Mental Health and Wellness…What Does it Mean?

According to UC Davis (, wellness is defined as “Wellness is an active process of becoming aware of and making choices toward a healthy and fulfilling life.”  They further write ” Wellness is more than being free from illness, it is a dynamic process of change and growth.”   The World Health Organization defines it as “…a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.”   With THIS understanding, it becomes very clear why we need to focus on WHOLE health promotion, and not continue to separate physical and mental health.  

In 1976 Dr. Bill Hettler, co-founder of the National Wellness Institute (NWI), identified six demensions of wellness.  They list them as:  occupational, emotional, spiritual, intellectual, social and physical.  Since then, environmental has been added.  Dr. Hettler asserts that “Applying a wellness approach can be useful in nearly every human endeavor.”

This holistic wellness model, as created by Dr. Hettler (1976) explains:

• how a person contributes to his or her environment
and community, and how to build better living
spaces and social networks;
• the enrichment of life through work, and its
interconnectedness to living and playing;
• the development of belief systems, values, and
creating a world-view;
• the benefits of regular physical activity, healthy
eating habits, strength and vitality, as well as
personal responsibility, self-care and when to seek
medical attention;
• self-esteem, self-control, and determination as a
sense of direction;
• creative and stimulating mental activities, and
sharing your gifts with others.



Commonly misunderstood definitions (Source: DHHS (1999)

Mental Health The successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and the ability to adapt to change and to cope with adversity.

Mental Illness The term that refers collectively to all mental disorders, which are health conditions characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and/or impaired functioning.

Mental Health Problems Signs and symptoms of insufficient intensity or duration to meet the criteria for any mental disorder.



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