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  • Sara

Mental Health Problems vs. Mental Health Conditions vs. Mental Illness

Mental health is an important issue that often gets overlooked. But it's important to remember that our mental health is just as important as our physical health. Just like we need to take care of our bodies, we need to take care of our minds (which are part of our bodies, by the way).

There are a variety of things you can do to improve your mental health. Exercise and eating a healthy diet are two important things that can help. Getting enough sleep and spending time with loved ones are also vital options. If you're feeling like you can't cope, it's important to reach out for help. There are a number of mental health hotlines and organizations that can help you. Don't suffer in silence, reach out and get the help you need.

With all of this information readily available as mental health is (finally) becoming destigmatized, what’s important to understand from the advice that is out there is that these are options to improve symptoms. They’re not a cure-all, and it’s usually not possible to simply wake up one day and be free of a mental health condition altogether. Like being in sobriety, one is always an alcoholic or addict. They’re just in recovery. The disease is still there but they’re managing it effectively.

What is this distinction so important?

We all know that terminology is an ever-changing component of many hot topics in today’s culture. It is great that we consistently strive to say things in the most appropriate and least offensive way, but it is still a learning curve and there are some things that that jury is still out on. When it comes to talking about mental health, there are multiple phrases that you will hear people say: “mental health conditions,” “mental health problems (or issues)” and “mental illness.” There are some pros and cons to each phrase, and it is tricky to decide which one to use but keep in mind that intentions behind phrases are just as powerful as the phrases themselves.

Mental health conditions or mental health problems may sound like the lighter, less offensive options, but it can sometimes lead to pinning the issue on the person themselves and not the actual physical and biological causes behind it. Labeling something as a “problem” or an “issue” might place the pressure on the individual to fix whatever it is. That can feed into the stigma surrounding mental health and convince folks that people suffering from mental illness are able to just fix it themselves and get over it. That usually isn’t possible. Instead, one can work with a therapist and their physician to minimize symptoms. These conditions aren’t just something that are going to magically go away given enough concentration and effort. Symptoms can be made more bearable, but it is very difficult to completely change brain chemistry.

Mental illness carries with it a more permanent context. Like cancer, diabetes, and heart conditions, illnesses are something that a person doesn’t ask for and must manage with proper care. The term mental illness places these health issues in the same playing field as physical disease, which is a much more accurate way to view mental health. This phrase takes undue pressure off of the patient and allows for a clearer understanding of what they’re going through. Just like “mental health problems,” however, “illness” has a negative connotation. There is a stigma around being sick and having an illness and using the term “illness” may sound like a harsh or hurtful phrase to the person who is experiencing a mental health disorder.

Regardless of what phraseology you decide is the best fit for you, if you are living with a mental health condition, there is hope. The best course of action, of course, will vary from person to person. However, there are some general things that can be helpful for anyone struggling

First and foremost, a therapist can provide support and guidance as you navigate your diagnosis. If you are feeling suicidal or are in danger of harming yourself, please seek help immediately by calling a suicide hotline or going to the emergency room.

Building self-care into your day can also be incredibly helpful. When we think of self-care, we have a tendency to assume this is something that is going to take a lot of time and resources. That’s simply not the case. If you don’t have time to go to the gym or meditate, decide to live more mindfully and with gratitude. Mentally recite a few positive affirmations. Take some deep breaths and close your eyes for a moment. These are all ways in which you can engage in self-care without hardly putting a dent into your routine.

If you have been diagnosed with a mental health disorder, it should be up to you on how you would like to describe it. It is also important to respect other’s decisions on what they want it to be called. Some folks might also just prefer the use of the diagnosis and not a general phrase. For example, they may share that they have depression instead of saying they have a mental illness. Just like most other terminology cases, we just have to do our best to respect ourselves and respect others.


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