According to the Oxford dictionary, well-being is ‘the state of being or doing well in life; a happy, healthy or prospering condition; welfare’. The term was first noted in 1613, and in recent years has increasingly been used in the field of, (and sometimes as an alternative to), ‘mental health’, writes Terry Simpson.
In thinking about how to evaluate our Community Reporter training course as part of the Leeds ‘Wellbeing Web’, it seemed like a good idea to try and measure two things – firstly the well-being of participants over the course, and secondly their hopes at the beginning, and whether they were fulfilled.
It turned out that people’s hopes, although very different, were consistent, but ideas about well-being varied considerably.
Rather than take a formal measure, we decided to look at what well-being meant to individual people. In response to the question ‘what does well-being mean to you personally’, the following points were made:
To be honest I think that ‘well-being’ is a little overused within mental health services. I think one can have a relationship with ones mental states that is much more finely grained than wellness or illness, something more akin to a dialogue. Perhaps then well-being is the dialogue. If the dialogue is absent then perhaps that is when things are problematic?
The idea of well-being, to me, is not a specific entity or concept by itself, but it is the conglomeration of different aspects of myself that, together, improve my mood and my ability to function.
The concept of well-being, if there is a definite one, would have to be a loose and fairly ambiguous term so that it is malleable and able to be adapted for the individual. It would have to be closely tied to the idea of holistic care i.e. that there are component parts that make up the entirety (rather than being a distinct entity).
I would analogise this to an umbrella – each of the sections of the hood are the factors contributing to wellbeing and are there to shelter the person from the elements. If one section tears (e.g. there is a setback with their personal relationships) then they are left exposed to the elements.
One idea taken up in the discussion we had at the first meeting of the group was that well-being might be different for each individual, and change as life changes.
The problems that I have had since adolescence have become my normality: I am accustomed to them and anything other would be frightening and unfamiliar.
I do, however, recognise that my state of wellness/illness has moved along a scale with different aspects shifting.
The point is not to make us all ‘happy’ in the same way, but for each person to work out their own path, to their own goal, which they may or may not call ‘well-being’.