Mental health and mental illness are sometimes used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing.
Mental health is a state of well-being that reflects our psychological, emotional and social well-being, just like physical health.
Mental illness causes dysfunction in one’s life, like the ability to work and live a normal life, affects a person’s thinking, feeling, mood or behaviour with disorders like depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, schizophrenia, and eating disorders.
What’s the difference?
Good mental health implies being able to rely on your abilities, such as managing stress and working efficiently.
Everyone, just like you, can have moments of poor mental health, which can cause emotional distress and psychological problems but that does not mean you have mental health illnesses.
Mental health disorders have to be medically diagnosed and significant impairments usually improve when medical intervention is provided. Management usually entails medication as well as learning coping methods to manage everyday life, such as exercising, journalling, socialising with loved ones and adopting a healthy lifestyle.
Although everyone has mental health, not everyone suffers from a mental illness. It is possible to have poor mental health without having a mental health disorder, and vice versa.
How do you know your mental illness wasn’t merely poor mental health, for example, if you’ve been following good sleep habits, a healthy diet, exercising, and so on, but something still doesn’t feel quite right?
The theme of 2022’s World Mental Health Month is, ‘Make mental health and well-being for all a global priority’. If we are to realise this goal we need to highlight and correct the misconception that mental health and mental illness are synonymous with each other.
The idea that mental health and mental illnesses are the same brings with it a stigma and closes off many minds to consider what needs to be done to live a life of mental well-being, says Natasha Freemantle of The Kids Mental Well-being Collective.
To prove this point, Freemantle recently asked the question, “What word comes to mind when you hear the term ‘mental health?” on her various social media platforms.
She noted that the responses were largely what she had expected, saying “people in the mental health and psychology fields responded favourably, using words like ‘brain’, ‘balance’, ‘clarity’ and ‘pleasure’, while others used more negative words like ‘suicide’, ‘depression’ and ‘stigma’.
“What needs to be understood is that everyone has mental health, just like everyone has health.
“During a lifetime, not all people will experience a mental illness, but everyone will struggle or have a challenge with their mental well-being just like we all have challenges with our physical well-being from time to time. When we talk about mental health, we’re talking about our mental well-being: our emotions, our thoughts and feelings, our ability to solve problems and overcome difficulties, our social connections, and our understanding of the world around us,” she said.
When we have good mental health we enjoy meaningful relationships, we are caring and compassionate, we succeed, we work hard and are responsible, and feel good about who we are. We can overcome difficulties when they arise because we have the necessary abilities.
“To ensure our children realise their right to thrive, while also raising the collective mental health of current and future generations, we need to work to spread this message and correct people’s ideas of what mental health is,” Freemantle said in a statement.