Positive Psychology as a Foundation of Mental Health: Mentally healthy, living happily
How do we know if someone is mentally healthy? Are we truly certain that we are mentally healthy? It is dangerous to consider ourselves healthy, when in fact we have some mental disorders that we don’t know of. We might not realize that we are stepping so close to a worse mental condition.
Mental health problem is a serious issue that needs more attention in Indonesia. Let’s examine some statistics that might shed a light on this proposed issue. According to Riset Kesehatan Dasar published by Health Ministry in 2013, approximately 6% or about 19 millions of Indonesian population on the age of 15 and more suffer from emotional or mental disorders marked by depression and anxiety symptoms. This data is exacerbated by the number of people who suffer from more debilitating mental disorders like schizophrenia, which comprises up to 1,7 out of 1000 people, or around 400.000 people.
It is further exacerbated by the lack of proper healthcare service and professionals who are competent at this field. There are too many mental disorder cases that do not get proper treatment; some of people who suffered from mental disorders were incarcerated by their own families. About 14,3% of people with mental disorder cases in Indonesia experienced incarceration.
Of course these people deserve a proper treatment. In this article, the more debilitating disorders like schizophrenia will not be explored. Rather, this article will try to focus on preventing further damage on mentally ill patients. Like the adage, “Prevention is always better than medication”. The main question is, “How do we achieve an ideal mental health ccondition?” Before we are going to examine that question, we need to establish the meaning of the term mental health.
(World Health Organization, 2005) defined mental health as a condition where someone experiences physical, mental, and social well-being, while at the same time not suffering from any illness and mental disorder. So, people who suffer from personality disorder, depression, and phobia, for example, could be classified as mentally unhealthy. The problem is, we often ignore these problems by denying that they exist. This is the root of why it is difficult to treat mental disorders. Many of us deny this ‘madness’ because we do not think that it is an accumulation of many trivial problems in our lives. It is like garbage. We think that those garbages were small, inconsequential. But when it accumulates, it will be a huge problem that affect ourselves and others.
WHO further expanded the focus of mental health to a more positive condition. Mental health is well-being where each person realizes their own capacity, ability to withstand pressures in life, dan contribute to the society. Positive mental health is also seen as aspects that include emotion (affection), cognition (perception), social function ( relationship with others and society), and coherence (the feeling of meaningful and purposeful life). So, the definition of mental health itself transcends all aspects of human life.
Often, we feel powerless in dealing with many small problems around us. We complain about tasks that are relatively trivial. We are not productive in our works, prone to lash in anger, filled with irrational thoughts about life, and obsessed about things that make us anxious. We failed to maintain good relationship with others. Sometimes we don’t even know what we should do in life. These problems could lead to bigger mental disorders that would cripple our function as a person in the society.
Perhaps we don’t think that it is necessary to give attention to these problems, even when we already get treatment from professional. We need to realize, how much unhappiness were caused by these conditions? Many people said that happiness is simple. By dealing with conditions that we consider inconsequential, we can be happier. By giving our attention to mental health, we will achieve happiness. Only by being happy we can strive for bigger success. How can we be successful when in facing smaller problems we are underwhelmed?
How then, can we achieve mental well-being? We can answer the question using the approach of positive psychology. Positive psychology is one of the branches of psychological study that is rising exponentially in the 21st century. It is an academic discipline and applied study that is related to study about psychological strengths, or, in other words, human strength and positive emotion (Snyder & Lopez, 2007)
The emergence of positive psychology was based on the reality that human being wants not only to be freed from daily problems but also yearns for happiness. For a long time, human being was seen as a problematic creature, despite showing some positive qualities. (Seligman, 2002)remarked that the goal of positive psychology is to accelerate the progress of psychology that was only focused on fixing the worst qualities on life in order to create the best qualities in life.
Human strength is the main idea explored in positive psychology. Rath (Bowers, 2008) stated that a strength should be consistent and a condition where a performance is close to perfection. Human strength could be analyzed on subjective level, that is, about positive subjective experience (for example, objective well-being and life satisfaction) and cognitive construct about the future (optimism, hope, and faith). Then, on an individual level, about positive traits (interpersonal skills, resilience, and wisdom). Positive psychology analysis could also be applicable to communal level, that is, related to civil and institutional values that could lead to the betterment of oneself as a citizen (for example, altruism, work ethics, and responsibility) (Gillham & Seligman; Seligman & Csikzentmihalyi, in (Seligman, 2002). There have been many studies that showed how human strengths could be used as buffer against possible mental disorders.
A positive strength of human being could contribute to the improvement of life quality (Peterson & Seligman, 2004). Good life quality could lead to a good mental health. Well-being indicator of a society could be implied from its mental health level. Positive mental health could be analyzed through two dimensions. Those two dimensions are hedonic, which is positive emotion or affection (for example happiness and contentedness), and eudaemonic, that is positive functionality (for example self-acceptance and independence)(Huppert; Lyubomirsky et all; Carlisle; Samman; Ryan and Deci in Friedli, 2009). Part of that dimension is a form and part of positive strength. Consequently, those positive strengths could be used to lead people to mental health.
In daily lives many rituals could be conducted to improve our strenghts. We can start by reflecting our strenghts and weaknesses. We identify those strenghts and we can improve them. Then, we can spare time in the morning or evening to be gratitude about what we have in life, that we are still alive and able to reach the goals we have. We also have to forgive people who hurt us. We can bring our family or people we love to go travelling or do other activities we love. We can watch inspiring or funny videos. Also, we need to strengthen our bond with God.
Of course, we are dependent to other people in order to achieve good mental health. Even when we try to do it ourselves, we still need information from outer source to know how to improve ourselves. If we have more serious mental health issues, we need professional help. But we can take part in the attempt to achieve an ideal condition of mental health, especially in prevention. Positive psychology empowers us in making us know how to improve our strength and achieve good quality of life so that we can prevent worse mental disorders from coming into our lives.
Author: Syurawasti Muhiddin (Psikologi Unhas, Makassar),
Editor: Adhe Kurniati Dm (Psikologi UIN Raden Fatah, Palembang)
Translator: Daniel Aguira
Bowers, K. (2008). Making the Most of Human Strengths. In In Lopez, S. J., Positive Psychology, Exploring the Best in People (pp. 23–36). Greenwood Publishing Group, Inc.
Friedli, L. (2009). Mental Health, Resilience and Inequalities. Europe World Health Organization. http://www.euro.who.int/
Peterson, C., & Seligman, M. E. P. (2004). Character Strengths and Virtues : A Handbook And Classifications. Oxford University Press.
Seligman, M. E. P. (2002). Positive Psychology, Positive Prevention, and Positive Therapy. In Snyder, C. R & Lopez, S.J. In Handbook of Positive Psychology (pp. 3–9). Oxford University Press.
Snyder, C. R., & Lopez, S. J. (2007). Positive Psychology in Scientic and Practical Exploration of Human Strength. SAGE Publication.
World Health Organization. (2005). Promoting Mental Health : Concepts, Emerging Evidence, Practice. In Department of Mental Health and Substance Abuse. World Health Organization & Victorian Health Promotion Foundation & The University of Melbourne.