I’ve had the privilege of writing this column for over two years, exploring the vast landscape of mental health and well-being.

Yet, there’s one recurring challenge, the initial reaction many people have to the phrase 'mental health'. Often, it conjures images of clinical settings, diagnoses, and illness.

This association, while not entirely inaccurate, presents an incomplete picture. Mental health encompasses far more than just mental illness. It’s the foundation of our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It impacts how we think, feel, and act – shaping our daily lives, relationships, and choices.

So, why this persistent association with illness? The roots lie in the historical treatment of mental health issues. For centuries, people with mental illness faced stigma. Confined to asylums and subjected to horrific treatment, mental illness became synonymous with fear and shame.

This historical baggage contributes to current misconceptions. Open conversations about mental wellbeing remain relatively new. Popular media often portrays mental illness in a dramatic and sensationalised way, further reinforcing negative stereotypes. Just think about how many times the word ‘mental’ is used in a negative way day-to-day.

But just like physical health, mental health exists on a continuum. At one end lies flourishing wellbeing, while the other may hold diagnosable mental illnesses. The vast majority of us fall somewhere in between, navigating daily life with a mix of positive emotions and challenges.

Everyone gets a cold occasionally. It’s a temporary setback, but doesn’t turn you into a chronically ill person. Similarly, experiencing sadness, anxiety, or stress doesn’t equate to mental illness. These are normal human emotions. Mental health concerns arise when these experiences become persistent, overwhelming, and interfere with your daily life.

Here’s why I enjoy writing this column. By focusing solely on the realm of illness, we miss the vast opportunity to encourage positive wellbeing. Just as we prioritise physical health through exercise and healthy eating, we can actively nurture our mental wellbeing. The things we do for our physical health, also benefit our mental health. When we feel great mentally, and we feel good about ourselves, we also feel more inclined to do more physically. Conversely, when we experience longer term, poor physical health, our mental health can be adversely affected.

I’ll be covering some new topics over the coming weeks, giving more tips and ideas on how to stay mentally healthy.

Martin Furber is a therapist qualified in various modalities and an Instructor Member of Mental Health First Aid England wellbeing@martinfurber.com