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Words Matters in Mental Health

Updated: Jan 18, 2022

Mental Health and Mental Illness are NOT , I repeat are NOT interchangeable words.

Today is the day that I want to update a perspective for many people who are in the field of helping as well as those who are on the cusp of trying to help.


The same way we would frown on a parent for calling their child stupid and ridiculous, when it is not even necessary to say that, is the same way I approach people (both “professional” and public) using words like depression, bi-polar, narcissitic, anxiety, and the list of names which you know nothing about, it is not necessary to label without merit.

Now let’s get back to some working definitions. If you’ve ever been to my basic mental health session, this definition is what I start with a frame-work for Mental Health. The WHO (World Health Organisation states that Mental health is a state of well-being in which an individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.

The National Health Service in the UK, definition of Mental Health ‘No Health without Mental Health’ policy is that it is a positive state of mind and body, feeling safe and able to cope, with a sense of connection with people, communities and the wider environment. Levels of mental health are influenced by the conditions people are born into, grow up in, live and work in.

Please note with these two definitions , the word illness is not included or interchange.

Now Mental Illness is defined as a health problem that significantly affects how a person feels, thinks, behaves, and interacts with other people. It is diagnosed according to standardised criteria. The term mental disorder is also used to refer to these health problems.

The DSM defines Mental Disorders as a syndrome characterized by clinically significant disturbance in an individual's cognition, emotion regulation, or behavior that reflects a dysfunction in the psychological, biological, or developmental processes underlying mental functioning.

So here lies the problem, we are not actually helping individuals when we don’t define the two as separate entities and when we don’t talk about mental health as a continuum.

One’s mental health is a life-long experience. From a baby we are concerned with the brain development and cognitive abilities, (fyi that is mental health) as a young woman we are concerned with the hormonal changes of a mother (Fyi that is mental health), as an older adult we are concerned with the cognitive decline (Fyi that is mental health).

So if we continue to use the word interchangeably we will begin speaking a narrative that everyone has a disorder or illness.

So for today I want to offer you a solution to your problem ridden language, if you are truly open to being an advocate for health or even well-being that I know so many of you are trying to be.

1. Use spectrum language for Mental Health… this may include but are not limited to words like, Optimal Mental Health, mental hygiene, declining mental health, mental health skills, mental health capacity, Mental health challenge, mental health awareness, mental health disturbance, mental health problem.

2. If you are speaking about Mental Health, speak about mental health, please offer a definition that allows your audience to know exactly what you are trying to convey.

3. Be Curious and Identify if person’s have been taught mental skills which include cognitive skills, brain health language, emotional literacy, emotional regulation, are in safe environments, have effective interpersonal relationships, and have sound lifespan development.

4. Research the history of mental health and it’s evolution. Focus on the preservation part and the humanity part.

5. Audit your own mental hygiene. What are your own personal practices and how consistent are you. What are your daily cognitive, emotional and behaviour practices that you use to ensure you are operating optimally within the landscapes that you are operating in.

I know most of us are truly trying to help, and are wanting to repair what seemed to be a broken system, however it may be time to stop trying to fix and really become aware and effectively educated to systemic (not systematic) what it means to be Living Optimally in our human experience.

Sincerely Jay

A Mental Health Consultant.

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