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HealthInfo Canterbury

Overview of wellbeing

Oranga hinengaro

When we talk about our wellbeing in relation to mental health there are two aspects to consider:

These are related but separate ideas. Mental health is not just the absence of mental illness.

Several interconnected areas of our health make up and affect our wellbeing. This is a holistic understanding of health. There are several holistic models of health to help us understand this idea. Te Whare Tapa Whā is one of these.

Resilience is another concept associated with wellbeing. Resilience is having good levels of wellbeing or positive mental health to draw upon. It's also the knowledge and skills to maintain our wellbeing and access resources to sustain us.

Being resilient isn't something we're just born with. It's learned and nurtured. Resilience is more than bouncing back from distress, illness, setbacks or other tough times in life. Bouncing back is an outcome of resilience.

The double continua of mental health

Wellbeing is most often used to mean positive mental health. Positive mental health (or wellbeing) is the presence of behaviours, skills and attitudes that enable you to:

The term "mental health" is often misused as a way of saying mental illness or a mental health problem. It often implies someone either has a mental illness or doesn't have a mental illness.

But mental health isn't the opposite of mental illness. Mental health covers both wellness and illness. Like other forms of health, mental health is an asset we can work on, grow and develop. We can do this individually and with other people, through the ups and down of life. Everyone has mental health.

Simple graph showing the crossed horizontal and vertical lines described in the articleWellbeing can be thought of as feeling good and functioning well.

When we have high levels of wellbeing, we call this "flourishing".

When our wellbeing is low, we call this "languishing".

Our ability to feel good and function well is independent of, but connected to, our experience of illness.

Thinking of our health and wellbeing in this way is known as the Double Continua of Mental Health.

Our health is changeable, so it's possible to move along both lines of the model above. The horizontal line represents the presence of illness or distress. The vertical represents our levels of wellbeing.

The model shows how it's possible to flourish even though we may experience mental illness or distress from time to time.

So, when we talk about our mental health, we’re really talking about both our level of wellbeing and our level of illness or distress.

On the next page: Te Whare Tapa Whā (a model to help understand wellbeing)

Written by the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand. Adapted by HealthInfo clinical advisers. Page created March 2021.

See also:

All Right? wellbeing campaign

Helping myself in tough times

Reading in Mind book scheme

Workplace wellness

Double continua image used with permission from the Mental Health Foundation of New Zealand.

Page reference: 547949

Review key: HIMEN-176608