Emotional health and mental health: is it the same thing?
Good emotional health is not about being happy all the time: it’s about having the resilience to help us cope with what life throws at us. In the same way that a physically healthy person with good immunity is less likely to fall ill - and will recover more quickly if they do - an emotionally healthy person is more resilient in times of challenge. An emotionally healthy person enjoys a range of positive life benefits, including improved relationships, reduced mental health problems, increased wellbeing, and better prospects: in short, they are better able to thrive.
Why is emotional health important?
1 in 4 people in the world will experience a mental health condition in their lifetime. Emotional health plays a key role in supporting our mental and psychological state, underpinning fundamental models like our relationships, self-confidence, and self-regulation. In contrast, poor emotional health has a range of adverse impacts: on our physical health, for example, with heightened susceptibility to heart disease and infection. What’s more, our emotional health is also an accurate predictor of how well we are doing, or will do, in our lives, with emotionally healthy people performing better in education, employment, parenting, and other relationships.
The difference between emotional health and emotional wellbeing
Emotional wellbeing refers to a person’s current emotional state. Emotional health relates to the set of social and emotional skills and beliefs we have talked about here. An emotionally healthy person will be more resilient during times of challenge and adversity so, while an emotionally healthy person experiences grief, stress, anger and other challenges just like anyone else, they have the skills to recognise their needs at this time, to recognise and manage their emotions, and to seek and gain support from others.
Steps to maintaining or improving our emotional health
Strategies that promote emotional health are beneficial to us all, and they are skills that can be learnt and developed throughout life. At Family Links: The Centre for Emotional Health, we have developed a new definition and framework for emotional health (2017) and have identified seven key components or 'assets' of emotional health. They are:
Self-belief – confidence in your abilities, skills and judgement
Self-agency – recognising that you are the agent of your own actions, essential to your ability to feel in control of your life
Understanding others – like self-belief, what we believe about others drives how we behave towards them or respond to them
Self-awareness – knowledge of your own character and feelings: your emotions, your personal strengths and weaknesses, and having a strong sense of your own worth
Social awareness - understanding how to react to different social situations, and the ability to understand and respond to the needs of others, in turn improving communication and relationships
Self-regulation - the ability to monitor, control and adapt our behaviour, emotions, or thoughts, as the situation demands
Relationship skills - a combination of behaviours and skills that promote good relationships. These include, for example, good communication, the ability to listen to others, accepting differences, and empathy. Used together, these skills promote positive, rewarding relationships, both at home and at work.
Looking after your emotional wellbeing can be as simple as spending time with friends and family or taking up a new hobby, but developing your emotional health also includes things like understanding your limits – for example, whether you’ve taken on too much at work – finding ways to calm yourself and developing your ability to problem solve.
And emotional health is not just about people, it’s about places too. Families, schools and workplaces can enable or disable our emotional health. Environments that promote health and wellbeing are much more likely to be creative and successful because they foster the positive emotional health and wellbeing of the individuals within them - these are often settings where we spend a lot of our time, like schools and workplaces. With the CIPD reporting that 15 million working days were lost because of stress, anxiety or depression in 2016, and the National Education Union reporting that 81% of primary school teachers saw an increase in pupil mental health problems since 2017, it’s clear that there is much work to be done.
With the right support, everyone can maintain or improve their emotional health. Understanding its significance is the first step.