Wellness, or well-being, is a subcategory of mental health. According to the National Institute of Mental Health, self-care “means taking the time to do things that help you live well and improve both your physical and mental health.” The sociological analysis of mental health focuses on the impact of social conditions that affect well-being. Additionally, inequities in wealth, education, and power are social conditions that can affect mental health and well-being and access to mental health resources.

On June 25, 2022, President Biden signed the Bipartisan Safer Communities Act into law. This legislation expands important mental health services and provides additional support for states and districts to design and enhance initiatives promoting safer, more inclusive, and more positive school environments. The Community Mental Health Act of 1963, which President Kennedy proposed and signed, was a progenitor of the 2022 act. This 1963 act included the provision of federal funding for community mental health centers and research facilities devoted to studies that focused on mental health.

In 2016, the Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA) launched the wellness initiative to help individuals live healthier lives. It proposed eight dimensions of wellness:

  • Emotional wellness focuses on expressing your feelings and having coping strategies to deal with social stressors.
  • Environmental wellness involves having access to amenities that promote being safe and feeling safe.
  • Financial wellness involves understanding money management.
  • Intellectual wellness encourages participation in activities that promote lifelong learning.
  • Occupational wellness involves the promotion of meaning and purpose in employment and community engagement.
  • Physical wellness focuses on participation in activities that helps us feel healthy and active.
  • Social wellness entails having healthy relationships with individuals and community.
  • Spiritual wellness focuses on meaning and purpose.

For details about each dimension, you can view the SAMHSA video and workbook included in the References section.

Thinking about the dimensions of wellness, sociologists could examine how social conditions can affect individuals’ abilities to achieve them. For example, individuals’ socioeconomic statuses affect whether they can achieve optimal financial well-being. Regarding physical wellness, healthy foods are important. However, people who live in food deserts or food swamps that are the result of food apartheid may not have access to grocery stores or farmer's markets selling fresh, nutritious foods. A sociological analysis of individuals’ abilities to achieve environmental wellness could focus on the resources necessary to promote sustainability and environmental justice. Are neighborhoods near factories that produce toxic pollutants? Do people in the neighborhoods have access to clean water and clean energy? What is the walkability index for the neighborhoods? Do the neighborhoods include public green spaces?

Engagement in wellness is a perpetual process and a process influenced by social conditions. As much as possible, organizations should create wellness initiatives that consider social conditions that may influence people’s ability to engage in wellness activities.

Discussion Questions

1. Take some time for reflection. For each wellness component, identify one way to improve the component in your life.

2. Still reflecting on each component, what barriers or social stressors can you identify that would keep you, other students, or people you know from improving this component?

3. What actions do you think you could take to help relieve those barriers or social stressors for institutional change, other students, and yourself?


Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (2023, July 12). Health-Related Quality of Life (HRQOL): Well-Being Concepts. https://www.cdc.gov/hrqol/wellbeing.htm

Horowitz, Allan V. (2010). “An Overview of Sociological Perspectives on the Definitions, Causes, and Responses to Mental Health and Illness.” Pp. 6–19 in A Handbook for the Study of Mental Health: Social Contexts, Theories, and Systems, edited by Teresa L. Scheid and Tony N. Brown. New York: Cambridge University Press.  

National Institute of Mental Health. (2023, July 27). Caring for Your Mental Health. https://www.nimh.nih.gov/health/topics/caring-for-your-mental-health

Senator Chris Murphy Webpage. (2023, July 27). Bipartisan Safer Communities Act One Pager. https://www.murphy.senate.gov/imo/media/doc/bipartisan_safer_communities_act_one_pager.pdf

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2016). Creating a Healthier Life: A Step-by-Step Guide to Wellness Workbook. https://store.samhsa.gov/sites/default/files/d7/priv/sma16-4958.pdf.

Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA). (2023, July 27). Reflecting on JFK’s Legacy of Community-based Care. https://www.samhsa.gov/homelessness-programs-resources/hpr-resources/jfks-legacy-community-based-care

United States Congress. (2023, July 27). S.2938 – Bipartisan Safer Communities Act. https://www.congress.gov/bill/117th-congress/senate-bill/2938/text

White House Video. (2023, July 27). President Biden Delivers Remarks on Expanding Access to Mental Health Care. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=J2iIB6RcZFA

World Health Organization. (2023, July 12). Constitution. https://www.who.int/about/governance/constitution

YouTube. (2016, July 1). Substance Abuse and Mental Health Services Administration (SAMHSA): The Eight Dimensions of Wellness. https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=tDzQdRvLAfM.