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Mental health promotion: Overview

A holistic approach to health 

A health promotion model takes a holistic approach to health.

For example, if a client has depression, the clinician focuses on all aspects of the person's life, not just on the symptoms of depression and how to alleviate or get rid of them. The clinician considers these issues:

  • How is the client's diet?
  • Does the client get regular exercise?
  • What else is going on in the client's life?
  • Is the client a recent immigrant or refugee?
  • Has the client experienced or witnessed traumatic events, such as sexual or physical abuse, war or natural disasters?
  • Does the client have a supportive family and friends?
  • What about community supports, such as educational and employment opportunities, daycare for children and safe, affordable housing?

Clients as partners in their health care 

A health promotion approach enables clients to exert greater control and be partners (and usually the lead partner) in determining what is best for them.

Focus on strengths and assets 

Everyone has areas of their lives in which they consider themselves to be weak or not very skilled. A clinician who takes a health promotion approach acknowledges these challenges, but does not focus on them. The clinician:  

  • develops clients' individual capacities and resilience to enhance their well-being and accomplish their goals
  • builds on the strengths, assets and capacities of the families and communities in which people live.

Social determinants of health 

A health promotion approach points to physical and especially social factors that may be beyond individuals' control but that contribute to their well-being. It enhances protective factors for positive health and reduces risk factors for poor health. A health promotion approach also addresses the determinants of health – the personal, social, economic and environmental factors that determine the health status of individuals and populations.

Social determinants of health include the following interconnected factors:

  • Income: Do people have enough money for the necessities of life and more?
  • Employment: Do people have meaningful work? Do they have some control over the work they do and the environment in which they do it? Do they earn enough money to provide for themselves and their families? Does their work reflect their training and education (e.g., is a physician from Somalia working as a physician in Canada)? Are qualified people hired regardless of their race or gender?
  • Education: Are people sufficiently educated and trained to enter the workforce? Do they need to upgrade their skills? Are there opportunities for older adults to engage in life-long learning?
  • Housing: Do people have access to affordable, appropriate housing? Do they live in a safe neighbourhood?
  • Food: Do people have access to a range of healthy, affordable foods?
  • Culture and race: Do people live in a society that accepts and celebrates cultural differences?
  • Equity: Does everyone have equal access to opportunities to acquire an education, get a good, meaningful job and make enough money to support themselves and their families?
  • Inclusion: Do people feel welcome and experience a sense of belonging in a neighbourhood, school or workplace regardless of their religion or spiritual beliefs and practices, culture, sexual orientation or abilities?
  • Prejudice and discrimination: Are people's lives free from racism, sexism, ageism and other forms of prejudice and discrimination? Are people with addiction or mental health problems subject to attitudes and behaviours that deny them access to appropriate health care, employment and housing? Do they avoid seeking help for their problems because they feel ashamed and don't want others to know they have these types of health problems?
  • Peace: Are people free from violence in their homes, schools, workplaces and the broader community?

Mental health promotion 

Mental health promotion is an integral part of the broader area of health promotion. It focuses on enhancing people's capacity to take control over their lives and improve their mental health. Creating living conditions and environments that support mental health and resilience enables people to adopt and maintain healthy lifestyles, which increases their chances of experiencing better mental health.

Mental health problems are associated with a wide range of other health conditions. Keep in mind, too, that people from different backgrounds or cultures may have differing ideas about what it means to be mentally healthy or mentally unhealthy.


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