Are Mental Health and Mental Illness the Same Thing?

A look at optimal mental health at Mosaic Community Services

When we take a “mental health” day, are we addressing mental illness?

For a variety of reasons, mental health and mental illness are often used interchangeably. But they are not the same. Think of mental health as a parallel to physical health—how am I feeling today? Everyone has mental health.

Mental illness is a recognized and medically diagnosable illness. Fifty percent of Americans will experience a mental illness in their lifetime ; 20% will experience a mental illness this year.

Poor mental health is associated with emotional distress and psychosocial impairment comparable to that of a major depressive episode. Factors including: economic hardship, unemployment or underemployment, caring for a chronically ill relative, working long hours under difficult circumstances, and poverty can undermine mental health. This poor mental health is not a diagnosable mental illness, it is a state of being.

Individuals, businesses, and communities can take steps to improve our mental health. Social inclusion, freedom from discrimination and violence, and access to economic resources are the main determinates of mental health. We should all ask ourselves what are we doing to improve our mental health and that of the people around us. What can we do better?

Like somatic illnesses, mental illness can be managed with proper diagnosis, treatment and rehabilitation. At Mosaic Community Services, we believe people can and do recover from mental illness and addiction. Recovery doesn’t necessarily mean a mental illness goes away, it means that people create satisfying and hopeful lives that contribute to the community.

But recovery from mental illness is improved with good mental health. Take a good look at your corporate culture. Are there safeguards in place to ensure customers and staff do not suffer discrimination and violence? Are staff fairly compensated and aware of available internal and external resources? Is your company intentionally increasing opportunities for social inclusion at work?

As leaders, we are responsible for ensuring our workplace promotes good mental health, for staff and customers both with and without mental illness.
To support mental illness and addictions services in central Maryland, donate HERE.

ii  Corey Keyes, “Complete mental health: An agenda for the 21st century,” (2003): 293 quoted in C. Keyes & J. Haidt Flourishing. Positive psychology and the life well-lived (Washington: American Psychological Association, 2003).