MENTAL HEALTH AND

MENTAL ILLNESS

THIS IS AN INTRODUCTION TO THE RELATIONSHIP AND THE DIFFERENCES BETWEEN MENTAL HEALTH AND MENTAL ILLNESS.

HEALTH AND MENTAL HEALTH

Health, as defined by the World Health Organization, “is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." An important implication of this definition for mental health is that it is more than just the absence of mental illness. Mental health is “a state of well-being in which an individual realizes [their] own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to [their] community” (World Health Organization, 2014).

MENTAL ILLNESS

Mental illnesses are health problems that affect the way we think about ourselves, relate to others, and interact with the world around us. They can affect a person’s thoughts, feelings, and/or behaviours, leading to disruptions or severe impairments in a person’s day-to-day life. One in five Canadians experience a mental illness in their lifetime (Canadian Mental Health Association, 2015); we are all touched by mental illness, whether we personally are affected by mental illness or know of a family member, friend, or colleague living with mental illness. However, with the right supports, people can lead healthy lives.

There are a range of mental illnesses that are composed of different signs and symptoms. Two internationally used classifications which organizes the signs and symptoms of mental illness include the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) and the ICD-10 Classification of Mental and Behavioural Disorders. It’s important to recognize that the experience of symptoms and/or mental illnesses can affect people in different ways. Also, the way people experience mental illness may be influenced by many factors, including access to services, support received, and ability to participate in the community. Culture, background, and beliefs also play a role in how we may experience and understand mental illness.

Some people may receive a diagnosis while others prefer not to have a label to describe their experience. However, a diagnosis may be needed for receiving psychiatric (e.g. medication management) or psychological (e.g. psychotherapy) care. Regardless of whether a person is experiencing symptoms, or living with a mental illness, they can talk about their experiences in any way they wish, and be on a path to wellness.

Learn more about specific types of mental illnesses here.

WHAT CAN I DO ABOUT IT?

Having a mental illness can be a distressing experience as you wonder if the changes in your thoughts, feelings, and/or behaviours will stay, and how people may react to these changes. Keep in mind that mental illness is a health problem, and it is not a sign of weakness, incompetence, or unintelligence. The key is to seek help early. The earlier you seek support, the faster you are on progressing on the journey of wellness and reducing the risks of future problems. Seeking support can come in the forms of psychotherapy, medication, among other forms of support such as peer support or talking to a friend. Help can also include financial and housing stability. Practicing self care is also a way to help improve your well-being. Read more about the support resources available for McGill students.


HOW CAN I HELP A LOVED ONE?

When a loved one experiences mental illness, you may feel worried about their state, frustrated at the situation, or relieved the problem has been identified. These feelings and/or anything else in between, among others, are normal. You can play an important role in the recovery of your loved one. By asking how you can help, offering a listening ear, or helping with daily tasks if needed, you can offer support your loved one needs. Remember to recognize your limits and take care of yourself too.

REFERENCES

Canadian Mental Health Association. (2015). Understanding mental illness. Retrieved from https://www.cmha.ca/mental_health/mental-illness/

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2012). About mental health and mental health problems. Retrieved from http://www.camh.ca/en/hospital/visiting_camh/rights_and_policies/Pages/challenges_choices_aboutmhprob.aspx

Public Health Agency of Canada. (2014). Mental health promotion. Retrieved from http://www.phac-aspc.gc.ca/mh-sm/mhp-psm/index-eng.php

World Health Organization. (2003). WHO definition of health. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/about/definition/en/print.html

World Health Organization. (2014). Mental health: A state of well-being. Retrieved from http://www.who.int/features/factfiles/mental_health/en/