This paper argues that the capacity of individuals and of society as a whole to ‘contain’ experience, and to use this as a basis for thought, is central to good health. The paper first defines and describes ‘containing’ and thinking, with reference to a psychoanalytic model, and compares these definitions with similar concepts. The circumstances that promote or impede the development of the capacity for thought are then outlined, and a spectrum of this capacity is described and correlated with a spectrum of vulnerability‐resilience to ill health. A review of the associated literature indicates significant links to health‐related behaviours, health outcomes and inequalities; interventions at a population level could aim to shift people at the vulnerable end of the spectrum towards resilience. However such measures are unlikely to be effective on their own: what is needed is a containing and thinking society, characterised by a wish to know about reality, and to link together information about the state of its citizens and the wider world. The paper concludes with a discussion of the political and policy‐making implications.
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