The Difference Between Mental Health and Mental Illness

Most people will experience a mental health challenge at some point in their life. Stressors from the pandemic, current world affairs and social media among other things can contribute to periods of poor mental health. But at what point does poor mental health become mental illness?

Mental Health Versus Mental Illness

Although often used interchangeably, mental health and mental illness are different. Mental health includes a person’s overall emotional, social and psychological well-being. It can affect the way one acts, thinks and feels. Everyone has mental health, but not every person will experience mental illness.

When a difficult situation or stressors occur, it is easy to fall into a period of poor mental health. That is why it is important to know the proper steps to take to get back on track. Adequate rest, exercise, a healthy diet, drugs and alcohol avoidance, physical health and spiritual well-being can all play a factor in increasing overall mental health.

Mental illness, or mental health disorder, refers to a wide range of disorders that can affect mood, thinking, feeling and behavior. Mental illnesses are among the most common health conditions in the United States. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), more than 50% of people will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their life.

While there are several different mental health disorders, bipolar disorder, major depressive disorder and generalized anxiety disorder are some of the most commonly diagnosed.

  • Bipolar disorder is a brain disorder that causes changes in a person’s mood, energy and ability to function. Individuals with bipolar disorder could have intense emotional states that typically occur from weeks to days with abnormally happy or irritable moods.
  • Major depressive disorder is characterized by low mood, lack of energy, changes in appetite with weight loss or gain, trouble sleeping or sleeping too much, increased fatigue, feeling worthless, loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed, difficulty concentrating, and recurrence of suicidal thoughts.
  • Generalized anxiety disorder is most commonly associated with excessive ongoing worry and tension, unrealistic views of problems, restlessness or a feeling of being edgy, trouble concentrating, trouble sleeping, and muscle tension or muscle aches.

Know When to Seek Help

There are many signs and symptoms that come with mental illness, depending on the type of illness one has. The most common symptoms to look for are feelings of depression, anxiety, mood swings, irritability, lack of sleep and appetite, tiredness, delusions, paranoia, suicidal thoughts and inability to function normally. However, symptoms will vary from person to person.

It is important to promptly seek help when needed. If one does not know where to start, contacting a primary care provider can provide next steps to getting help. If an individual is having suicidal thoughts, it is important to contact the National Suicide Prevention Lifeline immediately at 800-273-8255. Do not be ashamed to talk about mental health, especially to a behavioral health professional, close friend or family member.

Thomas Osinowo, MD, is a psychiatrist with ProMedica Behavioral Health – Monroe.