The Confusion Between Mental Health and Mental Illness



 We live in a place and a time where success, independence, and individuation are highly esteemed attributes.  We are goal driven, competitive, and even at times cutthroat. We are busy and always having to be one step ahead of everything and everyone.  

We live in a time and a place-where as a result of those ideals and behaviors- there is a pressure to always be working, always achieving, always making money, always be on the go, and to never let them see your weak side. Never let them see...Never be authentic.... Hide...pretend...fake it until you make it...or until you don’t.

We live in a time and a place-that because of that way of thinking-anxiety, anger, shame, depression, fear, loneliness, lack of communication, lack of connectedness, lack of direction, divorce, violence, homelessness, obesity, substance use, addiction, and lack of hope are on the uprise.

So...I ask, how is your mental health?  The first response I usually hear is “I don’t have mental health issues.”

Are you alive? Are you breathing? Then you DO have mental health and you are  ignoring that it exists. Mental health and mental illness are not the same thing...BUT, if we continue to ignore our mental health and self-care, mental illness will soon follow.  

We have a good understanding that preventative care with physical health is essential to avoid physical illness. For some strange reason, we have failed to comprehend that preventative care with mental health is essential to avoid mental illness. We have some  mixed up notion that taking care of our mental health denotes weakness, and that reaching out for help or going for counseling is something to be shameful of.  Men are shamelessly teased if they show emotion or tear up. Shamelessly teased for being human? for caring?  For loving? For being overwhelmed? For being lonely? For feeling lost? Disconnected? 

Everyone experiences these feelings at some time.  At this  time and place  we are told to man up, pull your pants up by your bootstraps, to deal with it, to hide it, to get over it, and to never show them that your weak.

Taking care of mental health and being able to be vulnerable enough to be honest about how we’re feeling and what we’re needing is actually a sign of strength and intelligence and education, and shows that we care and value ourselves. It takes great courage to defy the main stream and to be honest and to express real needs.

We have some mixed up notion, that we can place our physical health in a box, and our mental health in separate a box, inside our same body, and that these two systems will never impact or affect each other.  In reality if you learn you have a diagnosis of cancer... your mental health is going to be affected. If you have anxiety...your physical health is going to be affected. Continuing to ignore the importance of our mental health, cannot only lead to mental illness such as anxiety and depression, but is highly correlated with habits -over eating, poor exercise, drinking smoking, and drug use-that are highly correlated with diabetes, coronary artery disease, obesity, high blood pressure, strokes, heart attacks… and an overall decline in physical health. Continuing to ignore the importance of mental health has led to a health crisis in this country...BOTH a mental health crisis and a physical health crisis. 

Action step:  How is your mental health today? What preventative measures are you taking to nurture your mental health today?