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What's The Difference Between Mental Health and Mental Illness



According to the World Health Organization “mental, neurological, and substance use disorders make up 10% of the global burden of disease and 30% of non-fatal disease burden.” Additionally, the WHO states that;

  • About 800,000 people commit suicide every year

  • Approximately 20% of children and adolescents have a mental disorder

  • Depression affects about 264 million people worldwide

While mental illness is widespread globally, many still do not understand what exactly it is. An example of this is a 2015 study, which found that around 61% of adults in working-age groups in the United Kingdom had trouble understanding mental health conditions, symptoms, and treatments.

The study warns that people with a lack of "health literacy" may have a harder time seeking help and making informed decisions on how to manage their conditions. Based on studies like this, health experts have worked to increase mental health literacy and to increase awareness of mental illness.

It is because of this misunderstanding that we may fail to recognize signs of the need for care. It has been reported by the CDC that many people with poor mental health have yet to receive a formal diagnosis of a mental illness. Furthermore, among those with a mental illness, there can also be times when they are physically, mentally, and socially well.

With that in mind to help improve your “health literacy,” here’s the difference between mental health and mental illness.

What is mental health?


We all have mental health, just like physical health. A person's physical health is defined by the condition of their body, while their mental health is defined by their feelings and emotions. And, as with physical health, you can expect to have good and bad days. A person's physical well-being can have a positive or negative impact on their mental health as well. Likewise, your life experiences, work environment, and community, as well as your relationships, can all influence your decisions.


In order to live a fulfilling and satisfying life and to cope with any challenges that may arise, you need to be mentally healthy. Feeling sad, not being able to think clearly, or feeling overwhelmed by stressful circumstances are all signs of poor mental health.


As part of mental health, you need resilience, which is your ability to handle challenging circumstances. Resilience is the ability to adapt to the ups and downs that we go through in life.


Having resiliency can help you avoid becoming overwhelmed in stressful situations. As a result, you gain the confidence to deal with hard times when they arise again, and you become even more resilient.


Your mental health needs to be cared for and monitored. To help you build your understanding of mental health, you can learn about factors that influence mental health and things you can do to maintain good mental health.


What is mental illness?


According to the CDC, “Mental illnesses are conditions that affect a person’s thinking, feeling, mood, or behavior, such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, or schizophrenia. Such conditions may be occasional or long-lasting (chronic) and affect someone’s ability to relate to others and function each day.”


There are many types of mental illness, including:

  • mood disorders

  • anxiety disorders

  • eating disorders

  • post-traumatic stress disorder

  • schizophrenia

A mental illness typically begins during adolescence or young adulthood, accompanied by behavioral, emotional, and cognitive changes. Symptoms vary from person to person. It is common for people experiencing serious distress to feel incapable of functioning for long periods.

While it’s anyone can develop a mental illness, the most common risk factors are:

  • Family history of mental illness

  • Childhood trauma or abuse that remains unresolved

  • An event that is particularly stressful, such as losing a loved one, having financial issues, or divorce

  • Drugs and alcohol exposure that has a negative impact on fetal development

  • Social, economic, or educational status

Mental illness can be challenging, but it can be treated.

Where to get support for mental health or mental illness challenges?

As a result of the stigma and blame sometimes associated with mental illness and mental health, many people feel they can't seek help. Seeking help as soon as possible is important for anyone experiencing mental illness.

You can also access our mental health resource list. If it’s an emergency, please contact 911.

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