Psychological disorders are becoming more frequent. Depression and anxiety have become real global epidemics to the point that half of people are estimated to experience psychopathology at some point in life and 25% will develop a chronic disorder.
For this reason, a group of psychologists at the University of Otago in New Zealand, wondered what are the common characteristics of people who do not develop mental illnesses. To find it out, they followed a group of people for the rest of their lives, from childhood to the old age, realizing psychological tests every few years to evaluate their mental health.
The pillars of good mental health
These psychologists have found that 83% of people had suffered a mental disorder at some stage of their life. They also found that some of them had very stable mental health and therefore did not developed psychological disorders. What did they have different than the others?
1. They had no history of mental disturbance in their family. Some psychopathologies have a genetic component and others can be “transmitted” through the behavioral patterns we learn from our parents. Therefore, growing into a functional family where members have good mental health, is a protective factor.
2. The presence of less negative emotions. At 5 years of age, people with good mental health showed fewer “negative” emotions. Undoubtedly, the prevalence of positive emotions helps us to see life from a more optimistic perspective and keeps mental disturbances away.
3. More self-control. Self-control is a capacity that allows us to manage our first reactions more effectively, especially from the emotional point of view. On the one hand, it helps us to better adapt to the circumstances to choose the most appropriate response and, on the other hand, allows us to better manage our emotions, so they do not overwhelm us.
4. Good interpersonal relationships. Interpersonal relationships can become a very valuable support network or, conversely, a source of conflicts and problems. People with good mental health are able to maintain good relationships with the others and know how to avoid conflicts by creating solid relationships.
5. Be resilient. Resilience is a capacity that we develop since childhood and allows us to deal with problems without collapsing and even getting stronger, so they act as a protective factor of psychological balance. A study on little girls victims of the war in Bosnia found that those who showed less emotional scars were those who were able to seek help, not compassion, but the emotional support they needed.
Another very interesting detail of this study is that people who showed better mental health were not those who also had better physical health, had not been born into wealthy families, nor were the smartest in terms of I.Q., But it is undoubtful that they counted with a good Emotional Intelligence.
At the time of adulthood, these people had not only more success in the professional field but also had greater satisfaction in life and counted on a solid social support network.
This indicates that although there may be a predisposition to develop some psychological disorders, lifestyle and our way of dealing with events are decisive in maintaining mental health. Therefore, if we want to protect our psychological balance, we must make sure we have the right tools to deal with life.
Schaefer, J. D. et. Al. (2017) Enduring mental health: Prevalence and prediction. J Abnorm Psychol; 126(2):212-224.
Kessler, R. C. et. Al. (2005) Lifetime prevalence and age-of-onset distributions of DSM-IV disorders in the National Comorbidity Survey Replication. Arch Gen Psychiatry; 62(6): 593-602.
Berk, J. A. (2002) Trauma y resiliencia durante la guerra: una mirada a los niños y a los trabajadores de ayuda humanitaria en Bosnia. Psicoanálisis APdeBA; 25(1/2): 45-65.