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Public mental health

Nursing staff in all areas of health care are in an ideal position to be able to promote good mental health. They often have a holistic view of people’s health needs, what their challenges are and their ability to cope which need to be factored into all aspects of care. 

Most of us are aware of the importance of good mental health:

“There is no health without mental health. Mental health is central to the human, social and economic capital of nations and should therefore be considered as an integral and essential part of other public policy areas such as human rights, social care, education and employment.” (World Health Organisation (WHO) European Declaration on Mental Health, 2005)
Mental health is:

"the emotional and spiritual resilience which allows us to enjoy life and to survive pain, disappointment and sadness. It is a positive sense of well-being and an underlying belief in our own, and others’ dignity and worth.” (Health Education Authority, 1997).

You can take a quiz to explore your own mental wellbeing through  It is an essential component to all public health, our mental wellbeing in reality underpins our capability to make healthy life choices and our ability to sustain healthy behaviour. See RCN supporting behaviour change resource.

Good mental health is key to us having the best quality of life that we can as individuals, but our families, communities and workplaces can shape our mental wellbeing in the same ways that they impact our physical health. So it is important to have strategies to raise wellbeing on a community and societal level as well as targeting individuals.

See: Public Health England, Wellbeing and mental health: Applying All Our Health (2019).

Public mental health: the purposeful actions taken to improve mental health and wellbeing and prevent mental illness by communities, organisations and individuals.

It is hard to have ‘a positive state of mind and body’, to feel safe and able to cope, and to enjoy a sense of connection with people and your wider environment (HMG, 2010) if you feel unsafe in your home, if your workplace is stressful or your community is unwelcoming.

The WHO has further resources and information around health equity.

Public mental health

This image is adapted from Public Health England (2018).

Why public mental health matters

Our mental wellbeing shapes our quality of life and the capacity to cope with life's ups and downs. It is protective against physical illness, social inequalities and unhealthy lifestyles. 

Poor mental health can be linked to: 

  • the development and poor outcomes for long term or chronic physical illness
  • less healthy lifestyles.

All nurses need to be working in ways that promote parity of esteem - that means mental health needs must be valued equally with physical health needs. So the work of Equally Well UK is important to be aware of. Its goal is to get access to the most effective and safest care and treatment for people with mental health problems and share good practice.

What can we do?

This resource is designed to help you to understand and engage with public mental health.

If you would like to know more about this topic, see: 

  • Being informed. This section is designed to help you to understand and engage with public mental health in more depth.
  • Looking after ourselves suggests a range of ways to promote your wellbeing. Self-care is vital for all health professionals and carers - supporting others is a privilege and a pleasure but it is also a responsibility and  it can be physically and emotionally challenging.
  • Looking after each other If you are looking to be encouraged and inspired there are a host of examples of people working to make our communities stronger, safer and happier here.

Page last updated - 13/06/2024