Main Page Content

What is Mental Health?

Mental health is a topic that is relevant to every member of the population. It can be understood as an important component of overall health, whereby an individual cannot have one without the other (WHO, 2004). Mental health and mental illness are two topics that are often discussed interchangeably. While mental health and mental illness are related topics, they are not exactly the same (MOHLTC, 2018). It is possible for individuals to have positive mental health at the same time as having a mental illness, just as it is possible to have poor mental health without having a mental illness (Keyes, 2002). Mental health is more than the absence of mental illness (WHO, 2004; MOHLTC, 2018; Keyes, 2002) – it is our ability to enjoy and participate in our lives.

In this positive sense, mental health can be understood as “…a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community” (WHO, 2001, p. 1). Positive mental health is impacted by a wide range of factors, including personal experiences, environmental circumstances, and social or economic conditions (CMHA Ontario, 2019). Possessing greater positive mental health reduces the risk of experiencing poor mental health or mental illness.


Keyes, C. L. M. (2002). The mental health continuum: From languishing to flourishing in life.  Journal of Health and Social Behavior, 43, 207-222.

Canadian Mental Health Association Ontario [CMHA Ontario]. (2019). Positive mental health and well-being. Retrieved from

Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care [MOHLTC]. (2018). Mental Health Promotion Guideline, 2018. Retrieved from

World Health Organization [WHO]. (2001). Strengthening mental health promotion. Geneva, World Health Organization (Fact Sheet, No. 220).

World Health Organization [WHO]. (2004). Promoting positive mental health. Retrieved from

Related Content: