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Understanding Mental Illness

Understanding Mental Illness and Mental Health

Building our mental fitness proactively is a great idea in principle. However, it can be difficult to get started making changes due to underlying life challenges we may still be dealing with.

While the commonly used terms mental health and mental illness are often used interchangeably, they actually mean different things. Differentiating between the two can help us overcome stigma and take action.


What Is A Mental Illness?

A mental illness is defined as a clinically significant disturbance of a person's cognition, emotional state, or behaviour. Their mental health - something that all of us have - has deteriorated.

Specifically, mental illness involves the experience of distress or suffering, that goes on for an extended period of time, and that leads to problems with everyday functioning.

The exact cause of mental illness is unclear. The most prominent theory among researchers is that a combination of generic, enviromental and social factors work together to create biological and cognitive adaptations in our bodies in response to stress or change in our environment.

The signs and symptons of mental illness include sleep problems, fatigue, constant worry, withdrawal from friends, loss of interest in hobbies, or thoughts of suicide.

Despite the stigma which still surrounds it, mental illness is fairly common. Approxamitly 1 in 5 people in a given exhibit clinically significant symptoms that warrent diagnosis.

Two of the most common mental illnesses are anxirty disorder and major depression. Sometimes these occur together.

There is a difference between normal human emotions and anxiety disorder. Likewise, major depression - the illness - is more than feeling sad or gloomy from time to time.

So what is the difference?

When OK, becomes NOT OK

Sadness, anxiety and fatigue are all 'normal' human emotions and feelings, especially during times of adversity.

The question is, what is normal? When does okay become not okay?

When we experience negatrive emotions, but are able to get through our daay or they diminish over time, that's part of what it means to be human. Adversity itself isn't an illness.

The diagnosis of a mental ilness is not solely about the symptoms we experience, but more so about the degree to which these symptoms affect our ability to function effectively in everyday life.

When we can't get out of bed for weeks, lose interest in our hobbies or other people, or can't get intrusive thoughts out of our heqads to concentrate at work, we may have a problem that warrants further investigation by medical professionals.

Mental illness is serious and early intervention is vital for effective treatment. Nevertheless, it is important that we don't misinterpret and medicalise every single feeling of anxiety ir sadness as a disease.

Between the extremes of 'contantly happy' and clinically unwell are where most of us 'live' on the continuum. That's where learning the skills of Mental Fitness becomes so valuable.

Living With Mental Health

No matter our current level of Mental Health, all of us are capable of taking small steps to protect and improve it.

Firstly, realise that the foundations of wellbeing apply to our mental health as much as our physical health.

For example, good sleep doesn't just rest the bodies, it also re-energises our minds. The food we eat impacts our mental and physical health for good or ill within hours. Physical movement is possibly the best mood-booster there is.

Secondly, actively apply and practice the tools that promote Mental Fitness and strengthing of resilience.

Think of how you can incorporate moments of mindfulness, gratitude, reframing and perspective into your day as you learn more about them in the diary or through your own research.

Finally, if you are struggling, reach out to somebody. It could be your spouse, friend, or trusted collegue at work.

If that's not an option, or you feel your life situation is unmanageable, reach out to a medical professional or a help-line on this website.


Reflect: At the end of a month, reflect on your support team - Friends, collegues and family. Who is on your team, and who relies on you for support? Who might you reach out to in a crisis or should you gave a serious life challenge in the future?

Plan: If your social support network is small, distant, or strained - make a time to catch up with one 'new' person to develop your connection. Whilst you are doing this, also think of other ways you can get lifes pressures off your chest. If you like writing, try journaling,. If you're creative, rediscover painting, drawing or music.

Act: Improving our Mental Fitness requires action as well as knowledge. Think about one online activity you currently do that adds little value to your life, and replace it with learning about the Mental Fitness topics you discover from this website in more depth.