Defining “mental illness” and “mental health ­problems”

April 21, 2017

Did you know that a person with a mental illness can be without a mental health problem? Or that those with a mental health problem don’t necessarily have a mental illness? These can be seen as two separate concepts.

“Mental illness” refers to conditions that can be diagnosed, such as  schizophrenia, depression, bipolar disorder, anxiety disorders, obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD) and anorexia. It is estimated that one in five Canadians will experience a diagnosable mental illness at some point in their lives. These medical conditions, diagnosed by a medical professional, are usually long lasting, have pronounced symptoms and require medical treatment. Often symptoms of a mental illness are severe enough that they cause significant distress or disability in social life, school, work or other important activities. Early diagnosis and treatment are very important for the recovery journey.

“Mental health problems” on the other hand, describe the more common struggles and difficulties that all people experience. Feeling stressed, upset, confused or overwhelmed is often in response to a demand or pressure, but such feelings usually pass and do not require medical treatment. Nevertheless, these feelings also have a real impact on one’s mental health and our ability to thrive and enjoy life. Therefore, those experiencing mental health problems also benefit from help, support and understanding.


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