Public health and mental health promotion
Public health and mental health promotion

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Public health and mental health promotion

2 Perceptions

In this section you will explore different perceptions, themes and definitions of mental health promotion that can apply to your practice. There are several definitions of mental health promotion but, as Boxer observes, they are ‘value loaded’ (2003, p. 477): they reflect individual philosophies and practices. Similarly, the choice of definition will reflect the focus of personal and professional style and will influence the choice of intervention.

The next activity invites you to explore definitions of mental health.

Activity 2 Getting to grips with definitions

Timing: Allow 1 hour

Read through the vignettes in Resource 1 [Tip: hold Ctrl and click a link to open it in a new tab. (Hide tip)] , and make notes on each of the six individuals in the space provided. Right-click on the link to open the document in a new window or tab.

  • Is this person mentally healthy, and has this always been the case?
  • If your answer is yes, in what way are they mentally healthy?
  • If your answer is no, in what way are they not mentally healthy?
  • What might the nurse’s role in promoting mental health consist of for this person?
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The six vignettes are a brief description of the lives of very different people, each of whom can be perceived to possess elements of both positive and negative mental health. The vignettes seem to suggest that factors such as being reclusive or misusing alcohol are signs of negative mental health, but what if the individuals are happy and fulfilled? Likewise, working and exercising hard can be viewed as positive aspects of mental health, although there can be concerns about individuals who take these activities to extremes.

In the activity above you investigated your understanding of mental health and explored your values. What do your work colleagues think? In the next activity you ask them about their perceptions.

Activity 3 Other perceptions

Timing: Allow 30 minutes

When you are next in practice, ask two colleagues for their views of the mental health status of each of the people in Resource 1 and note their responses. You could also ask friends and family, which might help to uncover more of the assumed values that can underpin mental health promotion.


If you did not already appreciate the challenging and value-laden nature of ‘mental health’, you probably do now! Were your views similar to your colleagues’? You probably became aware of different biases in your own and other people’s views of mental health. For example, some people may think it is fine to pursue very few activities and interests, whereas others may believe that mental health involves ‘well-roundedness’: engaging and interacting with a range of activities and people.

In Activity 2 you started to identify your own values about mental health. In the next activity you will look at a range of definitions of mental health.

Activity 4 A range of definitions

Timing: Allow 1 hour

Read through the definitions of mental health in Resource 2. Look back at your notes for Activity 2 and write comments on how these definitions relate to your own criteria for mental health. Which definition, if any, do your comments suggest you favour most?

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The definitions in Resource 2 point in different directions. The first is actually two definitions: a positive one and a negative one. There is some doubt about whether Gerry is mentally healthy going by the negative definition, as he has been labelled ‘schizophrenic’. However, he does seem to have a sense of wellbeing, which accords with the positive definition. What did you think of Theresa’s mental health status? This vignette may bring to the fore certain values that relate to your (and your colleagues’) views of the role of women generally. Theresa’s lifestyle may be considered to be her own choice, and that she is therefore mentally healthy. On the other hand, positive mental health may be seen as requiring more than this. Perhaps this is what is implied in the second and third definitions, which are concerned with a sense of one’s own worth and the capacity to cope with change. So which view of mental health is preferable?

The contentious nature of mental health makes the endeavour of mental health promotion all the more interesting.


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