Focus Areas

Mental health: Part of the bigger wellness picture

We all experience emotional ups and downs from time to time caused by events in our lives. Mental health conditions go beyond these emotional reactions and become something longer lasting. They are medical conditions that cause changes in how we think and feel and in our mood. They are not the result of personal weakness, lack of character or poor upbringing.

With proper treatment, people can realize their full potential, cope with the stresses of life, work productively and meaningfully contribute to the world. Without mental health we cannot be fully healthy.

Yet, understanding mental health isn’t only about being able to identify symptoms and having a name for these conditions. There is a complicated system involving local communities, the federal government, research institutions, private companies and other pieces that are all trying to fit together.

Each piece contributes to our understanding of mental health—if one is missing, the picture isn’t complete.

Understanding Mental Health


There’s emerging evidence that positive mental health is associated with improved overall health outcomes, and that social-emotional and behavioral health in young children is an important component of school readiness.

But research also shows that mental illnesses and disorders — especially depressive disorders — are strongly related to the occurrence, successful treatment and course of many chronic diseases including diabetes, cancer, cardiovascular disease, asthma, and obesity and many risk behaviors for chronic disease like physical inactivity, smoking, excessive drinking and insufficient sleep.

In the medical and public-health arenas, more emphasis and resources have been devoted to screening, diagnosis, and treatment of mental illness than mental health. Little has been done to protect the mental health of those free of mental illness. We need to do more to help people of all ages strengthen their mental health.


Researchers point to indicators of mental health, representing three domains:

  • Emotional well-being such as perceived life satisfaction, happiness, cheerfulness, peacefulness.
  • Psychological well-being including self-acceptance, personal growth, openness to new experiences, optimism, hopefulness, purpose in life, control of one’s environment, spirituality, self-direction, and positive relationships.
  • Social well-being such as social acceptance, beliefs in the potential of people and society as a whole, personal self-worth, usefulness to society and a sense of community.

Our children need to realize that the world is a better place because they are in it. Understanding the importance of personal contribution can serve as a source of purpose and motivation. 

And the U.S. Surgeon General’s Office notes that there are social determinants of mental health – just like there are social determinants of medical health — that need to be in place: adequate housing, safe neighborhoods, equitable jobs and wages, quality education, and equity in access to quality health care.


Our more than 800,000 California PTA members are dedicated to expanding mental-health supports and services for our kids. Get the latest mental-health news through our email alerts, and stay in touch your local PTA for the latest information on mental-health services and supports at your school.