What Defines Mental Health Versus Mental Illness?

April 21, 2017 4 min read
What Defines Mental Health Versus Mental Illness?

Mental health is a hot topic that has been gaining blooming attention in the past decades thanks to the increased awareness via media exposure, research publications, acknowledgment by various medical and educational institutions, and improved accessibility to mental health services.


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Although mental illness has become a known fact, only a handful of people understand its nature. To understand an illness, we have to first see what wellness looks like.

From a psychological perspective, wellness as a peaceful state of mind, in many cases, is dependent on having a physically healthy body and a balanced mind, leading one to attain a state of satisfaction and enjoyment in life. Besides physical and mental health, other dimensions in life such as social, occupational, spiritual, emotional and economical conditions also constitutes wellness in a holistic perspective.

Mental health and mental illness

Wellness and health are often considered a normality for the mainstream. However, normality is very much dependent on the sociocultural context that underlies each society. Behaviors that are regarded as abnormal or deviant in one culture may be considered acceptable in other cultures, among other age groups, or in other social classes.

The definition of normality therefore varies by place, situation, time and person, because it changes along with changing societal standards and norms. In the case of extreme behavioral deviation from the norm, however, consequences may include severe functional impairment across various aspects in life that need to be adjusted in order for the individual to operate successfully in society again. This leads us to now look at what constitutes the mentally unwell.

what defines Mental health

Psychopathology is concerned with diagnosis of a disorder that characterizes a set of emotional, psychological, physical, social, and behavioral symptoms. Both personal dispositions and environmental stimuli contribute to individual’s ability to maintain the state of wellbeing. Giving all the environmental stressors that we experience daily in life, whether from relationship, work, school, community or even physical health, it is tough to stay optimistic and calm all the time.

We all have experienced ups and downs in life resulting in increased or decreased feeling of wellbeing, therefore abnormal states occur in all of us ranging in length of occurrence and severity of distress.

Stresses could accumulate over time and trigger feeling of crisis that places individual in a highly vulnerable position to mental illness or temporary state of psychological distress. This is especially evident in individuals lacking social support that serves as one of the major protection factors against the risk of lowering self-esteem & increasing self-discrepancy corresponding to negatively perceived life events.  

See these tips on how to self-manage anxiety.

Prolonged psychological distress if left unattended will disrupt all other areas of life including work, relationships, and physical health.

A good time to seek professional help is when one feels so overwhelmed and out of resources to deal with the persisting concern.

The counseling process can be seen as a two-way journey where the counselor walks through the internal mind of the client with the client; introspecting on the client’s past to provide insight to the current situation while expanding pavements towards futuristic goals. During this collaborative process, the counselor aims to improve the client’s well-being by ameliorating distress and maximizing the effective life and social functioning of the client. Changes may or may not occur depending on whether the client is ready to accept change and whether a consensus on the same goal has been made.

Moreover, establishment of a strong therapeutic relationship is believed to be the most important curative factor in counseling and psychotherapy.

The therapeutic relationship, also known as the working alliance, denotes the relationship between a healthcare professional and a client needing help, during which a therapist and client engage with each other, creating beneficial change in the client. The role of therapist includes unconditional acceptance and care for the client, and using communication and reflecting skills to facilitate the development of an effective therapeutic relationship with the client. Although the relationship is therapeutic in and of itself, it serves as a vehicle for therapeutic inquiry and growth; I believe it is ultimately up to the therapist to guide the direction of the vehicle, to facilitate self-awareness and psychological development of the client, enabling the client to grasp a more fulfilling prospect in life.


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This article was written by clinical counselor, holistic healer, and therapist Daisy Bai.

Daisy's counseling practice is based in Vancouver, Canada, where she is living her life passion of supporting mental wellness of people from diverse backgrounds. If you'd like to find out more about Daisy Bai or engage in online therapy with her, you can get in touch directly through her RingMD profile with a click of the button below.

If you're thinking "I need a therapist near me" but Daisy doesn't specialize in what you need, try the RingMD therapist directory. We will help you find the right therapist for YOU!