Mental Health and Well-being Ecological Model

Mental Health and Well-being: A Socio-Ecological Model


This model (PDF) was created to visually illustrate the individual, family, organization, community and societal  factors that influence mental health and well-being.

The World Health Organization describes health as “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Similarly, this mental well-being model considers the whole person and mental health across the lifespan. 

Food for Thought 

The influence of all contexts, systems and environments on an individual and family must be recognized to completely understand and support healthy development among individuals and families (Cadigan & Alberts, 2009). This socio-ecological model was created to help shift the narrative about mental health and mental illness from an individual issue to include the social and environmental responsibility of others (Biglan et. al., 2013)

This model also helps to shift the mental health narrative from one focused on illness to mental well-being, or flourishing (Keyes, 2013). The context that the socio-ecological model provides helps us to consider the range of strategies available to promote healthy development, and mental well-being. A focus on mental health promotion acknowledges the presence of disorders but recognizes the importance of supporting healthy mental functioning for all.

We hope this ecological model will help with some “big picture” rethinking about mental health to promote a range of strategies across these domains.  

How to Use this Model

How do we move from understanding the literature into taking action? You can start by asking:

  • Where do I see myself, my work, or my organization in this model? 
  • To what level of influence am I drawn? 
  • Where can I make the most impact? 

Then, think about the statements below, or create your own. List some specific and actionable short, medium, and long-term steps that you and/or your organization may take. 

  • Promote individual and family solutions to support mental well-being (e.g., self-efficacy) 
  • Learn and teach others to manage stress and cope with adversity
  • Provide health education to support parent-child/caregiver-child relationships
  • Promote social connections – between family, neighbors, employees, etc.
  • Expand youth development in schools
  • Increase skill-based learning to promote adaptability, coping and resilience  
  • Coordinate mental health prevention efforts at the federal, state, and local levels 
  • Support local communities taking an active role in co-creating solutions
  • Increase collaboration between service organizations to strengthen service coverage, access and the referral process for a more integrative, comprehensive approach
  • Leverage the role of service providers to increase natural social support systems 
  • Fund mental health promotion research and community-based supports 
  • Promote equitable resource allocation

Next Steps

This mental health and well-being ecological model is in its infancy stage, and its authors consider it a work in progress. Future versions will further flesh out the model’s content. Currently, the statements on the model address the “What?” (i.e., what are the influencing factors around mental health and well-being?). The next step is to help make this ecological model more actionable by answering the “How?” (i.e., how can we change practices to maximize the impact of these influencing factors and improve mental health and well-being?).

Additionally, the statements on this version are reflected only from strict literature review findings. Future versions will include statements based on a broader swath of the research (and practice!) than what was uncovered in the initial literature review.

More Info

View the Reference List

Access a Text-only Version of the Model

Get background on the Literature Review