This chapter will explore two key areas: it will discuss the definitions, dimensions and links between four intersecting concepts – mental health, psychological well-being, successful or active ageing, and quality of life. It will also review older peoples’ perspectives about quality of life, the meaning they attach to ‘good mental health’, and research evidence about quality of life in the older population.
There is increasing recognition that positive mental health is a prerequisite for a good quality of life across the life course, including later life. That it is more than simply the absence of mental ill health and is a separate and distinctive concept is now widely accepted. The promotion of mental health is also recognised as an important goal for social policy and a legitimate focus of public health intervention (Cattan, 2009). It is a complex overarching concept, which intersects with a number of related concepts. These include psychological well-being, successful and active ageing, and quality of life. It also subsumes, and interacts with, a wide range of sociological and psychological issues, including resilience, morale, agency and self-efficacy. The chapter begins with a review of what is known and understood about mental health before turning to its ‘sister’ concepts.
Essentially mental health is the core resource that enables us to function; it relates both to thinking and feeling so that it includes both happiness/contentment and the positive thinking and skills that allow us to take action, maintain relationships and value ourselves. Our mental health influences how we think and feel and our ability to communicate and to manage change (McCulloch, 2009). Good mental health is increasingly understood as a combination of internal factors, including intrinsic attributes, and external factors; it is also conceptualised as a dynamic process rather than a static state (Williamson, 2008; McCormick et al, 2009).
Despite its common usage, a coherent and widely adopted definition of mental health remains elusive. The World Health Organization (WHO) 2003, p 7) defines it as: ‘a state of wellbeing whereby individuals recognise their abilities, are able to cope with the normal stresses of daily life and are able to make a contribution to their families and communities’.