh —-

Relational competency is sometimes called social intelligence and includes a sense of belonging. It refers to your attitudes and skills at relating to others, at navigating and negotiating complex social relationships and environments, whether one on one or with groups.

First Nations in Canada have recognized the importance of purpose, hope, belonging and meaning in understanding mental wellness.  The First Nations Mental Health Continuum Framework 2015 describes mental wellness as:

“Mental wellness is a balance of the mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional. This balance is enriched as individuals have: purpose in their daily lives whether it is through education, employment, care giving activities, or cultural ways of being and doing; hope for their future and those of their families that is grounded in a sense of identity, unique indigenous values, and having a belief in spirit; a sense of belonging and connectedness within their families, to community, and to culture; and finally a sense of meaning and an understanding of how their lives and those of their families and communities are part of creation and a rich history.”


The emotional, cognitive and relational aspects of wellness develop along their own trajectories, separate from mental illness, addictions or mental issues the person may have. This is the basis of Keyes’ model, recognizing that mental health (mental wellness) or mental issues are not opposites, but two separate continua.

Wellness does not mean no illness. Developing greater degrees of wellness isn’t just for people who have no symptoms of mental illness.  In other words, being ill or having an addiction, is not necessarily the end of the road and developing mental wellness is an option.

The Mental Health Commission of Canada and leaders in other countries, describe the process of developing wellness once you have an illness or addiction, as a ‘Recovery’ process. Recovery may mean different things to different individuals, to match their particular circumstances, and recovery is not a linear process. As David Goldbloom points out “…recovery means not a narrow definition of ‘cure’ but rather a broader concept of a journey toward a meaningful life, an adaptation, an acceptance, and a focus on strengths despite limitations.

As with physical recovery, the path to mental recovery is usually not linear. Mental illness, addictions and suicidality are complex and they involve more than physical symptoms. Psychological, biological, social, and spiritual aspects are affected and the process of recovery involves all of these at some point along the person’s journey.