What Is Mental Wellness?

Janet Coburn
4 min readNov 6, 2022

Seeing that I spend so much time in my blog discussing mental illness, a friend challenged me to say what “mental wellness” looks like. I’ve decided to take a crack at it.

First, I have to say that I’m not sure mental wellness really exists. Everyone (at least everyone I know) seems to have assorted neuroses and minor phobias. These are generally subclinical, though, so they don’t really count as mental illness. Anyone with them, therefore, could be defined as mentally well, I guess.

But really, who is mentally well? A lot of people — maybe most — believe they are mentally well. Not all of them are, given that many people with mental illness can be in denial. Of course, mentally well people can also be in denial about various things. They could be in denial about their own personality traits or those of their friends and loved ones. They may, for example, overlook the fact that they are quick to take offense or that Aunt Nancy is very judgmental. Those may be character traits or even character flaws, but they aren’t mental illnesses.

I have a mood disorder myself, so I’m particularly attuned to how people deal with their moods. Everyone has them. Let’s consider depression. Everyone feels depressed from time to time. (There are people who insist that they are constantly positive or at least aspire to that state, but I do believe that in their heart of hearts they occasionally feel down when no one’s looking.) The hallmark of clinical depression is how long it lasts and to whether it descends at random on a person who has no “reason” to be depressed. But how long is “too long”?

I would guess that people who are mentally well seldom experience more than a few days to a week of depression, unless they are experiencing particularly — well, depressing — circumstances, such as not getting a job or being rejected by a romantic partner.

The time limit criterion breaks down in the case of the death of a loved one. Grief takes as long as it takes, and depression is often a component of grief. My mother-in-law, for example, suffered such grief after her husband of 50+ years died that she was virtually incapacitated for months. And her depression continued for some months after that. Yet I would not say that she was mentally ill. To me, she still fit in the category of mentally well. Reactive…

Janet Coburn

Author of Bipolar Me and Bipolar Us, Janet Coburn is a writer, editor, and blogger at butidigress.blog and bipolarme.blog.