Mental Health vs. Mental Illness 🧠
Learn what distinguishes Mental Health & Illness (6min read)
Mental Health is how we think, feel, & act
Emotional Health is how we react
Mental & Emotional Wellbeing is a measure of Mental Health
Mental Illness is diagnosed by a doctor & in the DSM-5
Mental Health & Mental Illness Graph
Mental Health vs. Mental Illness
Today we will be covering one of the most confusing topics in the Mental Health realm, the difference between “Mental Health” & “Mental Illness!”
What are they, how do they relate, & how to tell the difference are all questions you will have answered shortly!
Let’s dive in.
Mental Health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act.
It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices.
Everyone has Mental Health.
Yes, you read that right, adults, teens, children, elderly people, babies, everyone has mental health!
This is because we all have brains. Mental health relates to the health of the hardware between our ears.
In fact, 1 in 5 Americans has experienced a mental health issue in their lifetime!
It’s similar to physical health, which is how your body is doing, like your weight or heart health for example.
Mental health relates to how you process incoming data and determines how you handle things like:
Interactions with others
An important part of Mental health is Emotional health. This is another term that can make things more confusing, so let’s define this as well.
Imagine Mental Health as the Hardware and Emotional Health as the software!
Mental health can be thought more of as thinking, whereas emotional health is more about expressing.
Mental health involves processing all the information we encounter, but Emotional health is more about the feelings expressed by the data that’s been processed.
Neurologically, our feelings & emotions are different things.
Emotions are automatic reactions, feelings need cognition, & past experiences to label a set of thoughts & emotions as a feeling.
This is why Emotional health is part of Mental health.
Emotional health blends emotional intelligence (EQ) with emotional regulation.
Key elements that make up Emotional health include:
Being aware of your emotions
Accepting your feelings
Processing and managing those feelings
Expressing your feelings
There is clear research that shows emotional health is a skill. You can improve upon this no matter who you are, or how old you are!
Considering Emotional health is a part of Mental Health it is an important part of overall health.
It allows you to have more control of your thoughts, feelings, and behaviors.
It also allows you to cope with challenges and bounce back from setbacks.
Mental & Emotional Health Together
Being Mentally & Emotionally healthy doesn’t mean you’re happy all the time either.
Everyone has ups and downs just like you may not always be the weight you want to be, but it’s not irreversible.
Mental & Emotional Well Being means you can deal with positive or negative emotions effectively.
You still feel stress, anger, and sadness, but you know how to manage these things.
Most importantly, you can tell when you need help, and seek that help out!
Mental & Emotional health are like teammates because emotions can only be expressed appropriately when they have accurate information coming in.
For example, if you’re having anxious thoughts, your cognitive ability would be lowered, meaning your emotional responses may be altered as well.
Balancing these two things is a marker of your overall Mental & Emotional Wellbeing.
This brings us to Mental Illness. Mental Illness is like physical illness.
There’s a clear difference between being a little overweight, and having smallpox.
One is a serious illness that you need to go to the doctor to get diagnosed, and treated for.
Everyone gets anxious at times (Mental Health), but “anxiety” is a diagnosable disorder.
You may feel depressed after a setback (Emotional Health), but “depression” is a diagnosable disorder.
When feelings like these don’t go away after a few weeks, and you’ve tried things like exercising, eating better, sleeping better, etc to handle these feelings by yourself, it’s time to seek out professional help.
Mental Illnesses are diagnosed with something called the DSM, which stands for the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders.
This is a tool that clinicians use to create a common language around these disorders so that it’s easier to diagnose & treat patients more effectively.
Notice DSM has the word “Statistical” in it, this is because diagnosing a Mental Illness is more subjective than objective at the current moment.
There are sets of symptoms that equate to a certain diagnosis, but no objective tests yet.
This is something Neuroscience research is helping solve.
By learning more about the brain and how it functions we can create objective measures of Mental dysfunction!
This is very important research because right now, “Mental Illness” actually refers to over 200 different types of disorders which are categorized into 5 main groups:
Anxiety disorders are the most common by far. This group includes things like Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Phobias, OCD, & PTSD.
27% of US citizens deal with some kind of anxiety disorder weekly.
What Causes Mental Illnesses?
This is not an easy question to answer at all, and there is new research coming out weekly, but some of the most common causes are:
Inflammation of the body & brain
Inherited traits & Genetics
Detrimental environmental exposures before birth
Adverse Childhood Experience & Trauma (ACEs)
Brain chemistry imbalances
Traumatic experiences (PTSD) or injuries like concussions (TBI)
We don’t have time to dive into the Neuroscience of Mental Illnesses today, but we will be covering each of these topics in-depth in a blog post coming soon!
For now, I hope it’s more clear to see the difference between Mental Health, and Mental Illnesses.
The Mental Health/Illness Spectrum
One final point to drive home this message is a graph.
If you look at this graph, you’ll notice that both Mental Health & Mental Illness have scales of severity.
They cross with one another creating quadrants. This is because even if you do have a Mental Illness, your Mental Health can be good at times.
This is an easy way to differentiate these things in your mind.
I hope this was helpful, if it was, please consider forwarding today’s post to one friend or coworker so we can grow our Heroes Digest community!
Thank you, and until next time… Live Heroically! 🧠