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University of Minnesota Extension

New resource for looking at mental health and well-being

Mental health and well-being — Creating a socio-ecological model

A new resource from University of Minnesota and Minnesota Department of Health


Mental well-being can be determined by many things — genetics, family and social connections, access to services, supportive communities and so on. All outside influences on a person or family must be recognized to completely understand and support healthy development among individuals and families.

To illustrate factors that influence mental health and well-being, a team of individuals from across the University of Minnesota (UMN) and Minnesota Department of Health (MDH) created this socio-ecological model of mental health and well-being.

The model

The model (pdf) reflects results of a literature review of articles and resources that contain the terms “mental health” and “ecological systems model” or “ecological systems theory.” This representation is a work in progress — expanded versions will include findings of additional research as well as practice implications.

How to use this model

You can start by asking where you see yourself and your work in this model. 

To what levels of influence are you drawn? Where can you make the most impact? 

Do you help build individuals skills, teach parents, promote equitable access to services, work to reduce discrimination or violence or support policies that promote mental well-being?=

Then, think about how your organization can influence some of the findings within this model. Options are:

  • Learn and teach others to manage stress and cope with adversity
  • Promote individual and family solutions to support mental well-being (e.g., self-efficacy) 
  • 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  
  • Leverage the role of service providers to increase natural social support systems 
  • Coordinate mental health prevention efforts at the federal, state and local levels 
  • Increase collaboration between service organizations to strengthen services 
  • Fund mental health promotion research and community-based supports 
  • Promote equitable resource allocation

 Visit the project website for more information about this model and how to use it.

The Mental Health and Well-Being Ecological Model was created by MDH Child and Family Health Division and three UMN units:

Cadigan, K. & Alberts, M. (2009). Section one: Special education policies through an ecological and family impact lens. University of Minnesota. https://www.purdue.edu/hhs/hdfs/fii/wp-content/uploads/2015/07/s_mnfis02report.pdf

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