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Mental Health Vs. Mental Illness - What's the Difference

Mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make life choices.

Although the terms are often used interchangeably, mental health and mental illness are not the same. While mental health refers to anyone's state of mental and emotional well-being, mental illnesses are diagnosed conditions that affect thoughts and behaviors.

Mental illness is defined as a behavioral or psychological syndrome or pattern that occurs in an individual. It reflects an underlying psychobiological dysfunction. The consequences of which are clinically significant distress (e.g., a painful symptom) or disability (i.e., impairment in one or more important areas of functioning).

Mental illnesses are among the most common health conditions in the United States.

  • More than 50% will be diagnosed with a mental illness or disorder at some point in their lifetime.

  • 1 in 5 Americans will experience a mental illness in a given year.

  • 1 in 5 children, either currently or at some point during their life, have had a seriously debilitating mental illness.

  • 1 in 25 Americans lives with a serious mental illness, such as schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, or major depression.

People can experience different types of mental illnesses and they can often occur at the same time (there are more than 200 types of mental illnesses). Mental illnesses can occur over a short period of time or be episodic. This means that the mental illness comes and goes with discrete beginnings and ends. Mental illness can also be ongoing or long-lasting.

The main groups of mental illnesses are:

  • Anxiety disorders

  • Eating disorders (for example anorexia or bulimia)

  • Mood disorders (for example depression or bipolar)

  • Personality disorders (for example borderline personality disorder)

  • Psychotic disorders (for example schizophrenia)

  • Substance abuse disorders (for example drug addictions)

  • Trauma-related disorders (for example post-traumatic stress disorder)

Everybody has days where they feel physically unwell, but that doesn’t mean that your overall health is down or that you have a serious illness. The same can be said about your mental health. You may experience days where you feel stressed, or sad, but that doesn’t mean that you have a mental illness. We all experience a range of emotions.

The best thing that you can do for yourself and your wellbeing is to reach out to a mental health professional if you are not sure what you need or even if you are not sure what you are struggling with. Our goal is to help you to find the answers and get you on a path to wellness. We respect your confidentiality and how hard it can be to take that step to reach out to someone and admit you are having a difficult time.

Healing is possible. Reduce the stigma and share the struggle.

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