Do you know the difference between Mental Health and Mental Illness?

In order to break the stigma around mental health it is absolutely vital that we not only become more open to talking about mental health but that we become more comfortable about the language that surrounds mental health too. The better we understand it, the more supportive and the more accepting we can be as individuals and as a society.

A National Attitudes to Mental Illness Survey conducted by the mental health campaign Time to Change showed an 11% increase between 2009 and 2016 in people’s willingness to work, live and continue a relationship with someone with a mental health problem. Of particular interest in regard to cultivating supportive networks was that the willingness to continue a relationship with a friend who had a mental health problem increased by 6% over the 7 year time period and is now standing at 89%, and the willingness to work with someone with a mental health problem is up to 80%.

From a personal standpoint I feel a lot of the reluctance to engage or support those in our work or social circle comes down to a lack of understanding around what exactly mental health is and what mental illness is.

I would like to share some definitions below to help clarify the differences:

Physical health: This can be defined as the condition of your physical body and also your physical fitness.

Mental health: The WHO defines mental health as follows "Mental health is not just the absence of mental disorder. It is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community."

Mental illness: The definition offered by Merriam Webster is ‘any of a broad range of medical conditions (such as major depression, schizophrenia, obsessive compulsive disorder, or panic disorder) that are marked primarily by sufficient disorganization of personality, mind, or emotions to impair normal psychological functioning and cause marked distress or disability and that are typically associated with a disruption in normal thinking, feeling, mood, behaviour, interpersonal interactions, or daily functioning’.

I want to drop a truth bomb… we all have mental health. Just as we all have physical health we all have mental health too. Our mental health like our physical health can be good, poor or anywhere in between. By understanding that mental health is a part of our overall health we can appreciate how mainstream and acceptable it is, or at least should be. The ‘No health without mental health’ strategy set up by the government in 2011 has sought to promote this idea, and more recently the work by the Royal Family too.

In some cases prolonged poor mental health without the needed support and personal understanding can lead to mental illness.

As a society we are becoming more open to the idea of self help and utilising our existing networks for support, and the stigma of asking for help is slowly shifting.

As a women’s coach particularly working in the area of self discovery and understanding, clients will often comment that they didn’t feel comfortable talking to anyone around them about how they are feeling. They also feel in the minority or judged for looking into talking therapies and self directed help. My hope is that through my work and the work of other compassionate, trained coaches alongside government initiatives and charity work we can provide a support for those that feel that their mental health is not as they’d like it to be.

I believe strongly that this starts with becoming more comfortable about the language around mental health and mental illness so that it becomes more mainstream, more commonplace and more accepted.

Colleen is a neuroscience graduate and an award winning life coach and NLP practitioner. She works with women to support them in re-discovering who they are, and creating a life they love using tangible strategies and subconscious shifts.

IG: @IamColleenEmily


European Patients' Academy

Time to change

Mind: What is mental health and mental wellbeing?

Merriam Webster

Mind: Mental health problems - an introduction


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