Mental Health and Well-being Ecological Model

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

About this 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.

About the Socio-Ecological Model

The “socio-ecological model” (the Ecology of Human Development) was developed by Urie Bronfenbrenner in the late 1970s, as a way to recognize that individuals affect and are affected by a complex range of social influences and nested environmental interactions. –Learn more

A Public Health Approach to Mental Health
There are many ways to understand mental health based on our experiences, families, and cultures. It’s not just about illness. We all have a state of mental health all of the time. A public health approach to mental health helps improve the mental health of all children and families, not just those with diagnoses. Learn about the differences between “mental health” and “mental illness.”

More Info

  • Suggested citations:
    • Michaels, C., Blake, L., Lynn, A., Greylord, T., & Benning, S. (2022, April 18). Mental health and well-being ecological model. Center for Leadership Education in Maternal & Child Public Health, University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. Retrieved DATE, from  
    • Michaels, Cari, Linda Blake, Anna Lynn, Teale Greylord, and Sara Benning. “Mental Health and Well-Being Ecological Model.” Center for Leadership Education in Maternal & Child Public Health, University of Minnesota–Twin Cities. April 18, 2022.
  • View the Reference List
  • Access a Text-only Version of the Model
  • Get background on the Literature Review