Advancing our understanding of mental wellbeing and mental health: The call to embrace complexity over simplification

Research output: Contribution to journalReview articlepeer-review

1 Citation (Scopus)


Objective: Simplified models and schematics can be used to communicate and disseminate scientific evidence and theory, which in turn can improve health literacy; an outcome that plays a fundamental role in improving health outcomes of individuals and populations. This article highlights the risk of oversimplification of scientific research on wellbeing and mental health and explains how it may be impeding health professionals, policy makers, and researchers from advancing and translating our understanding of wellbeing and mental health. Methods: This article reviews several popular wellbeing and mental health schematics and models, reviews their application in relation to the wider scientific literature, and shares insight into the implications of their use for key stakeholders. Results: The current article highlights what the past 40 years of scientific research on wellbeing and its relationship to mental health has taught us: it is complex. Both constructs share common and unique predictors, which share complex interrelationships among themselves and in relation to wellbeing and mental health in general. Simplified models and schematics do not do this complexity justice and should therefore be used with caution. Conclusion: Embracing the complex relationship between mental health and wellbeing can lead to a number of positive changes to the mental health system. It can first lead to much needed advances in mental health assessment. It can improve the design and implementation of interventions that aim to build wellbeing, improve symptoms of mental illness, or both. It can inspire new scientific research and finally can facilitate better health policy.

Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)307-316
Number of pages10
JournalAustralian Psychologist
Issue number4
Publication statusPublished - 1 Aug 2020


  • intervention design
  • mental health
  • mental health assessment
  • policy
  • wellbeing

ASJC Scopus subject areas

  • Arts and Humanities (miscellaneous)
  • Psychology(all)

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