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Mental health is not the same as mental illness

Published: 
Wednesday, March 7, 2018
MENTAL HEALTH MATTERS

Why is it so very easy to immediately think of mental illness once we hear the words mental health?

Much of the conversations people have had about mental health focuses on mental illness. But there’s more to mental health and mental well-being than simply being with or without mental illness. And mental health is not mental illness.

Among those writing and researching mental well-being, which has become more topical globally, are people who understand mental health and who accept that mental health is neither the same nor necessarily the opposite of mental illness.

Mental health is something that every human being has or, as I like to say whenever I engage an audience, “If you have a mind then you have mental health. At any moment in one’s life, you may have good mental health or you may not. You may experience bad mental health for a period and resume your good mental health after. Everyone with a mind, however, has mental health.”

But not everyone has mental illnesses or disorders. Yet everyone with a mind, if they do not maintain good mental health, is susceptible to mental illness, issues, problems, distress, or disorders. And as in many other health situations, some vulnerabilities exist which predisposes some to mental ill health.

It is the exact concept as having a body and having physical health. Some people are physically well; at times a person experiences physical illness, which is treated and they return to good physical health.

Sometimes a person may have a physical illness that is treatable but not curable, but overall they are managing their illness and enjoying good physical well-being, or not.

Recently, I have been looking at a model which may appear over simplified, but nevertheless it makes a good point about teaching that every human being has mental health or experiences varying degrees of mental health and we do so on a continuous basis meandering from periods of good mental health to periods of bad mental health to disorder to recovery, interchangeably, altogether and throughout our lives.

In The Interrelationship of Mental Health States, Dr Stan Kutcher discusses the significance of the relationship of different mental health states and the importance of language in helping us to define and differentiate mental health and its varying stages which could include periods or incidents of mental ill health.

This scholarship teaches that, “A person can be in one or more of these mental health states at the same time. For example: a person can (be diagnosed with) Schizophrenia (a mental disorder), their mother has recently died (a mental health problem), they lost their car keys earlier today (mental distress) and now they are hanging out with a friend and enjoying themselves.

And there are people with on-going mental disorders. The key to good mental health or good well-being has to do with issues such as management of health and recovery from periods of illness. There are people whose mental health is so disordered that they need long-term care. There are others who can manage the disorder and participate actively in their own recovery and care.

Your mental state can impact your ability to enjoy life. A poor state can affect your physical and mental health and interfere with you having a balanced and rewarding life. Everyone can benefit from learning how to enhance and protect their mental health—whether or not they have or are experiencing mental illness.

Mental health is not the same as mental illness.

• Caroline C Ravello is a strategic communications and media professional and a public health practitioner. She holds an MA with Merit in Mass Communications (University of Leicester) and is a Master of Public Health With Distinction (The UWI).

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