How’s your mental health? Well that’s a tricky question. The term itself is one that begs for a road map, and we all have to become consciousness cartographers if we expect to arrive.

When I’m working with clients, we begin with talking a preferred end-state. Who are you or who will you be when you are mentally healthy? What does that look like? Then we have a look at where things stand today. From there we sometimes dive into repair work from old wounds and sometimes into building on past successes. It’s a process of very intentionally sculpting a vision for mental health that fits you.

Increasing self-awareness is foundational in assessing and improving mental health. Seeing oneself more clearly is a necessary part of making change that is effective and lasting. When you’re gifted, there are some characteristics we know you’re more likely to carry.

  • We are more likely to be perfectionistic with resulting anxiety, which can manifest in innumerable ways.
  • We are more likely to feel isolated, which can lead to all kinds of defensive adaptations as we work to belong in our communities.
  • We are more likely to be misdiagnosed with a mental illness because we’re outliers in our intensity and sensitivity.
  • We are asynchronous in our development.
  • We are more likely to have our normal, gifted experience pathologized by the world around us.
  • We are more likely to internalize and take responsibility for others’ distorted views of how we ought to be. This can lead to low self-esteem and poor self-concept.
  • We are more likely to have acute sensory sensitivities that can lead to chronically dysregulated nervous systems and concurrent physical symptoms.

It can feel like a damn minefield! For every hazard, though, there’s an equally powerful opportunity to grow into a strength. We get to be intentional about who we become.

“You’ve known you’re different for a long time. You’ve been told you’re too intense or too sensitive over and over. When things don’t go well, you may find yourself taking more responsibility than others say is rational. When things do go well, you may find yourself crediting success to things outside of yourself and rushing to the next task without enjoying the moment.

You’ve been told “You’re overthinking it” as you seek to understand things that people around you accept without question. Your anxiety manifests in sleeplessness, perfectionism, overwork, and profound feelings of loneliness.

Overthinking, intensity, and sensitivity? These are features of your gifted experience, not bugs. Exploring and accommodating these features is the work of the gifted person. In a world where your strengths have been pathologized and marginalized, your task is to know yourself better and become yourself more fully.

It isn’t easy. The sense of isolation and difference is real. Figuring out how to live your best life when you’re feeling isolated and different as well as multitalented and exceptional? That’s hard work.

The good news is that you have everything you need to make the journey to fulfillment. That powerful consciousness of yours is equipped to learn what it needs to learn in order to flourish, to be mentally healthy, outside of the norm.” – The Simple Truth Of It

While pursuing an ongoing self-awareness practice, you can introduce changes to the way you think, behave, and interact. You can experiment with your consciousness and your life. You can pursue your optimal development – your mental health.

What is mental health, anyway? We’ve got a gazillion mental illness designations, definitions, criteria, and treatment approaches. For mental health, we’ve got various definitions, some more helpful than others.

The Medilexicon Dictionary states that mental health is, “Emotional, behavioral, and social maturity or normality; the absence of a mental or behavioral disorder; a state of psychological well-being in which one has achieved a satisfactory integration of one’s instinctual drives acceptable to both oneself and one’s social milieu; an appropriate balance of love, work, and leisure pursuits.”

Did they just say normality? To gifted people? We’re statistically abnormal in our wiring, yet we have to be normal to be healthy? That doesn’t fly. However, the “well-being”, “integration”, “acceptable” part makes a lot of sense from a subjective well-being viewpoint. Also, from my perspective, “Appropriate balance” is an abundantly squishy term.

The World Health Organization suggests mental health is, “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

In another version of this definition, the world “potential” was replaced with “abilities”. That latter word is much more helpful for gifted people. Our potential? We’re multipotentialites by nature, so defining health by potential-realization isn’t terrifically helpful. See my blog post about “The P Word” here. Using awareness rather than achievement in the definition works much better for we gifted folks. On the whole, the WHO definition works better than Medilexicon’s. It doesn’t ask us to fit inside a neurotypical box of normality. It begins with self-awareness, moves to resilience, and emphasizes work and community. Not bad!

Over in the realm of positive psychology, we’ve got Slade’s Complete State Model (CSM), “The CSM identifies mental health as having a high level of well-being and low level of mental illness (e.g., depression, anxiety, stress). The spotlight here is not on ruling out the mental illness or psychotic symptoms, but on suggesting that well-being and mental illness are separate issues that together structure our mental health.”

Determining mental health by pairing subjective well-being with characteristics of mental illness has its benefits and hazards. Those mental illness criteria are built on notoriously shifting sands. Misdiagnosis of gifted populations is a real problem. At the same time, it can be very helpful for people with chronic illness symptoms to have those validated in a mental health definition.

Whatever definition we settle on, it’s central to the quality of our lives to pursue our own optimal development. That means focusing on becoming as mentally healthy as we can. It’s through our perceptions and consciousness that we experience the world, so the clearer our lens, the more fully we can live.

This is my first time participating in Hoagie’s Gifted Education Blog Hop, and I’m grateful to Carolyn for overcoming some technical difficulties to make it possible. This month’s topic is Mental Health. I hope you’ll hop over to Hoagie’s to read everyone else’s great entries!