Mental Health vs Mental Illness

Since being diagnosed with type 2 bipolar, studying and working in the mental health space, a few integral points have become very clear to me. These points I want to share with you to give you a little more insight into understanding mental health and mental illness and to know the difference without all the technical talk.

Mental health is not mental illness although they are very much correlated. I believe this is one of the most fundamental facts of understanding what mental health is. In my experience a lot (not everyone) of society has not grasped or understood this fully. When I present my presentations and workshops I ask the question what is mental health? A simple question right? Not all the time. The majority of answers I get back include “it's depression, its anxiety”.

No, what we need to understand is that they are mental illnesses. Mental health is the state of our mind, our ability to cope with changes and challenges in life without giving up, it is how we think act and feel, how we handle stress, how we relate to others and our ability to enjoy life.

Every single human being on this planet has a mental health just like everyone has a physical health. If individuals understood this point I believe they would be more pro-active in understanding and managing their own mental health better. I believe they would hold themselves instead of others a lot more accountable when managing, dealing with and sometimes struggling with their own mental health.

We all understand that with our physical health if we smoke, take drugs, drink excessively, don’t exercise, don’t eat healthy and don’t get enough sleep, we can experience poor physical health and sometimes be diagnosed with a physical illness.

The same applies for our mental health. When we go through an adversity in life what ever it may be. If we don’t create and use support networks, learn, implement and action our own tailored positive coping strategies, put the right things into our body, don’t get enough sleep, sweep issues under the carpet, suppress feelings and emotions and don’t educate ourselves about our own mental health we can struggle with mental ill-health and sometimes be diagnosed with a mental illness (understand there is a lot of other contributing factors to mental illness that was just detailing a few to help you understand my point)

The next point that I believe is very important to understand and again will assist individuals in being more pro active when managing their own mental health, is that we are all on the mental health scale. 

This scale ranges from 0-1-2-3-4-5-6-7-8-9-10.

0 – feeling extremely bad, feeling at rock bottom, seeing no light at the end of the tunnel and really struggling.

10 – Feeling extremely good, flourishing feeling the best you have ever felt.

We all are on this scale and we all move up and down this scale every second, of every minute, of every hour, of every day. Every individual goes through different adversities at different points in their lives and every individual handles these adversities in different ways. What we need to know is that we will move up and down this scale. In doing that we are going to experience different feelings and emotions and react in different ways. We may experience different signs and symptoms of mental ill-health or poor mental health during and after these adversities but this does not mean we have a mental illness.

To many times in life we self diagnose (me included) we feel a certain way or something happens to cause us to feel a certain way and we will tell or convince ourselves we are depressed.

No it can just mean that we are going through a tough time or feeling down. If the signs or symptoms we are experiencing go on for a longer period of 2-3 weeks with no change, that is when we need to seek some professional help. Being diagnosed with a mental illness involves a complicated process that should be left to the clinical professionals. For an individual experiencing mental ill-health or poor mental health for a longer period of 2-3 weeks needs to seek professional help, the first port of call being your GP.

If you are experiencing a mental health emergency, please call Lifeline on 131114 or 000.