Mental Health vs. Mental Illness

The Centre for Addictions and Mental Health, Canada’s largest mental health and addiction teaching hospital and one of the world’s leading research centres in its field, has defined both mental health and mental illness. The content below is adapted directly from the CAMH website. More information can be found at: http://www.camh.ca/en/education/teachers_school_programs/secondary_education/Pages/secondary_education.aspx

Mental Health*

It is the ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges you face everyday - whether that involves making choices and decisions, adapting to and coping in difficult situations, or talking about your needs and desires." ( Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) (2003), Challenges and Choices, pp 11, Toronto, Ontario.)

A person feels mentally healthy when it feels like everything is working well. You feel good about yourself, your relationships with other people, and are able to meet the demands and challenges of everyday life.

Throughout a person's lifetime, mental health is the springboard of thinking and communication skills, learning, emotional growth, resilience, and self-esteem.

We may take our mental health for granted and may not notice the components of our mental well-being until we experience problems and stresses in our life. Mental health problems refer to changes in a person's ability to cope and function. These changes may occur at any age for men or women and at any time in a person's life.

"Just as your life and circumstances continually change, so do your moods and thoughts and your sense of well-being. It is important to find balance in your life over time and in a range of situations. It is natural to feel off balance at times: for example, sad, worried, scared or suspicious. But these kinds of feelings may become a problem if they get in the way of your daily life over a long period." ( CAMH ,Challenges and Choices, pp 11)

Mental health involves finding balance in all aspects of your life:

  • physically,
  • mentally,
  • emotionally, and
  • spiritually.

( Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) (2003), Challenges and Choices, pp 11, Toronto, Ontario.)

Mental Illness*

Mental illness is the term used to refer to mental health problems that are diagnosed and treated by mental health professionals. In the medical profession, they are also called "mental disorders" but this is not a term that is very comfortable to most people. Mental illness includes: depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety, eating disorders, schizophrenia, and self-injurious behaviour.

It is important to recognize that mental wellness and mental health problems or mental illness are part of an ever changing and dynamic continuum. (NOTE: could link to MH continuum here).

Where Mental Health and Mental Illness Meet*

Mental health problems generally refer to those changes that occur over a period of time or that significantly affect the way a person copes or functions. When these changes in thinking, mood, and behaviour are associated with significant distress and impaired functioning, it may be that the person is experiencing a mental illness.

It is important to recognize that mental wellness and mental health problems or mental illness are part of an ever changing and dynamic continuum. On the next page of More Feet on the Ground you will learn more about the Mental Health Continuum.

*Text used and slightly adapted from CAMH Website to define mental health and mental illness: http://www.camh.ca/en/education/teachers_school_programs/secondary_education/Pages/secondary_education.aspx


Next Up: Mental Health as a Continuum



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