Mental Fitness Science

Understanding Population Mental Health

An estimated 45% of people will experience a mental health disorder in their lifetime. That is nearly 1 in 2 individuals across the developed world. Every year, an estimated 1 in 5 adults are diagnosed with a mental illness and the statistics are expected to continue to rise (Australian Bureau of Statistics, 2008). Less than half of these people will seek help. By 2023, the WHO predicts that mental ill-health will become the biggest ‘disease burden’ in public health. 

The reasons behind these statistics are as complex as they are discouraging. Workplace mental health initiatives are often not strategic nor engaging, and can be considered reactive rather than preventative.  Further, the concept of mental health is often stigmatized, and treated differently than physical illness. This makes early intervention and treatment a challenge. Moreover, attitudes toward mental health such as ‘I was born this way’ or ‘there’s nothing I can do’ entrench people’s sense of disempowerment. 

Mental health is often thought of in two categories; those that have a diagnosed mental illness and those that do not.  However, emerging research shows that just like physical health, mental health can be represented on a spectrum, varying from illness to optimal health, and a range in between (e.g., Huppert, 2009, see figure 1). The majority of people are classified as “moderately mentally healthy”, absent of mental illness but not classified as “mentally fit”, or having high levels of wellbeing (Keyes, 2002). They are fine, but often feel there’s more to life that they are missing out on. Often they don’t feel confident or equipped to understand and act on their inner experience.

Beyond these categories, another important distinction exists on the mental health spectrum.  There is a section of the population who are ‘languishing’, or what we refer to as ‘struggling.’ The struggling population do not currently meet the strict criteria for a diagnosable mental illness, but often become easily overwhelmed by uncertainty, setbacks and change. In the workplace, people in this category are often disengaged from work, involved in more interpersonal conflict, and are less likely to be positive contributors to workplace culture.

Research shows that a majority of those classified as ‘struggling’ reported severe activity limitation, loss of workdays, cutbacks of time at work, and were 89% less likely to report very good or excellent emotional health (Keyes, 2002).

the mental health continuum

A New Approach

Until recently, most of the field of psychology has been focused on treatment of individuals in the “mental illness” category. However, the emerging discipline of Positive Psychology (the scientific study of wellbeing) has focused on studying mentally fit individuals, or those with very high levels of Mental Fitness.  

“What is it about the way that mentally fit individuals think and behave that enables them to remain resilient and productive during difficult times?”

Research shows that the skills and characteristics of mentally fit individuals can be cultivated, developed and taught to all individuals across the mental health spectrum (Diener & Biswas-Diener, 2008; Haidt & Keyes, 2003; Gillham & Seligman, 1999).  This is particularly important for the struggling population that are high risk for developing mental disorders as well as moderately mentally healthy individuals that may become at risk in the future.

A new approach is need to captivate and engage people across the spectrum, without putting them off the topic before their curiosity is extinguished.


The Case for Mental Fitness

Preventative strategies are not new for public health organisations such as governments, universities, medical providers, and health insurers (e.g., Styger & Richardson, 2017; Heslop et al., 2018).  The past few decades have seen a renewed focus on increasing the protective factors for physical health such as heathy diet, quality sleep and regular exercise.  The emphasis on physical fitness rather than physical health/illness has been one effective strategy to enable individuals to take an active role in their own physical health. 

More recently there is growing evidence that suggests specific and targeted wellbeing activities and practices have a beneficial effect on wellbeing outcomes across the lifespan. Just as the physical fitness literature indicates, our Mental Fitness also requires our constant attention and the cultivation of good practices (Robinson, 2017; 2014; Robinson, Oades & Caputi, 2015; Zolezzi, 2017). Evidence suggests that individuals are able to learn the skills of wellbeing and achieve measurable improvements in their daily functioning and personal and professional performance through focused and relatable Mental Fitness training & skills programs. 

Creating high levels of Mental Fitness not only helps people function better, it can also produce a significant economic benefit. 

According to the World Health Organisation (2018), more than 300 million people globally suffer from depression, which is now a leading cause of disability worldwide.  Mental illness doesn’t just impact individuals, it has a high economic cost, with depression and anxiety alone currently costing the global economy US$925 billion each year (Chisholm et al., 2016).  Some governments and organisations have taken notice and begun investing heavily in evidence-based wellbeing programs.  Research has shown that organisations that invest in positive mental health initiatives can receive an average return on investment of $2.30 for every $1 spent (Beyondblue & PwC, 2014).

Furthermore, as the science of Mental Fitness reaches boardrooms, line managers, and becomes a part of into how individuals and their managers interact, corporate objectives such as burnout prevention, creative collaboration, employee retention, improved employer branding & talent attraction, leadership development, as well as inclusion & belonging can all be enhanced.

The Opportunity

While it is unreasonable to believe that wellbeing interventions can eliminate mental illness altogether, they can be applied to help many teams and individuals with strategies to cope with existing illnesses or even prevent the development of mental health problems before they arise. 

Wellbeing interventions can be thought of as a form of ‘inoculation’ for low levels of mental health.  Through regular practice of evidence-based strategies, individuals and organisations can help develop protective factors that can keep people healthier for longer, saving significant costs and resources that would otherwise be spent trying to treat illness after it occurs.

It is clear that a systematic, evidence-based wellbeing strategy can have a profound impact on individuals, organisations and society.  Mental Fitness Hub believe that implementing a proactive longer-term wellbeing strategy can bring specific desirable benefits to your organisation including: 

Reduced Claims Expenses

Evidence shows that improved levels of wellbeing are associated with:

  • Faster recovery from surgery (Seligman, 2011; Theunissen, et al., 2016; Broadbent, et al., 2012; Kopp, et al., 2003; Robles, Brooks, & Pressman, 2009).
  • Lower incidence of cancer (Robb, et al., 2015; Dutton & Raggins, 2007; Heaphy & Dutton, 2008).
  • Improved immunity to colds and flu viruses (Dutton & Raggins, 2007; Heaphy & Dutton, 2008)
  • Reduced incidence of heart attacks and cardiovascular disease (Dutton & Raggins, 2007; Heaphy & Dutton, 2008; Boehm & Kubzansky, 2012; Radler, Rigotti & Ryff, 2018; Howell, Kern & Lyubomirsky, 2007).
  • Increased ability to cope with stress (Dutton & Raggins, 2007; Heaphy & Dutton, 2008; Denovan & Macaskill, 2016; Urquijo, Extremera, & Villa, 2015).
  • Reduced disability and dementia later in life (Boyle, et al., 2010a; Boyle, Buchman, & Bennett, 2010b; Ostir, et al., 2000).
  • Fewer illnesses (Seligman, et al., 2009; Cohen et al., 2006; Freidman & Ryff, 2012; Ryff, Radler & Freeman, 2015; Diener, et al., 2017)
  • Reduced inflammation (Morozink, et al., 2010; Elliot & Chapman, 2016)
  • Higher levels of mental acuity (Seligman, et al., 2009; Byrne & Thatchenkery, 2019)
  • Greater resilience following trauma (Seligman, et al., 2009; Smith, et al., 2016)
  • Lower clinical levels of depression and anxiety (Brunwasser, Gillham & Kim, 2009)
  • Reduced EAP & Workers Compensation Insurance premiums (Safe Work Australia, 2019)

Better Organizational Outcomes

Workplaces that invest in meaningful, evidence-based wellbeing strategy and practices see a host of internal benefits including:

  • Higher levels of worker satisfaction and productivity (Dutton & Raggins, 2007; Heaphy & Dutton, 2008; Nielson, et al., 2017; Carolan, Harris & Cavanagh, 2017; Ilies, et al., 2016)
  • Stronger verbal communication skills (Fredrickson, 2001)
  • Increased creativity (Seligman, et al., 2009; Byrne & Thatchenkery, 2019)
  • Better performance at work (Seligman, et al., 2009; Allen & McCarthy, 2015)
  • Improved ability to make decisions (Seligman et al., 2009)
  • Greater tolerance towards others (Fredrickson, 2001; Nila, et al., 2015)
  • Reduced absenteeism and presenteeism (Avey, et al., 2006)
  • Higher levels of adaptive selling, individual effort, self-efficacy, and citizenship behavior (Verbeke, et al., 2004).
  • Better compliance with HR obligations and Psychosocial Safety Regulations (Safe Work Australia, 2019)
  • Higher staff retention (Petersen & Luthans, 2003; Luthans and Jensen, 2005)
  • Higher uptake of change (buy-in)

Advances in Positive Mental Health

Whilst an emphasis on physical fitness continues to be an important approach for improved health outcomes, over the past 30 years, the science of psychological wellbeing (positive mental health) has continued to grow. Studies have revealed many tangible social, emotional and economic benefits of improvements in wellbeing across individual, team, organisational and community contexts.

Researchers have also produced several evidence-based frameworks of wellbeing to deliver their wellbeing activities and interventions, for example, the Mental Fitness Model. The term Mental Fitness emphasizes the dynamic (changeable) nature of psychological functioning and suggests that, just as we can improve our physical fitness, we can improve our Mental Fitness through regular, intentional activities that form positive habits of mind.

The Mental Fitness Model: A Practical and Scientific Approach

The Mental Fitness Model (TM)
Mental Fitness Factors

Developed by Robinson, Oades & Caputi; 2014, 2015

Principles of Mental Fitness

The Mental Fitness Model is scientifically based on four basic principles:

  1. Fitness is a positive and popular term without connotations of illness implied by the terms ‘mental health’ or ‘mental illness’. The right language is crucial for engagement;
  2. Mental fitness can be understood by individuals and organisations in a similar way to physical fitness;
  3. Mental fitness is measurable (via the Mental Fitness Index);
  4. Mental fitness can be improved in a way similar to physical fitness (by regular practice) to produce positive habits of mind, optimal functioning and competitive edge.

Scientifically Evaluated

The Mental Fitness Model has been scientifically formed, evaluated and ratified by an international expert panel based on specific and rigorous selection criteria (Robinson, Oades & Caputi, 2014; 2015; Robinson, 2016; 2018). The panelists were drawn internationally from countries including Denmark, United Kingdom, Canada, United States of America, Australia and New Zealand. The Mental Fitness package (model, measure and activities) is now being successfully utilized by many individuals, schools, universities and organisations.

Mental Fitness as a Process to Build Wellbeing & Resilience

The Mental Fitness Model  incorporates physical and mental fitness together with practical interventions to assist individuals, teams and organisations to feel good and function well, more often. The interventions are delivered via the following 4 strategies:




The quality of our connections with other people is one of the best predictors of good mental health and sustained Mental Fitness. Quality connections are when our relationships feel supportive, authentic and serve a purpose in our lives. We need to invest in connection with a specific plan and prioritize it, as well as learn how to offer support to others during periods of distress. Whose team are you on, and who is on your team?
Build Team in Your Workplace




Endurance allows us to withstand and adapt to stress, and build resilience without giving up what’s important to us.

Managing our energy and maximizing positive emotions is vital to building resilience. This means understanding the way we eat, sleep and move impacts our Mental Fitness as well as how we formulate our next steps.

How can I keep going?
Build Endurance in Your Workplace




Flexibility is our ability to choose the right response at the right time and not allow too many negative emotions (helpful though they sometimes are) to overwhelm or misdirect us.

Flexibility helps us to choose the right response at the right time.

How can I be flexible?
Build Flexibility in Your Workplace

Mental Fitness for Workplace & Community Wellbeing

The Mental Fitness Model above contains over 25 proven psychological and physical wellbeing concepts with supporting activities and practices that can be modified, visually customised, white labelled and/or scaled specifically for any individual, team, organisation, community, city, or indeed, a country.

Discover how the Mental Fitness Model brings together ideas such as mindfulness, gratitude, connection, purpose and reframing into a practical set of life skills for work and for home.

Learn how we can unleash the power of Mental Fitness in your workplace.

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