ISSUE ADDRESSED:To quantify people's perceptions of mental health identified in qualitative research and to inform mental health promotion communication strategies. METHODS:A statewide telephone survey of 1,500 adults was conducted in Western Australia using a structured questionnaire containing both open and closed-ended questions. RESULTS:The vast majority of people had negative (or illness) connotations to the words 'mental health', but had positive connotations to the term 'mentally healthy person'. The three factors perceived to contribute most to being mentally healthy were: having good friends to talk problems over with; keeping one's mind active; and the opportunity to have control over one's life. The three factors perceived to contribute most to being mentally unhealthy were: excessive use of alcohol or drugs; having no friends or support network; and life crises o traumas. The phrase 'being content with who you are' best summed up good mental health. Older people generally placed greater emphasis than younger people on cognitive functioning and keeping physically healthy for good mental health. CONCLUSIONS:People's beliefs about factors influencing mental health are consistent with much of the literature. Communication components of mental health promotion interventions based on the data reported here would be viewed as credible and relevant by most people.