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The Relationship between Mental Toughness, Mental Health and Mental Illness.

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The Relationship between Mental Toughness, Mental Health and Mental Illness.
As Lincoln said "Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe"

Someone said to me yesterday, I don’t need Mental Toughness, I’m not mentally ill. I just need to win the lottery, its the only way I’m getting out of the mess I am in.

It wasn’t the time or the place to follow up on the statement. I just asked how likely that was and what he was going to do in the meantime. But It made me think about the perceived relationship between mental toughness mental health and mental illness

In a nutshell Mental Toughness generally refers to people we might call ‘mentally well’ or at the healthy end of the mental health scale. These people generally cope very well on a day to day basis, but who are aware that either through choice or circumstance, difficult situations arise at work, in sport as well as education, and these days of Covid 19 – at home. They wish to be able to manage these situations successfully and whilst recognising that general health and well-being are important there is more required. That more is well defined by Professor Peter Clough, Dr Keith Earle and Doug Strycharczyk in their 4C model of Mental Toughness which defines four dimensions of Mental Toughness

  • Control
  • Commitment
  • Challenge
  • Confidence

The C’s of Control and Commitment are typically seen as relating to Resilience and the ability to bounce back whilst the C’s of Challenge and Confidence are seen as relating to Mental Strength and the desire to move forward with optimism and purpose and to test abilities.
Further information on the model can be found in our blog – What is Mental Toughness?

Mental illness and mental health are sometimes seen as different ends of the same spectrum and sometimes as different dimensions but wither way they are different.

Mental illness refers collectively to all diagnosable mental disorders – health conditions involving significant changes in thinking, emotion or behaviour and distress and/or problems functioning in social work or family activities. It is when you feel little or no control control of your mental health and issues such as anxiety, depression, OCD (here’s a fuller list) take over.

Mental Health understood simply, is a measure of our state of mind, just as physical health is a measure of our physical self. It can fluctuate day to day – or even hour by hour – and is influenced by many things in our lives, personal or professional.  

A mental health issue is where someone show signs that something isn’t right for them – they could be tearful, anxious or angry about certain things, or they may withdraw from situations. The majority of people who experience mental health issues can recover and this is where Mental Toughness comes in.

The bottom line to improving mental strength and toughness is essentially the same as improving physical health and fitness. By consistently doing the right things and pushing ourselves just to the edges of our comfort zones. The question is do we know what the right things are and do we give them the level of time and attention we should?

Again, as with physical health and fitness, many of us get by day to day without doing too much. Problem is if you had to run a Marathon tomorrow could you? Same with mental strength, we get by without thinking much about it and then smack, the equivalent of a Marathon comes in the form of a virus.

You may be lucky and win the lottery (although I am not sure how much good even that would do you right now). But for those who don’t you’ll have to rely on the thing between your ears to get you though the next few months in good shape. Luckily your brain is very capable and adaptable. It is ready to help you, you just need to help yourself and learn to exercise it in the right way.

As Lincoln said “Give me six hours to chop down a tree and I will spend the first four sharpening the axe”. Your axe is your mind, body and soul – Think, Do, Reflect.

Lets Talk Tough provide on-line and in-house Training and Coaching programmes to Organisations and Individuals in developing Mental Toughness, Resilience and Well-Being.

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