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Research Shows Self-Belief Can Improve Wellbeing

As rates of mental health issues continue to rise worldwide, can believing in oneself impact our overall sense of wellbeing?

Researching the link

The number of people struggling with poor mental health and mental disorders has been rising worldwide for decades. Those who are struggling are increasingly facing difficulties accessing the support they need. This is resulting in many having to wait months for help, if they even qualify for treatment.

While it’s clear that more needs to be done to improve access to treatment, it doesn’t mean people inevitably have to struggle with their mental health as a result. There are many things people can do on their own to maintain good mental health – and even prevent mental health problems from developing in the first place.

According to research published last year, the steps you can take to improve your mental wellbeing may be as simple as believing you can do something. In the 2022 study published in the Mental Health and Social Inclusion Report, researchers asked 3,015 Danish adults to fill out a survey that asked questions about mental health.

These questions covered issues such as whether the recipient believed they could do something to keep mentally healthy, whether they had done something in the past two weeks to support their mental health, and whether they were currently struggling with a mental health problem.

Researchers then assessed their mental wellbeing level using the Short Warwick–Edinburgh Mental Wellbeing Scale, which healthcare professionals and researchers widely use to measure mental wellbeing.

What did the results show?

As one might expect, we found that mental wellbeing was highest among those who had done things to improve their mental health compared with the other participants. However, it was also found that, whether or not the respondents had taken action to improve their mental wellbeing, people who believed they could do something to keep mentally healthy tended to have higher mental wellbeing than those who didn’t have this belief.

So while it’s most beneficial to take steps to improve your mental health, even just believing that you can improve it is associated with better overall mental wellbeing.

Wellbeing ‘locus of control’

Though the study didn’t examine the reasons for this link between belief and better mental health, it could be explained by a psychological concept known as the “wellbeing locus of control.”

According to this concept, people with an internal wellbeing locus of control believe that their attitudes and behavior control their wellbeing. On the other hand, people with an external wellbeing locus of control think their mental wellbeing is largely influenced by factors or circumstances outside of their control (such as by other people or by chance).

It’s possible that having an internal wellbeing locus of control may subconsciously influence one’s outlook, lifestyle, or coping mechanisms. This, in turn, may also affect mental health – and previous research has linked this belief to fewer symptoms of depression, anxiety, and stress.

This concept may explain why participants who believe they can do something to change their mental health are also more likely to have a high level of mental wellbeing. And this finding in itself has enormous preventative potential, as a high level of mental wellbeing is associated with a 69-90% lower risk of developing a common mental disorder.

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Keep mentally healthy

It is known from a considerable body of research that there are many simple things people can do daily to support and even improve their mental health. This led to the development of the Act-Belong-Commit campaign, which provides the research-based mental health “ABC” that everyone can use, regardless of whether they’re struggling with a mental health problem.

The specifics of the Act-Belong-Commit campaign tell us –

Act – Keep physically, mentally, socially, and spiritually active. Do something like walking, reading, playing games, or taking up a hobby. An active mind and body can foster wellbeing and help quell overthinking or worrying about things outside your control.

Belong – Keep up friendships and close social ties, engage in group activities, and participate in community events. Do something with someone – whether going to dinner with friends or joining a recreational sports league. Spending time with other people can help you feel more connected and build a sense of identity.

Commit – Set goals and challenges, and engage in life activities that provide meaning and purpose, including taking up causes and volunteering to help others. Do something meaningful. This can help you build a sense of meaning, mattering, and self-worth.

All three of these domains are fundamental to good mental health. Doing just some of these activities is associated with a range of wellbeing benefits, including higher life satisfaction, and lower risk of mental disordersproblematic alcohol use, and even cognitive impairment.

Feeling activesocially connected, and engaged in meaningful activities are generally linked with better health and a longer lifespan.

In summary

As part of the study, researchers showed that knowing these ABC principles can make a significant difference. Among those who knew about them, about 80% said that the ABCs had given them new knowledge about what they can do to support their mental health, and about 15% said that they had also taken action to enhance it.

It is essential to view the current mental health crisis as a wake-up call about how critically important it is for people to be equipped with tools that may help them support and maintain good mental health.

The study’s results may serve to remind us just how much of an impact we can have when it comes to looking after our own mental wellbeing – even if it’s just believing that we can.

What are your thoughts on the research findings? Tell us more in the comments below.

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