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Can you get mentally healthier simply by willing it to happen?


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The phrase “if you can believe it, you can achieve it” has been making the rounds on posters and bumper stickers for a while—and according to new research, the sentiment is especially true when it comes to ensuring your future of positive mental health.

In a study recently published in the Journal of Health and Social Behavior, researchers analyzed data from the Medical Expenditure Panel Survey of more than 2,500 people and found that rating your mental health as “good” or “positive”—even if you meet the criteria for having a condition like depression—could mean you’ll have strong mental health down the road. And the coolest part? Those positive thinkers didn’t even need treatment to get those results.

During the study, 62 percent of those who screened positive for depression or psychological distress said their mental health was good. Then, during a follow-up a year later, those individuals were 30 percent less likely to have a mental-health problem than those who rated their state as “poor.”

“Positive ratings of mental health—even in the face of symptoms—might not be a result of denial but may offer valuable insights about a person’s ability to cope with their symptoms.” —Dr. Sirry Alang, study co-author

So, why does it make a difference whether or not you rate yourself as having positive mental health? Study co-author Sirry Alang, PhD, assistant professor of sociology and health, medicine, and society at Lehigh University, told Science Daily that positive mental health isn’t just the absence of symptoms or illness. Really, the same goes for overall health, which is why experts say the World Health Organization’s definition of “health” is so important: “Health is a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity,” it states.

According to Dr. Alang, positive mental health is about having the ability to “cope and adapt to life, fulfill desired roles, sustain meaningful relationships, and maintain a sense of purpose and belonging in life.”

Because positive thinking might be an indicator of a strong coping mechanism, the study authors said that simply asking people how they rate their own mental health might help professionals improve screening and treatments for patients. “Self-rated mental health is a very powerful construct that can be useful in clinical practice if we consider it a potential screener for mental health,” Dr. Alang told Science Daily. “Positive ratings of mental health—even in the face of symptoms—might not be a result of denial but may offer valuable insights about a person’s ability to cope with their symptoms.”

Use this study as a reminder: While it’s not an exact science, striving to believe in your positive mental-health future might just improve your condition—not to mention reduce stress and anxiety and improve your workouts.

This diet might lower your risk of depression. Or, take a look at the surprising connection between gut health and postpartum depression.

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