About mental health improvement in Scotland


"Mental wellbeing means feeling in control of my emotions, being able to deal with life and not letting my mind hold me back."

Rolf, 32 years old

Why focus on improving mental health?

In Scotland:

One person out of every four people will experience a mental health problem in the course of a year. (Goldberg D & Huxley P (1980) Mental Illness in the Community: The Pathway to Psychiatric Care. London: Tavistock)

It is not any one person in four that will be affected by a mental health problem – those who are subject to inequalities are more susceptible. (Equal Minds, 2005)

In Scotland, on average, around 2 people complete suicide each day. Visit the Choose Life website [external link].

What is Mental Health Improvement

Mental health affects every area of our lives. What does mental health mean to you? Does it make you think of someone who has a mental health problem like depression or schizophrenia? Or does it make you think of that very personal quality which describes the way you think and feel about yourself, your experiences, your confidence, your resilience and sense of control over your life?

Understanding Mental Health Improvement

Mental health means our ability to enjoy life and cope with its challenges. Recent research suggests that mental health consists of two dimensions:

  • positive mental health (mental wellbeing), for example life satisfaction, positive relationships with others and purpose in life
  • mental health problems (mental illness, psychiatric morbidity), for example depression and anxiety.

Good mental health is therefore more than the absence of mental health problems. There are various definitions to describe mental health. Within this website, the following definitions will be used:

Mental health: An umbrella term to refer to both the concepts of mental health problems and mental wellbeing.

Mental health problems: A term that refers to symptoms that meet the criteria for clinical diagnosis of mental illness, or symptoms at a sub-clinical threshold which interfere with emotional, cognitive or social function. Examples include common mental health problems such as depression and anxiety, and severe and enduring mental health problems such as schizophrenia.

Mental wellbeing: A term that includes:

  • aspects of subjective wellbeing (affect and life satisfaction)
  • psychological wellbeing (which covers a wider range of cognitive aspects of mental health such as mastery and a sense of control, having a purpose in life, a sense of belonging and positive relationships with others).


A different way of thinking about mental health is illustrated in the continuum:


(Adapted from K. Tudor, ‘Mental Health Promotion: Paradigms and Practice’, 1996)

The four quadrants of the mental health continuum represent different possible times and situations in a person’s life.

Mental Health Improvement Terminology and Working Understandings [external site]
NHS Health Scotland has developed a paper to ensure that clarity and coordination of mental health terminology is consistent across the organisation. It should be noted that this paper sets out the terminology and definitions which are used by NHS Health Scotland staff, but recognises that other models and paradigms are held and used by other individuals, professions and organisations.

In this section

Mental health in Scotland today


Current policy

Scotland's mental health improvement partners​​​​