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Five steps to mental wellbeing

Five steps to mental wellbeing

Media last reviewed: 21/09/2014

Next review due: 21/09/2016

Scientific evidence points to five steps that we can take to improve our mental wellbeing. If you give them a try, you may feel happier, more positive and able to get the most from your life.

Your mental health is important. Some mental illnesses, such as depression and anxiety, are common.

If you have such an illness, it's important to get the right treatment. Read more about mental health.

However, there's more to good mental health than avoiding or treating mental illness. There is also positive mental wellbeing.

This article explains:

Why is mental wellbeing important? First, we all want to feel good about ourselves and the world around us, and be able to get the most from our lives.

There is also evidence that good mental wellbeing is important for our physical health, and that it can help us achieve the goals we set for ourselves.

What is mental wellbeing?

Sarah Stewart-Brown, professor of public health at the University of Warwick and a wellbeing expert, says that when we talk about mental wellbeing, we mean more than just happiness.

"It's useful to start with the idea that overall wellbeing involves both the mind and the body. And we know that physical and mental wellbeing are closely related," she says.

"Of course, feeling happy is a part of mental wellbeing. But it is far from the whole. There is a deeper kind of wellbeing, which is about living in a way that is good for you and good for others around you.

"Feelings of contentment, enjoyment, confidence and engagement with the world are all a part of mental wellbeing. Self-esteem and self-confidence are, too. So is a feeling that you can do the things you want to do. And so are good relationships, which bring joy to you and those around you.

"Of course, good mental wellbeing does not mean that you never experience feelings or situations that you find difficult. But it does mean that you feel you have the resilience to cope when times are tougher than usual."

Mental wellbeing can take many different forms, but a useful description is feeling good and functioning well.

Wellbeing and society

Over the last 50 years, we in Britain have become richer. Despite this, evidence from population surveys – in which people were asked to rate their own happiness or mental wellbeing – shows that mental wellbeing has not improved.

This suggests that many of the things we often think will improve our mental wellbeing – such as more possessions, more money to spend or expensive holidays – on their own do not lead to a lasting improvement in the way we feel about ourselves and our lives.

The message is clear: it's time to rethink wellbeing.

Evidence and wellbeing

Over the last 20 years, new evidence has emerged about what really causes lasting improvements to mental wellbeing.

"Some of this evidence comes from observational studies in which scientists look at the behaviour and wellbeing of certain sections of the population," says Professor Stewart-Brown. "Other evidence comes from trials in which scientists take a group of people and ask them to change their behaviour or participate in a treatment or other intervention, such as an exercise programme, and then watch what happens to their wellbeing."

To gain evidence on wellbeing, scientists have to find ways to measure it. Often, they measure wellbeing using a series of questions that ask subjects how they feel about themselves, their lives and the world around them.

Find out how happy you are: use our interactive Wellbeing self-assessment tool.

Wellbeing in your life

Many factors influence our wellbeing. Evidence shows that the actions we take and the way we think have the biggest impact.

It can help to think about "being well" as something you do, rather than something you are. The more you put in, the more you are likely to get out.

"The first thing you can do for your own wellbeing is become curious about it," says Professor Stewart-Brown.

"Start to think about what you've done in the past to promote mental wellbeing, and whether it worked. Then think about new things that you can try.

"Remember, no-one can give wellbeing to you. It's you who has to take action."

Five steps to mental wellbeing

Evidence suggests there are five steps we can all take to improve our mental wellbeing.

If you approach them with an open mind and try them out, you can judge the results yourself.

  • connect – connect with the people around you: your family, friends, colleagues and neighbours. Spend time developing these relationships. Learn more in Connect for mental wellbeing.
  • be active – you don't have to go to the gym. Take a walk, go cycling or play a game of football. Find the activity that you enjoy and make it a part of your life. Learn more in Get active for mental wellbeing.
  • keep learning – learning new skills can give you a sense of achievement and a new confidence. So why not sign up for that cooking course, start learning to play a musical instrument, or figure out how to fix your bike? Find out more in Learn for mental wellbeing.
  • give to others – even the smallest act can count, whether it's a smile, a thank you or a kind word. Larger acts, such as volunteering at your local community centre, can improve your mental wellbeing and help you build new social networks. Learn more in Give for mental wellbeing.
  • be mindful – be more aware of the present moment, including your feelings and thoughts, your body and the world around you. Some people call this awareness "mindfulness", and it can positively change the way you feel about life and how you approach challenges. Learn more in Mindfulness for mental wellbeing.

Page last reviewed: 06/01/2014

Next review due: 06/01/2016


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The 11 comments posted are personal views. Any information they give has not been checked and may not be accurate.

gombin said on 12 August 2015

There is a great gap in the page about counselling and talking therapies and that is that there is no mention of the arts therapies: Art therapy, dance movement therapy, dramatherapy and music therapy. These are also part of the psychological therapies. Why are they not mentioned here?

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mindfullyme said on 23 April 2015

I have been a mental health nurse for the past 18 years and have found mindfulness the most powerful tool in practice and underpins pretty much most us psychological treatments that also complements them. Great articles intro to mindfulness links and website overall useful resource to pass on to anyone

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matt74 said on 26 November 2014

Sorry but I have to say I found this very patronising. For a start I had been doing all the things mentioned before my recent bout of stress and I still engage in them after I eventually returned to work. I'm still suffering from random teary episodes. I cannot work out why this is the case. They're not as bad as the ones I had when I had to take time off work for stress but they are still happening. Nothing on this website, let alone this page, in terms of constructive advice, has been offered. It seems that understanding mental well-being still has a long way to go in this country. A little more empathy perhaps might be of more help then cooking a meal from scratch or strumming a guitar?

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PapaMac said on 17 June 2014

I know that some of the things on this page may sound a bit simplistic but I was depressed (still am a bit) but I did go to my doctor (and I am not one for doing that lightly) and was referred to a Psychiatrist then onto a Psychologist.
I was a bit skeptical at first but knew I need to to do something so was willing try.
I have been going to see him now for about 9 weeks ( 1 session a week) and I have to say It is helping, it's no silver bullet and you have to be prepared to work at it but it is helping.
i have a way to go yet but like you #PAUPER i don't have any friends either and not close enough to my family but you can still feel better about yourself and other things without that if you just give it a try.

For your own well being you do have try. if you are not willing to try it then it is not worth going you must want to do it.

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cupcake123 said on 15 June 2014

this page was no help!!!!!!!!!!

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Pauper said on 11 June 2014

Low score on the wellbeing self assessment - which was no surprise.
Advice is to talk to friends and GP. Well, although I have some close family I have no friends, and haven't had any in more than 20 years. Don't want any, and wouldn't know how to get any. As for GP - I don't want to talk to him and be disappointed with his response. I talked to my previous GP (at same practice) - she referred me to CPN who threw me out after the first sentence I spoke. Then the GP told me I have a 'wonderful life'. Don't know what her evidence for that was - and don't think the 'facts' of someone's life is the same as how they feel about life.

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harryxtc said on 11 October 2013

As with a lot of the self help advice, if i could do the things suggested i wouldn't be depressed to begin with.

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Chrisw2013 said on 17 August 2013

Rethink wellbeing? There's only one thing that brings overall wellbeing into people's lives and that's love. The only problem, is that many people are simply confused about what love really is, especially if we consider the high number of relationship breakdowns and dysfunctional families that exist. So until we can define what love is and make it universally accepted only then will we be able to rethink wellbeing and ensure the majority are living the healthier and happier lives they so deserve.

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rob yahoo said on 16 January 2013

mate.. things always look worse than they are... but often you do need to speak to someone to make sense of it all... if you dont have anybody near you to speak with then someone like the samaritansmaybe can help..

give them a try..
all the best christmas always a hard time.. all get better once the spring comes around again.. for sure.... x

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1976dean said on 15 January 2013

Hi cottam123 , pleae go to your doctor you will be amazed at the help and support that is availiable . I suffered for many years thinking daily i was going crazy or dying, after finally getting treatment for anxiety and depression i feel so much happier. No one needs to suffer alone , you are just going through a bad time , you will get through it.

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Searak said on 17 October 2012

So facinating to change the way i am thinking and the way i act.i understand the importance of socializing oneself.
Thank you!!!

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Media last reviewed: 21/09/2014

Next review due: 21/09/2016