Nobody wants to live to be 100 if they can’t enjoy life.

Health is a great equalizer in the later years of life, and mental health is a crucial part of that.

If you don’t have your mental health, nothing else really matters — regardless of how well the rest of your body is working.

What Is Mental Health?

Mental health is your mental state of being. It’s how you perceive the world and the lens through which you filter information.

Mental health is very real; it’s not just in your head.

It shapes you. Not just your mind, but also your body and how you interact with the world.

Mental health is just as real as heart health or digestive health. And, as with those systems, sometimes problems can occur. Your brain just starts to think things differently.

Why Is There Stigma Surrounding Mental Health?

Right now, we don’t understand the difference between brain function and thought process. I can run every form of brain imaging I have access to on you, but I still won’t understand what makes you who you are.

When it comes to mental health, there’s so much we don’t understand and don’t have the language for. And that might be one source of stigma. But just because we don’t understand it doesn’t mean it isn’t real.

Another source of stigma might be the more hidden nature of mental illnesses.

Depression, for example, is a disorder that impacts your health and how you function in the world. But there’s no clear outward sign for the world to look at and say, “Aha! An injury!” No one but you can see it or feel it.

A broken arm is also a condition that impacts your health and how you function in the world. You can feel it, X-rays confirm it, and the world can see it. Everyone understands a broken arm, so there’s no trouble accepting it.

Sometimes people have a hard time accepting mental illnesses because they don’t have clear outward representation; there’s no X-ray, no cast, no physical manifestation of what’s broken.

In response to depression they might think, “Just snap out of it. Be happy.” They don’t understand that there’s a real biochemical issue happening in that person’s brain.

While the medical community doesn’t yet understand why these issues occur, we know that they’re very real and that medications even seem to help with certain disorders.

Mental Health vs. Mental Illness

Part of the stigma in talking about mental health might come from the correlation with the words mental illness. And we almost always hear mental illness used in a negative context.

It’s reserved for people who have done something bad or who can’t function in society anymore. And that’s not quite right.

Mental illness means there is a problem with your thought process and how you perceive the world. It’s a pathology that affects how you think, behave, and interact with those around you.

Mental health, on the other hand, is psychological, emotional, and social health. It’s understanding your own perceptions and biases, how they affect you, and how they affect your relationship to the world.

Mental illness is a pathology, and mental health is the treatment.

How Does Mental Health Affect Work Performance?

If you have poor mental health, there’s no way you can have optimal performance.


Poor mental health affects everything. It can even affect your physical health.

We previously talked about stress and the impact it can have on your physical and mental well-being, especially for high-performing individuals under constant stress. Good stress management practices go hand in hand with good mental health.

Depression, too, can cause both physical and mental symptoms. Physically, it can lead to unhealthy cholesterol profiles, easy weight gain, excessive sleep, or inadequate sleep.

Beyond the physical, it can cause agitation, irritability, difficulty concentrating, restlessness, apathy, anxiety, and hopelessness.

None of these symptoms, physical or psychological, contribute to optimal work performance.

When you’re not cognitively, emotionally, and socially healthy, you just don’t have the resources to function at the highest level. You can’t perform well at your job or even in your relationships. Without good mental health, you can’t be a good leader, coworker, spouse, or friend.

In order to take care of those around you, you must invest in taking care of yourself.

Why Mental Health Is the Foundation for Optimal Performance Infographic

How Can People Improve Their Mental Health?

We’re social beings and we need to be able to connect with each other, especially when we need help.

An accountability partner is a top resource for cultivating and maintaining mental health. It can be a therapist, but it doesn’t have to be. It can also be a spouse, relative, or trusted friend.

When we stay ensconced in our own minds, it’s far too easy to get so deep into the trees that we can’t see the forest. An accountability partner is someone you can talk to and who can give you outside input. It’s someone who can pull you back and give you perspective on what’s really going on.

We’re all unique individuals with different perspectives on the world, and we all think about things differently. So being able to get an outside opinion from someone you trust can really help with mental health.

The Bottom Line

You can’t outwork floundering mental health. If you want to be a top performer, regardless of your field or industry, you have to make the time to take care of it.

If you’re struggling with your mental health or have been diagnosed with a mental illness, know that you’re not alone. There are people and resources available to help get you back on track so you can reach your optimal performance in work and in life.