This is important to understand as we currently talk about mental health as mental illness. This is nothing more than scare mongering and being poorly educated. Unfortunately, there are many health professionals in the mental health arena who do not separate and, who should know better. So, first thing is to talk about mental health as the umbrella term in the same way we talk about our physical health. We all experience every second of our living existence both mental and physical health. In this way, you can begin to appreciate how we scare monger when we say that 1 in 4 will experience mental health, when in actual fact we mean that 1 in 4 will experience mental illness. When we look at our physical health, we can see the same is true in that 1 in 4 of us experience physical illness. Strange we do not scare monger by saying regularly that 1 in 4 will experience physical illness which leave us dreading being that 1!
So, what is the difference between mental ill health and mental illness? The easiest way is to consider our physical health (simply because we are not intimidated by that). So, if you are physical unwell, the first level is experiencing physical ill health. That is to say a cough, cold, headache to something stronger like mumps, measles, or even a broken foot. There is a clue here: they are generally short lived and you recover with the minimal input from professionals or remedies. So, mental ill health then would look at very simple levels of feeling low, reacting to a situation or a person negatively, feeling anxious about something, etc. There are greater levels like loss and experiencing bereavement. Perhaps you suffer with post natal depression or coping with a new situation at work. The point is, these are low levels that can be supported with local communities, charities that support their particular stance (such as CRUSE for bereavement), self help books, counselling, etc. They do not involve secondary care agencies who need to provide more intensive support.
Physical illness is far more severe and can be life changing and or debilitating to the individual concerned. The chances of not requiring either intensive support or medication is slim. Complete recovery is not so common, although is possible. A perfect example of this is somebody suffering with a terminal illness, but others cope with considerable less such as asthma or diabetes. Your chances of living a long life without complications are considerably reduced, but there is every opportunity to living with the illness and trying to have a quality of life. Mental illness is the same. If you suffer with schizophrenia or chronic anorexia where you need monitoring invariably with medication and nursing input, this will take some time to sort to a level where you can stabilize. There is no quick fix to these types of mental illness. In the same way some people experience terminal illness such as cancer in its final stage, so do some individuals experience mental illness such as Huntington’s Chorea or even feeling suicidal to such a degree they act it out.
You can see how in depth mental health is and hence why we need to be clear in what capacity we are talking about to ensure others understanding and comprehension of what we or others are experiencing.By being explicit in our knowledge and understanding of mental health, we begin to break down the stigma but also reduce the opportunity for scaremongering.