Mental Health vs. Mental Illness

Press Enter to show all options, press Tab go to next option

What is Mental Health?

According to the US Department of Health and Human Services, mental health includes our emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It affects how we think, feel, and act. It also helps determine how we handle stress, relate to others, and make choices. Mental health is important at every stage of life, from childhood and adolescence through adulthood.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness, a mental illness is a condition that impacts a person's thinking, feeling or mood and may affect his or her ability to relate to others and function on a daily basis. Each person will have different experiences, even people with the same diagnosis. Recovery, including meaningful roles in social life, school and work, is possible, especially when you start treatment early and play a strong role in your own recovery process. A mental health condition isn't the result of one event. Research suggests multiple, interlinking casus. Genetics, environment and lifestyle combine to influence whether someone develops a mental health condition. A stressful job or home life makes some people more susceptible, as do traumatic life events like being the victim of a crime. Biochemical process and circuits as well as basic brain structure may play a role too. See more at

What is Mental Illness?

The term "mental illness" actually encompasses numerous psychiatric disorders, and just like illnesses that affect other parts of the body they can vary in severity.  Many people suffering from mental illness may not look as though they are ill or that something is wrong, while others may appear to be confused, agitated, or withdrawn.  Mental illnesses are often disorders of the brain that disrupt a person's thinking, feelings, mood, and ability to relate to others.  Mental illness can manifest in a persistent depressed mood, unrelieved anxiety, or an inability to cope with the ordinary demands of life. 

Mental illnesses can affect persons of any age, race, religion, or income.  It is a myth that mental illness is a sign of weakness or defect in character and that sufferers can get better simply by "pulling themselves up by their bootstraps." Mental illnesses are  illnesses as real as heart disease or cancer  and they require, and respond to, treatment.  As a diabetic may control their diet, make changes in their lifestyle, or take insulin, so a person with mental illness may need to assess their lifestyle, make changes, or take medications.  Counseling and other mental health and community services can provide support and stability, contributing to recovery and various resources can increase your understanding of mental illness and treatment options.

Warning Signs of Mental Illness

  • Marked personality change
  • Inability to cope with problems and daily activities
  • Strange ideas or delusions
  • Excessive anxiety
  • Prolonged feelings of sadness
  • Marked changes in eating or sleeping patterns
  • Thinking or talking about suicide
  • Extreme highs or lows
  • Abuse of alcohol or drugs
  • Excessive anger, hostility
  • Violent behavior
  • Irrational fears