It’s an expression we use every day, so it might surprise you that the term ‘mental health’ is frequently misunderstood. ‘Mental health’ is often used as a substitute for mental health conditions – such as depression, anxiety conditions, schizophrenia, and others.
According to the World Health Organization, however, mental health is “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.” So rather than being about ‘what’s the problem?’ it’s really about ‘what’s going well?’
To make things a bit clearer, some experts have tried coming up with different terms to explain the difference between ‘mental health’ and ‘mental health conditions’. Phrases such as ‘good mental health’, ‘positive mental health’, ‘mental well being’, ‘subjective well being’ and even ‘happiness’ have been proposed by various people to emphasize that mental health is about wellness rather than illness. While some say this has been helpful, others argue that using more words to describe the same thing just adds to the confusion.
As a result, others have tried to explain the difference by talking about a continuum where mental health is at one end of the spectrum – represented by feeling good and functioning well – while mental health conditions (or mental illness) are at the other – represented by symptoms that affect people’s thoughts, feelings or behaviour.