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  • Nick Luhring

The Distinction between Mental Health and Mental Illness

With the broadly circuitous progress of society, we have recently begun to observe a practice in which employers will grant their employees a “mental health” day. The meaning of this day is to help facilitate healing from mental exhaustion during a stressful period. Back in the days of old, you had to pretend you were physically ill, but now, at least at some companies, you can tell your boss you need some time off for you, and not be punished for it.

Have you ever taken a mental health day? What was the response of your coworkers? It may range from outright disapproval to a sincere congratulations. But either way, the conversation on mental health has been challenged a lot recently, and an understanding that anyone can have problems with their mental health is commonplace. Physical health and mental health are more frequently equated in terms of their ubiquity. After all, every gets a cold, right?

Mental illness is a different story. Mental illness comes with a diagnosis. Not everyone is mentally ill. Only when symptoms manifest over a long period of time do people seek out a professional diagnosis. Sometimes, it renders its host mostly disabled and likely requiring of assistance. Mental illness usually requires medication. There are anti-depressants, anti-anxiety, anti-psychotics, and mood stabilizers. Hospitalization occurs. Insurance is sought.

According to the National Alliance on Mental Illness (NAMI), approximately 1 out of every 5 Americans deals with Mental Illness a year.

We hear about them both so much now-a-days, and the distinction is quite subtle. Mental health is something we all have. We are all data points on a spectrum of “completely functional” to “rock-bottom”, and our place on this spectrum changes depending on our environments and our habits. Genetics play a big part as well, because they can determine our responses to surroundings. Only when our mental health deteriorates to the point of needing health care do we cross the threshold into mental illness.

Of course, the main take away here is that whatever minute difference there are in the two phrases, we must understand that everyone suffers at some point. The brain is an organ just like the kidney or the lungs, and managing its health is an incredibly important step in a person’s all-around well-being.


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