What is mental health?

Mental health affects how we think, feel and act. It also affects our everyday life, such as work, relationships and study.

Looking after our social and emotional wellbeing is as important as keeping our body healthy. When we're feeling emotionally healthy we can be fully present with our family, friends and community.

what-is-mental-health-header

Mental health is more than just talking about mental health conditions, like anxiety or depression.

Research shows that good mental health is linked to:

  • improved learning
  • creativity
  • higher levels of productivity
  • better social relationships
  • good physical health
  • increased life expectancy.
Mental health is a state of mental well-being that enables people to cope with the stresses of life, realize their abilities, learn well and work well, and contribute to their community. It is an integral component of health and well-being that underpins our individual and collective abilities to make decisions, build relationships and shape the world we live in.

(World Health Organisation)

The mental health continuum

It can be hard to talk about mental health. Maybe your family and friends feel uncomfortable talking about it. Maybe you don't know where to start or how it relates to you.

We've developed the mental health continuum to help you talk about social and emotional wellbeing. It will give you the words to describe how you're feeling, and to ask how others are feeling. It can also help you decide what steps to take to look after your mental health right now.

Horizontal bar showing from left to right: health, unsettled, struggling, in crisis, healing, healthy

Why a mental health continuum?

Our mental health can change gradually over time. We might start to feel unsettled, but move back to feeling healthy in a few days. Or we might move from feeling unsettled to really struggling. This is when we may need to seek professional support.

Many of us will experience a mental health crisis in our lives, but we don't stay in crisis. We'll move beyond the crisis into a period of healing and then another healthy period when we've recovered.

On this page we explain what each of these periods looks like and what you can do to maintain or improve your mental health.

Healthy

I feel capable and confident in my ability to handle daily pressures. I am thinking clearly and am hopeful about the future. I will maintain my healthy routines and stay connected with loved ones.

Feeling

  • Able to handle things
  • Managing feelings

Thoughts

  • Hopeful outlook
  • Clear thoughts

Connections

  • Positive and engaging relationships

Routines

  • Healthy routines (includes sleep and diet)

Functioning

  • Engaged with daily activities
  • Making positive contributions

What to do when you're healthy

Keep connected. Continue healthy routines. Be active and mindful.

Unsettled

I haven't been myself lately. I feel irritable and am having trouble concentrating. I’m not quite sure why I’m feeling the way I am. ​​

Feeling

  • Worried or restless
  • Irritable or frustrated
  • Mood fluctuations

Thoughts

  • Self-doubt
  • Confusion
  • Difficulty concentrating

Connections

  • Difficulty connecting and/or engaging with others

Routines

  • Changes to sleep or diet
  • Increased drug use, alcohol use or gambling

Functioning

  • Unmotivated
  • Difficulty performing daily activities or tasks

What to do when you're feeling unsettled

Speak with friends, family or GP. Practice self-care. Contact us or consider low-intensity or online therapies.

Struggling

My mood swings have been more frequent. I feel distressed and a growing sense of hopelessness. I’ve been withdrawing from the things I normally like to do and the people I am close with. I think I might need professional support. ​

Feeling

  • Emotional distress
  • Mood swings
  • Ongoing high or low mood

Thoughts

  • Hopelessness
  • Brain fog or racing thoughts

Connections

  • Withdrawal from relationships

Routines

  • Loss of usual routines
  • Engaging in destructive behaviour

Functioning

  • Struggle to complete daily tasks
  • Loss of enjoyment in activities

What to do when you're struggling

Speak with friends, family or GP. Practise self-care. Contact us or consider low-intensity or online therapies.

In crisis

I feel worthless and unable to control my negative thoughts. Daily tasks feel impossible. I need professional support immediately. ​​

Feeling

  • Feeling worthless

Thoughts

  • Unable to control negative thoughts

Connections

  • Isolating self

Routines

  • Lack of personal care

Functioning

  • Unable to complete daily tasks

What to do when you're in crisis

Seek support from a GP or another health care professional. Ask someone for support with this if needed.

Healing

My moods have been more stable and I'm thinking more clearly. I'm starting to feel like myself again. I’m becoming aware of the therapies that are working for me and I will continue to use them. 

Feeling

  • Return to more familiar and more stable moods
  • Improved self-belief

Thoughts

  • Growth in confidence
  • Return to clearer thoughts
  • Easier decision-making

Connections

  • Reconnecting with others
  • Reflecting on relationships
  • Return to positive relationships

Routines

  • Return of familiar routines (including sleep and diet)
  • Greater self-care

Functioning

  • Return of motivation
  • Re-engaged with daily activities or tasks

What to do when you're healing

Focus on maintaining improvement. Be kind to yourself and keep going if you have small setbacks.

Healthy

I feel stronger and more resilient. I have a better understanding of myself and am better equipped to handle stress moving forward. I know what coping strategies work for me, and I will use them alongside practising self-care. ​

Feeling

  • Stronger and more resilient
  • Better equipped to handle things
  • More like yourself

Thoughts

  • Strong sense of self
  • Able to manage and challenge negative thoughts

Connections

  • Better at setting boundaries
  • Able to support others

Routines

  • Strengthened routines
  • Greater investment in self-care

Functioning

  • Stronger engagement in daily activities
  • Sense of pride and capability

What to do when you're healthy

Review/build support network. Practise self-care. Create a plan for future challenges.

Learning about mental health

Hear from our speakers Emily, Sean and Sandi as they share their experience of mental health and support.