by: Cassie Carver, LMHC, CCTP, CTMH
Director of Outpatient Therapy
I often find that mental health and mental illness are terms used interchangeably. What if I told you mental health and mental illness are two different things? It’s possible to have poor mental health or wellness and not have a mental illness.
According to the CDC, “Although the terms are often used interchangeably, poor mental health and mental illness are not the same things. A person can experience poor mental health and not be diagnosed with a mental illness. Likewise, a person diagnosed with a mental illness can experience periods of physical, mental, and social well-being.”
What is mental health?
So what is mental health, and how does it differ from mental illness?
- Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being.
- It affects how we think, how we feel, and even how we act.
- It also influences the way we handle stress and our ability to make healthy choices.
When we have a lot going on in our environment, work, school, families, relationships, or other areas of our lives, we tend to find ourselves in a stress overload. I don’t know about you, but when I’m stressed out I can be short-tempered, impatient, and irritable. It is as if every little thing is like climbing a giant mountain. These feelings do not necessarily mean you have a mental illness; it makes you human and suggests your mental health or mental wellness could use a little more attention or self-care.
What is mental illness?
Mental illnesses, different from mental health, refer to a wide range of conditions, also known as disorders, for example, depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, and ADHD, that affect a person’s mood, thinking, feeling, and behavior. A key component of mental illness is that it causes significant distress or impairs essential areas of functioning. The condition or disorder has resulted in marked impairment in areas of our lives such as work, school, parenting, interpersonal and social difficulties, and difficulty completing usual roles, responsibilities, or other basic activities of daily living.
We all experience sadness or days when we don’t have a lot of energy—when all we want to do is sit down with our feet up and relax. However, that does not mean you have depression. We can all have mental health symptoms, but for it to be considered a mental illness it must impact functioning. Mental illness comes into play when the sadness and energy loss are overwhelming and impact other areas of our life. It’s the struggle to get out of bed in the morning and take care of your hygiene, or when practicing self-care feels like moving mountains. It’s when work or school attendance, performance, or both have become an issue, or when the sadness and loss of energy have become a barrier to being a parent, family member, or friend.
Mental illness is among the most common health conditions in the United States. The CDC reports that one in five individuals is diagnosed with a mental health disorder annually in the US, and one in 25 Americans live with a severe mental illness.
What causes mental illness?
So, what causes mental illness? Research tells us there are several risks which include:
- genetic or biological component related to our genes or brain chemistry;
- adverse early life experiences, such as trauma or a history of abuse;
- ongoing (chronic) medical conditions;
- feeling isolated, lonely, or the lack of a healthy support system;
- and even the use of alcohol or drugs, among other factors.
How do we know when to seek treatment if impacted by poor mental health or a mental illness?
Here are a few reasons:
- Tearful or crying for no reason
- Thinking negatively about ourselves or others
- Slipping into old unhealthy behaviors, impulses, or urges
- Feeling controlled by your emotions
- Having thoughts of death or suicide
If your thoughts or emotions negatively impact your ability to live, laugh, and love, then it’s time to explore professional mental health help. It’s ok not to feel ok, but it’s important to seek help so you can start feeling better. Remember, if unsure or need someone to talk to, contact our 24-hour emotional support and crisis line by calling 863.519.3744 or texting 863.204.3443, or use Mental Health America’s screening tool.
Peace River Center’s mission is to engage, restore, and empower individuals in our community to thrive. Your emotional well-being matters, and we are here to help you navigate your mental wellness journey.