What is psychological health?

Psychological health is important with respect to how we function and adapt, and with respect to whether our lives are satisfying and productive. In the end, psychological health and well-being basically has to do with the question: "how are you doing?"

While questions like "how are you doing?" or "how is your mood?" capture the essence of psychological health, psychologists have found that it actually involves two separate issues. There is an upside and a downside, both of which need to be considered.

The upside involves two factors: is your mood generally positive, and do you enjoy a number of "positive emotional ties." In other words, are you happy and do you have friends? In addition to feelings of emotional satisfaction, a positive mood also depends on whether or not you generally feel calm and peaceful.

On the downside, emotional well-being involves three factors: do you suffer anxiety, are you depressed, and do you feel like like you have lost control and can't do anything about your feelings. This is the experience of psychological distress.

Although there are two parts of the equation, for general purposes it can usually be said that distress and happiness are two sides of the same coin. Usually, people are either happy or they're not, and if their mood isn't good, they are often distressed to some extent.

It is also important to know that psychological health is an issue quite different from mental or emotional disorder. The research on well-being concerns itself with the feelings of normal individuals and subjects from the general population. When we talk about psychological health, we are referring to how ordinary people are doing in life. In other words, if you are feeling distressed, that doesn't necessarily mean that you are mentally ill.

Ordinary life often presents the individual with extraordinary challenges, complexities, setbacks and hardships. Psychological health concerns itself with how you cope, how you are doing in response, and whether you find life to be interesting and enjoyable. Although life is better when we are feeling good, there is no avoiding the fact that there will be ups and downs.

What is the best way to assess your state of well-being? Take a few minutes to fill out the brief Psychological Health Index at

This questionnaire is a modified version of an instrument developed by the Rand Corporation for use in a variety of health and medical outcome studies. It is a short version of a longer "test," and even though it is just a few items long, it has proven to be a remarkably useful way to ask people: "how are you doing?" ... "how is your mood today?"

My own research has demonstrated that how you respond to the brief Psychological Health Index is significantly correlated with your perceived personal health status. If your score on this instrument is negative, you are more likely to have more physical health complaints.

I ususally advise people to take this test every now and then, and not just once. Things change and feelings change. In the same way that it is a good idea for healthy individuals to monitor their blood pressure on at least an occasional basis, it's a good idea to keep an eye on your mood. Mood is a vital sign.

Copyright, Paul G. Mattiuzzi, Ph.D.