Defining mental health, illness, and wellness

Conversations with the Community

Welcome to the first editorial of our new longform series, Conversations with the Community. In this series, I aim to explore and delve into deeper and darker conversations over an array of topics ranging from mental illnesses to complex existential woes you and I might share.


Just because. Some of these conversations or topics might be one you need to hear to help yourself or a loved one. 



We’ll start off easy: Mental health, mental Illness, and mental wellness.

All of which sounds similar and vaguely familiar, but upon closer inspection, do we really know what these terms mean?



With those definitions out of the way, the second thought that comes to mind is the relationships between these three entities. It’s often that we think of mental health and mental illnesses to be positively correlated, for them to be directly related to the other. 

But that’s not true; while these three entities occasionally influence one or the other, they should be viewed as separate. Having poor mental health does not equate to having a mental illness, just as good mental health does not equate to not having a mental illness. 

Confused? I was too. 

Meet Bruce. Bruce is stressed and overwhelmed because the huge work project he’s been working on isn’t going the way it’s supposed to. He is tempted to give it all up and finds no hope in doing anything at all to fix things. When his friends approach him, Bruce refuses help and actively avoids all social interaction. At this point in time, Bruce’s mental health is poor, but he does not have a mental illness.



Now, meet Luna. Luna was diagnosed with an eating disorder, a mental illness. With recovery in mind, Luna does her best to cope with the changes she has to make and she doesn’t ignore the need to get better. At this point in time, Luna’s mental health is good. Mental health is a state of well-being that affects how we react to the experiences us – some days could be better than others, and that is perfectly normal.



The Canadian Mental Health Association puts it succinctly:

“Health isn’t like an on/off switch. There are different degrees of health. [...] Many people fall somewhere in the middle—they’re generally in good health, though the occasional problem may come up. Mental health is the same way.”



That being said, the distinction between mental health as a state and mental illness as a condition is now apparent. As one would treat a migraine with care, a dip in the state of our mental health should also warrant the same concern.

Thoughts? Leave a comment, I’d love to hear from you.

Alternatively, be part of #TheMindfulStories and send your story in.




Sources: [1] [2] [3] [4] [5]

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