At Masawa, we take a holistic and evidence-based approach to investing in mental wellness. Our investment areas are shaped by the latest scientific findings in positive and humanistic psychology, self-actualization, and neuroscience. We keep an open mind and dare to look at healing approaches that transcend our own culture and prevailing paradigms. To thrive as a whole human being, one must attend to and fulfill one’s intrinsic and deep-seated needs. The same holds true at a societal level. As we use the term ‘mental wellness’ so frequently, we want to unpack our definition of it, and why we believe it to be essential to being human.
Mental wellness, as we think of it, is a dynamic inner state that enables an individual to actualize what they see as their full potential. Mental wellness is an internal resource that must be replenished and sustained, and from which we draw the vital energy to lead healthy and fulfilled lives.
When experiencing mental wellness, we not only feel a sense of satisfaction in and with life, we also feel confident in our capability to set goals and live up to them. We feel connected to ourselves, the people around us, and the natural world. To fully understand mental wellness is also to recognize that to be human is to have innate, deep-seated needs, beyond simply material ones, that must be addressed and fulfilled. The COVID-19 pandemic has made this fact particularly apparent. When living in isolation, away from our friends and relatives, we might feel disconnected and lonely. We are social animals that thrive on strong relationships. Even when material needs are met, many people experience agonizing feelings of distress and anxiety because the near future is clouded by uncertainty. It is human nature to strive for a sense of predictability and control over the future. However, by nurturing mental wellness, we can learn to manage and embrace uncertainty and cultivate appropriate coping mechanisms to deal with the inevitable challenges of life.
Mental wellness is often depicted as a continuum, ranging from languishing to flourishing. All of us occupy a position along that continuum, but that place isn’t static. Just like physical health, our mental health has its ups and downs. It can be worse today and better tomorrow, only to plummet again when we inevitably encounter a stressor. Mental wellness is a lifelong journey that begins with the recognition that those ups and downs are perfectly normal; that they are an essential part of the human experience.
It’s important to distinguish between mental illness and mental wellness. While both influence how we function, think, and interact, mental illness refers to diagnosable mental health conditions (e.g. depression, anxiety disorder, OCD, etc.) for which care is typically provided by mental health professionals. It is perfectly possible to have a diagnosed condition while still experiencing flourishing mental wellness. Mental wellness and mental illness can co-exist, in a state where the illness is managed with appropriate support (whether medically, through lifestyle adjustments, behaviors, and practices, etc). Conversely, one can also feel disconnected, disengaged, or anxious, even in the absence of a specific mental illness. As a fund centered around mental wellness, we focus our efforts not only on seeking to provide more support to those with mental illness, but also on preventing mental illness from developing and increasing overall mental well-being.
To cultivate mental wellness is to see one’s mental health not as a permanent, static condition rooted in time but as a branch, adaptive to its changing environment, ever-transforming, and capable of growing to the highest of its abilities.
As humans, we have the innate capacity and a driving desire to move to a richer, more profound, satisfying, and meaningful human experience. Yet what that experience entails is highly subjective. Humanist psychologist Abraham Maslow recognized that the role of a good teacher or therapist is to “enable people to become healthy and effective in their own style.” To Maslow, as Scott Barry Kaufmann points out in his book Transcend, this meant that “we try to make a rose a good rose, rather than trying to change roses into lilies… It even implies an ultimate respect and acknowledgment of the sacredness and uniqueness of each kind of person.”
The first step to nurturing mental wellness is thus to understand that there’s no one-size-fits-all solution. To live well every individual has to find out what works for them. Yet, as human beings, we also have a shared humanity: while the triggers, circumstances, and motivations might be different, our pain and suffering, feelings of sadness and inadequacy, and the pursuit of wellbeing and happiness are universal; they are part of our common human experience. The journey through life’s depths and along its peaks is often less lonely than we might feel.
Mental wellness is not merely about the individual. Just as a forest is more resilient than a single tree, individuals do better in healthy and supportive communities. We are social animals and have an innate need for connection and belonging. We want to be seen by others and feel accepted for who we truly are. We need people around us who we can identify with, who we can help when they need it, and who can offer us support. At Masawa, we embrace both the individual and community dimensions of mental health. Individuals are only as strong as the communities to which they belong.
Alongside personal agency and continuous practice, mental wellness is strongly influenced by environmental factors and external forces over which we often have limited control. External forces include technology, socio-economic status, inequality, culture and values, and environmental issues such as climate change. For example, a child born in poverty is more than twice as likely to develop a mental health disorder, and a mental health disorder also increases the likelihood of descending into poverty.
At Masawa, we’re promoting our multidimensional view of mental wellness through our range of investment areas. Our aim is to address the causes of mental illness, mitigate its severity, and reduce the suffering and major healthcare costs associated with mental ill-health. Ultimately, we are taking responsibility for our small part in creating a nourishing environment that meets individuals’ basic needs and provides them with a safe base to pursue their unique passions and grow to their full potential.
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