A Synergistic Conception of Adolescents’ Mental Health

Authored by: Tyler L. Renshaw , Michael J. Furlong , Erin Dowdy , Jennica Rebelez , Douglas C. Smith , Meagan D. O’Malley , Sueng-Yeon Lee , Ida Frugård Strøm

Handbook of Positive Psychology in Schools

Print publication date:  March  2014
Online publication date:  February  2014

Print ISBN: 9780415621854
eBook ISBN: 9780203106525
Adobe ISBN: 9781136258398


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Interest in promoting youths’ psychological well-being has traditionally taken a one-dimensional model of mental health. This perspective considers psychological distress and well-being as being opposite states of human functioning that are represented as opposing poles of a single mental health continuum. Taking from this perspective, reductions in youths’ psychological distress (e.g., emotional or behavioral symptoms) are synonymous with enhancements to their well-being (e.g., happiness or prosocial behavior) and vice versa (cf. Keyes, 2007). Although this traditional model is parsimonious and intuitive, whether it is comprehensive enough to adequately describe youth mental health has been questioned in recent years as emerging research has examined multiple-component (e.g., two-continua or dual-factor) models of mental health. Compared to a one-dimensional model, multicomponent models propose that the elements of psychological distress and well-being are related-yet-distinct aspects of human functioning and they should be represented as separate-yet-associated mental health continua. Several studies have yielded evidence supporting a two-dimensional model of youth mental health by showing that both the presence of distress and the absence of well-being are independently associated with impairments in youths’ school performance (Suldo & Shaffer, 2008). Both positive and negative indicators of mental health have been shown to have additive value in predicting students’ attendance and academic achievement over time (Suldo, Thalji, & Ferron, 2011). Given these emerging findings, we propose that there is a need to attend to both symptoms of distress and personal strengths and assets when considering youths’ complete mental health.

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