The Difference Between Mental Health and Mental Illness

It’s been a long haul with the pandemic, but there is a silver lining amid all the disruption. Conversations that address the basic needs of humanity-D&I, stress, flexible work hours, for example, have fortunately come to the forefront. In my view, one such subject that is in dire need of attention is the need for sound mental health and resilience.

Sound mental health determines our ability to live happy, productive, and meaningful lives. Yet, it has remained a taboo subject for far too long. What does “normal” mental health versus mental illness look like? Many people don’t understand what we mean by mental health, nor do we know the causes of mental illness or disorders, leading to much confusion around the topic. People with mild mental health issues may function reasonably well, while others with more severe problems can be completely disabled and struggle tremendously in their day-to-day lives. Either way, we can’t tell the difference as the signs and behaviors are not always evident. Further, we put up a brave front, covering up our inner turmoil and hiding behind a mask. Nor have we developed a common and acceptable language to help each one communicate effectively and safely.

According to the WHO, some 800,000 individuals die by suicide each year, about 20% of the world’s children and adolescents have a mental disorder, and depression affects about 264 million people worldwide. Mental illness is on the rise globally. What does this mean, and how exactly does it happen? Several factors come into play – genetics, social context, and family background are a few examples. Then there is also our ability to manage stress effectively, be less emotionally reactive, and also have the skill to regulate our mind, emotions, and behaviors. These are learned skills for many.

Blurring the lines between mental health and illness causes people and organizations to dismiss the importance of mental health and well-being. This article highlights the importance of sound mental health and the dire need to build routine mental health practices into our daily lives and also the workplace.

Let’s look at mental health and mental illness in terms of the concept of physical health and physical illness. We know that if we do not take care of our physical health, it will lead to physical health problems. It could mean minor issues such as aches, pains, lethargy, or major ones like hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. Just like our physical health and well-being need attention, the same applies to our mental health and well-being. People who suffer from mental illnesses or mental disorders struggle to deal with everyday tasks. They underperform in many areas of their lives: self-care, thinking and decision making, education, productivity, social well-being, etc. Mental illness refers to conditions that affect a person’s thinking, emotions, behaviors, and motivations, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders, or schizophrenia.

Millions of people who do not have a mental illness need support to function well, be resilient, and thrive. They simply do not have the skills to manage stress and function well despite adversity. People often get hijacked by their thoughts and emotions, go into pretty dark spaces, and lose touch with reality. They stop being present and begin living in an imaginary world of storytelling. These stories can trigger a slew of emotions and conditions, fear, anger, stress, anxiety, insomnia, creating havoc in our personal and professional lives. Our thoughts and feelings are powerful; they determine our behaviors and impact the quality of all our life experiences.

It’s been a long haul with the pandemic, but there is a silver lining amid all the disruption. Conversations that address the basic needs of humanity-D&I, stress, flexible work hours, for example, have fortunately come to the forefront. In my view, one such subject that is in dire need of attention is the need for sound mental health and resilience.

Sound mental health determines our ability to live happy, productive, and meaningful lives. Yet, it has remained a taboo subject for far too long. What does “normal” mental health versus mental illness look like? Many people don’t understand what we mean by mental health, nor do we know the causes of mental illness or disorders, leading to much confusion around the topic. People with mild mental health issues may function reasonably well, while others with more severe problems can be completely disabled and struggle tremendously in their day-to-day lives. Either way, we can’t tell the difference as the signs and behaviors are not always evident. Further, we put up a brave front, covering up our inner turmoil and hiding behind a mask. Nor have we developed a common and acceptable language to help each one communicate effectively and safely.

According to the WHO, some 800,000 individuals die by suicide each year, about 20% of the world’s children and adolescents have a mental disorder, and depression affects about 264 million people worldwide. Mental illness is on the rise globally. What does this mean, and how exactly does it happen? Several factors come into play – genetics, social context, and family background are a few examples. Then there is also our ability to manage stress effectively, be less emotionally reactive, and also have the skill to regulate our mind, emotions, and behaviors. These are learned skills for many.

Blurring the lines between mental health and illness causes people and organizations to dismiss the importance of mental health and well-being. This article highlights the importance of sound mental health and the dire need to build routine mental health practices into our daily lives and also the workplace.

Let’s look at mental health and mental illness in terms of the concept of physical health and physical illness. We know that if we do not take care of our physical health, it will lead to physical health problems. It could mean minor issues such as aches, pains, lethargy, or major ones like hypertension, diabetes, and obesity. Just like our physical health and well-being need attention, the same applies to our mental health and well-being. People who suffer from mental illnesses or mental disorders struggle to deal with everyday tasks. They underperform in many areas of their lives: self-care, thinking and decision making, education, productivity, social well-being, etc. Mental illness refers to conditions that affect a person’s thinking, emotions, behaviors, and motivations, including depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders, or schizophrenia.

Millions of people who do not have a mental illness need support to function well, be resilient, and thrive. They simply do not have the skills to manage stress and function well despite adversity. People often get hijacked by their thoughts and emotions, go into pretty dark spaces, and lose touch with reality. They stop being present and begin living in an imaginary world of storytelling. These stories can trigger a slew of emotions and conditions, fear, anger, stress, anxiety, insomnia, creating havoc in our personal and professional lives. Our thoughts and feelings are powerful; they determine our behaviors and impact the quality of all our life experiences.

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