different emotional circle faces

What is mental health?

People often use the term 'mental health' to talk about poor mental health, mental health problems or mental illness. However, mental health is about all the emotions we feel as we go about our lives. This includes nice feelings such as happiness, love and gratitude, as well as difficult feelings such as anxiety, sadness and anger.

The word 'mental' just means 'relating to the mind' in the same way as the word 'physical' means 'relating to the body'.

Mental health and physical health

We all have mental health in the same way that we have physical health. Our mental health affects everything we do - the way we think and feel about ourselves and others, and how we handle our everyday lives. For example, getting along with family and friends, how we approach work or school, our involvement in other activities, and how we deal with problems.

Just like our physical health, our mental health can be good or not so good. And just like our physical health, there are often simple steps we can take to get over mental health problems. 

For example, if a child or young person has a cold or a grazed knee, we can help make them feel better by giving them medicine or a plaster. Similarly, if they are experiencing difficult feelings, we can support them by listening to them, talking to them and reassuring them.

And in the same way that we encourage children and young people to be physically healthy with the right food, exercise and sleep, we can encourage them to be mentally healthy too, for example by developing their confidence, helping them manage their emotions, and focusing on their strengths.

Being mentally healthy

When we are mentally healthy, we are more able to enjoy life, cope with difficulties, believe in others, feel we have a place in the world, and believe we have something to offer to others. Having good mental health can protect us from physical health problems, and can help us be more resilient to stressful life events and less likely to develop severe mental health problems.

Looking after your own mental health

It’s really important to take care of yourself and look after your own mental health. If you are mentally healthy, you’ll be more able to support the children and young people you live with or work with.

Have a look at the five ways to wellbeing to help you look after your mental health.