mental illness vs. mental health

They talk about it more now in the larger health care world, but we should talk about it more in the eating disorder world: is health just the absence of illness? Is mental health the same as being free of mental illness?

I mentioned this to someone the other day and I could see a light bulb go off: "Until this moment I never gave it any thought."

Being in good mental health isn't just having no diagnosis. It means to me that someone is in GOOD health mentally: top form. Emotionally stable and able to respond to life's circumstances with a range of positive and negative emotions. Cognitively clear and carrying out life's expected tasks. Mentally resilient, active, and creative.

Mental illness is not just a variation on normal. It is a state of confusion, dysfunction, pain, or distress that makes life so constrained or destructive that it is unsupportable.

Between mental health and mental illness are other states. Poor mental health, short of mental illness, leaves one vulnerable to medical and psychological illness. Poor mental health leads to difficult lives and less productivity. It means children are not as well cared for and society loses the vitality of a life that could be improved.

Getting better from a mental illness should not in my opinion just be about getting rid of the diagnosis but of finding optimum HEALTH. Living fully in cognitive, emotional, and interpersonal aspects of life. Clinicians have the job of aiming for recovery from illness, but as family and caregivers our sights can be on health: robust mental health.


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