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Optimal Health

by Emily Cline

Does having a mental illness make you mentally unhealthy? Your automatic response is probably yes, but I challenge you to think of it this way:

A lot of us have had to participate in physical fitness tests somewhere throughout our time in school. That could mean having to run the mile or maybe, for the younger generations (me included), that meant running the Pacer test….

“The FitnessGram™ Pacer Test is a multistage aerobic capacity test that progressively gets more difficult as it continues…”

If you had to run the Pacer, I promise your memory triggered the exact voice of the narrator and the exact feeling you felt running it. We have set standards, or ideals, that the country puts into place for our health. We can use these standards to measure our own health comparatively to others. So, if I said to prove you are 100% healthy, you had to achieve a certain level on the Pacer, you probably could reach it.

But what if the person has Asthma?

Most would argue that they could still run the Pacer, they would just need a little bit of assistance from an inhaler. They might run a little slower or feel a little more out of breath, but overall, they still have the capacity to run the Pacer. They still have the capacity to prove they are 100% healthy in the way they require.

Now, what if I said that to prove you are 100% healthy, you had to achieve a certain level on the Pacer…to someone in wheelchair? Here is the catch, there is no way they can perform to the impossible standard I have set.

Does that mean that the individual in a wheelchair is unhealthy? No! They could still be 100% healthy for THEIR BODY. You see, everyone has an optimal health. This means that no one’s health looks the same. There is no one way to measure health because we are all unique. My 100% healthy could look very different than someone else’s 100% healthy.

Mental health is the same way. Just like someone with Asthma might turn to their inhaler for assistance with breathing, individuals with mental illness can use intervention to help them be healthy! Intervention could look like talking to a therapist, expressing their emotions, or even taking prescription medication. We wouldn’t say that Asthma decided if someone was unhealthy so why do we assume that mental illness dictates all factors of health for those who have it?

So, the answer is NO. If I have a mental illness, it does not make me mentally unhealthy, much like having Asthma does not make me physically unhealthy. Are we either 100% healthy or 100% unhealthy? I would say most of the time, we all fall somewhere in between. Health is decided by so much more than a single diagnosis! Our optimal health can be influenced and encouraged by outside factors but, overall, we are the experts on our own optimal health.


Hi! My name is Emily Cline and I am from Christiansburg, Virginia. I recently graduated from Roanoke College with a Bachelor of Arts in both Public Health Studies and Sociology. I hold both my ZUMBA license and my Group Fitness Instructor certification through the American Council on Exercise (ACE) and love the combination they provide in strengthening both mental and physical health! Mental health education is important to me because of the impact it has on every aspect of our lives. Without truly understanding and caring for ourselves, we will never have the opportunity to live this beautiful life to the fullest!

The Mental Health Association offers all services to eligible persons regardless of race, color, national origin or disability.