Anna Alexandrova (Cambridge): “Defining Mental Health”

Today mental health is a universally valued outcome. It is prioritised by governments, hospitals, schools, employers, charities. And yet mental health appears to be prized more as a label than as a concept, because remarkably for a state so uncontroversially prized, it has no accepted definition. In this talk based on joint work with Sam Wren-Lewis I survey the existing explicit and implicit definitions. They turn out to be either too demanding (for example, the one by the World Health Organization which identifies mental health with a happy and productive community life) or not demanding enough (for example, mental health as the absence of diagnosable psychiatric disorder). I articulate the desiderata for a better definition and a potential candidate that meets them.

Anna Alexandrova is a Senior Lecturer in philosophy of science at the University of Cambridge.