Mental Health vs Mental Illness

With the welcome increase in mental health awareness,  we have now more opportunity to talk more openly about a subject that will affect all of us at one time or another in our lives. However, sometimes I still feel that there is some stigma attached to mental health issues.  I wonder whether people are put off by the words Mental Health because often those words are associated with “mental illness” instead.   My take on the subject is that when people are suffering from excessive stress, anxiety, depression, even things like OCD, etc.,  they are not mentally ill. Their brains/minds are working differently than they would be in the absence of those conditions. Nonetheless,  they are functioning in a normal way in response to the circumstances that have created the problem.


Often, when people come to see me, they express their fear that they are not normal, that they feel they cannot cope or manage the same as other people can. Therefore there must be something wrong with them. They must be in some way not normal.  I then point out to them the crucial distinction between normal and good. Normal does not mean the same as good.  If you hit your thumb with a hammer, it is perfectly normal to have a lot of pain. It is not desirable, but it is normal.  Of course, some people may have a biological condition or brain deterioration disease such as Alzheimer’s, but in most cases, the difficulties are brought by the consequences of life events which have impacted on the mind.

Most people tend to end up in the mental state they are in for an understandable, if not desirable, reason.  Usually, what happens is that when we analyse together what has happened to them that has caused the mental distress, they can see that their reactions are perfectly normal reaction given the events.   The good news is that the brain has an amazing ability to recover,  to rewire. Therefore the adverse effects are not permanent, and the person can return to their usual healthy mental state providing they get the right support.

It is time to leave the stigma behind because after all the brain is an organ, like any other organ, only more complicated. Therefore, if there is no stigma attached to cardiac health or renal health, why should it be attached to mental health?

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