More than ever, people are aware of the importance of talking about mental health and mental illness.
You might be hearing these terms more often. You might wonder what they mean or have questions: What’s the difference between mental health and mental illness? Is feeling sad or unhappy a sign of mental illness? How can I look after my mental health?
These are good questions to ask. Talking about mental health and mental illness is one way to lessen the shame some people feel because of stigma. Having an understanding about these subjects can help you speak more openly about mental health and offer support to people who may be struggling alone because they are afraid to reach out.
What is mental health?
Like physical health, mental health is a part of everyone’s life. Physical health is the state of your body, and mental health is the state of your mind, feelings, and emotions.
Physical health can influence mental health, both positively and negatively. So can life experiences, work or school environment, relationships, and the community you live in.
Being mentally healthy contributes to feeling, thinking and acting in ways that help you enjoy life and cope with its challenges. Struggling with mental health may result in feeling unhappy, difficulty thinking clearly, or feeling overwhelmed by stressful situations.
Resilience – the inner-strength you use to cope with stressful situations – is also a big part of mental health. To be resilient means you can effectively cope with ups and downs that are part of life.
Building resilience can help you avoid being overwhelmed by stressful situations. This in turn further builds resilience – it gives you the confidence to know you can get through difficult times when they come up again.
It’s important to give your mental health ongoing care and attention. There are things you can do to maintain good mental health, and other factors that influence mental health to learn about to help you build your understanding.
While mental health is always there and may be positive or negative, mental illness affects a person’s ability to function over a long period of time.
Mental illness is not the same as feeling sad, unhappy, or stressed because of difficult situations. People with mental illness may feel distressed regularly and may not feel in control of their lives. Mental illness can impact how we see ourselves, how we see the world around us and how we interact with the world.
It’s important to know that it is possible to have good mental health even if you have a mental illness. Just like with other conditions, many people with mental illness experience tough times but they can also have periods of better or good mental health. Taking care of your mental health is important for everyone.
Types of mental illness
Mental illnesses often involve changes in behaviour, mood or thinking. Symptoms can vary. Generally, a person will experience significant distress or an inability to function over an extended time.
Anyone can develop a mental illness. Some risk factors that increase this chance are:
- Family history of mental illness
- Unresolved traumatic or abusive childhood experiences
- Stressful life events, such as a loved one’s death, financial problems or divorce
- Environmental influences on a fetus, such as exposure to drugs or alcohol
- Social factors, such as discrimination, poverty or barriers to opportunity
There are many different kinds of mental illness including:
Experiencing any of these illnesses can be very challenging, but there are treatments and supports available.
Where to get support for mental health or mental illness challenges
Because of the shame and blame sometimes associated with mental illness and mental health, many people feel like they can’t reach out for help. If you or a loved one is experiencing mental illness or mental health-related challenges, there are a number of supports you can reach out to.