What is Mental Health and Mental Illness

Content Outline 

  1. Introduction 
  2. Concept and Meaning
  3. What is mental health 
  4. What is mental ill-health 
  5. Relationship between mental ill-health and mental health 
  6. Features of Mental Health 


Mental Health receives the least priority in India. This may be due to a lack of awareness. Data shows that despite the rising figures in India, only about one in 10 people with mental health disorders are thought to receive evidence-based treatment. Much has been written in recent years about the large global burden of mental illness and the neglect by all sectors in the global, national, and local health systems to respond appropriately to the needs and rights of people affected by mental illness 

Concept and Meaning of Mental Health 

Mind collectively refers to the aspects of intellect and consciousness manifested as combinations of thought, perception, memory, emotion, will and imagination; the mind is the stream of consciousness. It includes all of the brain's conscious processes. This denotation sometimes includes, in certain contexts, the working of the human unconscious or the conscious thoughts of animals. "Mind" is often used to refer especially to the thought processes of reason.

Mental health is a positive concept related to the social and emotional well-being of individuals and communities. The concept is culturally defined, but it relates generally to the enjoying of life, ability to cope with stresses and adverse life events, fulfillment of goals, achieving the highest potential, and the ability to connect to others. The term ‘mental health’ is often misunderstood and interpreted as referring to mental ill health. This can be confusing, especially since our ‘mental health services have been mostly concerned with the treatment of mental illness, rather than promoting mental health. Mental health is a desirable quality and is more than the absence of mental ill‐health or illness.

Mental health: 

Astate of well-being. Mental health is defined as a state of wellbeing 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.(WHO 2014)

A mental health problem interferes with a person's cognitive, emotional, or social abilities but may not meet the criteria to be diagnosed as a mental illness. Mental health problems often occur as a result of life stressors(Eg: Death, Job, Marriage, Child Birth, Migration, etc) and are usually less severe and of shorter duration than mental illnesses. These will often resolve with time or when the life stressor changes. However, if mental health problems persist or increase in severity they may develop into a mental illness.

Mental ill‐health 

The term ‘mental ill-health is used when referring to a spectrum of problems that interfere with an individual’s cognitive, social and emotional abilities. This term encompasses both mental health problems and mental illnesses. Mental illness or mental disorder is a clinically diagnosable illness that significantly interferes with an individual's cognitive, emotional, or social abilities. The diagnosis of mental illness is generally made according to the classification system of the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) or the International Classification of Diseases (ICD). There are different types of mental illnesses and each of these can occur with a varying degree of severity

Relationship between mental health and mental ill‐health. 

Mental health and mental ill‐health are influenced by one another but are not opposites. That means, the absence of mental health does not necessarily mean the presence of mental ill‐health and vice versa. While it does not reflect the interplay between mental health and mental ill‐health, the Dual Continua Model of Mental Health(outlined in Figure 1 below) shows how mental health and mental ill‐health belong to two interconnected but a separate continuums. According to this view, a person may still have good mental health and wellbeing while living with a diagnosed mental illness. In the same way, a person may have significant problems with their mental health but not meet the criteria for a diagnosed mental illness. This approach is yet to gain ground in India. 

What is Mental Illness?

Mental illness refers to a wide range of mental health conditions disorders that affect mood, thinking and behavior. (Mayo Clinic 2016)

Psychiatry is the field that studies mental illness, its treatment, rehabilitation and prevention. A mental Illness is a change in an individual’s way of thinking and feeling that impedes his ability to perform his day-to-day activities. It affects the brain which processes all information. There are several forms of mental disorders of which anxiety and depression are the most common in the population. A person is said to have mental illness whenever thoughts and feelings increasingly interfere in one’s normal functioning or pleasure.

Mental illness otherwise known as mental disorders are a very common illnesses. About one in four people have this diagnosis, but there is a great deal of controversy about what it is, what causes it, and how people can be helped to recover. Mental illnesses are some of the least understood conditions in society. Because of this, many people face prejudice and discrimination in their everyday lives. However, unlike the images often found in books, on television and in films, most people can lead productive and fulfilling lives with appropriate treatment and support. For some people, drugs and other medical treatments are helpful, but for others they are not. Medical treatment may only be a part of what helps recovery, and not necessarily the main part. Psychotherapies and Counselling also help people to recover.

Features of Mental Illness  

  • Physiological Changes (Functions of the body):Sleep, Appetite, Bowel and Bladder movements and Sexual desire & activity. 
  • Psychological Changes ( Functions of the mind): Speech, Behavior, Emotions, Perception, Memory, Intelligence and decision making and Level of Consciousness.
  • Changes in the Individual and Social Activities: ADL –(Activities of daily living-Eg; brushing, toileting, bathing, eating, dressing, movement etc ) and withdrawal from friends and family. 


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