What is mental health, anyway?

2196109068_9f6efdddd9_oMany critics of our diagnostic manuals complain that our DSM focuses on pathology but is not underpinned by any definition of psychological health.  While the diagnostic manuals are necessary, I heartily agree with the critics on this point.  When we are suffering with psychological ‘symptoms,’ (e.g. -depression, agitation, etc) of course we want relief.  But most of us, deep down, want more for our lives than plain symptom relief.  We yearn for greater wholeness and the sense of a more fulfilling life.  To that end, I’m sharing a list of signs of psychological wellness from the renowned psychologist, Nancy McWilliams.

According to McWilliams, a person with a healthy psyche shows:

  • The ability to love
  • The capacity to work
  •   ”       ”         ”  play
  •   ”        ”      to form & sustain meaningful relationships
  • A sense of autonomy
  • Passion, vitality & purpose
  • The felt ability to reach some of your goals (aka-  sense of agency)
  • An internal set of guiding values
  • Flexible coping skills/ defenses.
  • The ability to ‘get back up’ when knocked down (aka- resilience)
  • The ability to feel, tolerate and express a wide range of emotions.
  • Insight/ reality testing.
  • Empathy
  • A good balance between self-definition & self-in-relationships
  • Acceptance of inevitable suffering & the ability to mourn.


Nancy McWilliams is an engaging speaker.  If you’d like to hear her speak about this, here’s the link: