Black Mental Health

Is There a Difference Between Mental Health and Mental Illness?

September 6, 2017

Picture courtesy of Planoly.com

Lately, it seems like mental health and mental illness have become synonymous. To clarify, everyone has mental health, everyone does not have a mental illness or disorder. Society possesses many stigmas regarding mental health. These stigmas are perpetuated by fear of the unknown (mental health being the unknown variable), fear of mental disorders and illnesses being contagious, fear of ostracism, and fear of being different. The truth is that we now live in an information age; there is so much information at the touch of a button, that living in ignorance is no longer an excuse. We all know someone who has been touched by a mental health condition; that is, if we, ourselves, have not experienced our own mental health condition at some point.

Mental Health

Mental health is no different than physical health. They are both affected by many of the same factors, including biology, environment, and access to healthcare. We all should be working to achieve optimal health, which is inclusive of mental health. To achieve a healthy well-being, we must address our physical, mental, emotional, social, and spiritual health. Within our lifetimes, we will face many issues, simply because that is the way life is setup. These issues can vary in their intensity and they can run along a continuum. These issues may include marriage, divorce, birth, death, health scares, weather displacements, and career transitions. They will all affect us in different ways but will affect each of the five categories of our well-being.

Poor mental health is developed when we subvert our emotions and fears about the situations we are facing, rather than dealing with them. However, we may think that we have successfully ignored, buried, or ‘dealt’ with our thoughts and emotions, but we will find that they have a way of continuing with us in our subconscious.

Take for example, stress…stress is linked to so many mental and physical illnesses that its detrimental effects cannot be ignored. Psychosomatic disorders can also be caused by stress; these disorders are physical illnesses or diseases affected by mental factors. In addition, somatoform disorders, illnesses that include physical symptoms but no physical causes, may also result from ongoing stress.

Mental health management, like physical health, is essential for everyone.

Mental Illness

Mental illnesses consist of mental health conditions that affect our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. As noted above, these conditions can arise due to various factors including biology and environment, and can develop during stressful periods in our lives, including birth, divorce, and other life transitions. The American Psychiatric Association (APA) noted that 1 in 5 adults experience some form of mental illness, and 1 in 24 experience serious mental illness.

Mental disorders change our thoughts, emotions, and behaviors. The disorders, that are diagnosed by mental health professionals, are medically valid and treatable. However, because of our fears and lack of knowledge, many of us will not seek help. Yet, having a diagnosis of generalized anxiety disorder or social anxiety disorder is no different from a diagnosis of asthma or bronchitis. They all require us to seek out professional treatment and may require medication. Yet, there is no stigma attached to asthma or bronchitis.

Mental illness can also be used interchangeably with mental disorders as mental illness refers to mental disorders that are treated by mental health professionals. Mental illness is sometimes used to refer to more severe mental conditions, such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder. Mental disorders and illnesses usually runs along a continuum in their severity of symptoms.

It is important to remember that just as people live daily with physical illnesses, so too can people live with mental illnesses. In our search to achieve optimal mental health, as noted by the Canadian Mental Health Association, there are individuals who have poor mental health and no mental illness and there are individuals who successfully have healthy mental health while living with mental illness.

Considerations

Lastly, let’s remember that mental health is manifested daily in our lives in the way we treat ourselves, our loved ones, and the way we operate in our daily environments. Mental health and mental illnesses are not static, they evolve as we evolve. We may experience mental health symptoms as we go through life transitions, embracing our thoughts and feelings, and talking about them can help. Therapy is available to us to help us through life transitions – when we are at our most vulnerable states – not only when we have a mental disorder or illness. This is the same as going to a medical physician for an annual check-up. Let us be authentic and brave in caring for our whole selves.

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