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Mental Health vs. Mental Illness. What's the difference?

If there is a silver lining to the COVID 19 pandemic, it is the global awareness that it helped bring to mental health. During, and following lock downs, there was an unprecedented number of people experiencing feelings of anxiety and/or depression. Given that such a large portion of our population was experiencing these unwanted emotions, maybe it felt safer and more socially acceptable to discuss mental health concerns? ... Whatever the reason, it was a massive step forward for mental health awareness!

Several top stars, such as Selena Gomez, Kristin Bell, Ariana Grande, Serena Williams, Pete Davidson, Jim Carrey and more, have generously lent their voices and their own experiences with mental health struggles to help raise mental health awareness. All of these factors have played a role in reducing stigma and normalizing conversations about mental health. And, now that the conversation has started, it is important to understand commonly used – and misused - mental health terms and why they matter.

What is Mental Health?

Mental health is a broad term that refers to the emotional and psychological well-being of an individual. It includes our thoughts, feelings, and behaviors, as well as our ability to cope with stress, manage our emotions, and interact with others.

Mental health is important for everyone, regardless of age, gender, or background. It affects our ability to work, learn, and enjoy life. Good mental health can help us cope with stress, build strong relationships, and make healthy choices.

There are many different factors that can affect our mental health, including our genetics, environment, and life experiences. Some people may be more vulnerable to mental health problems than others. However, everyone has the potential to experience mental health challenges.

There are many things you can do to promote your mental health, including:

  • Exercise regularly
  • Eat a healthy diet
  • Get enough sleep
  • Avoid alcohol and drugs
  • Spend time with loved ones
  • Do things you enjoy
  • Set realistic goals
  • Learn to cope with stress
  • Talk to someone you trust

If you are struggling with your mental health, we encourage you to seek help. There are many different treatments available, including therapy, medication, and lifestyle changes. Treatment can help you manage your symptoms, improve your quality of life, and prevent future problems.

What is Mental Illness?

Mental health and mental illness are often used interchangeably, but they are not the same thing. Mental health is a broad term that refers to the overall well-being of a person's mind, while mental illness is a specific condition that can affect a person's mental health.

Mental illness is a common problem that can affect anyone at any age. It is a chronic condition that causes changes in a person's thinking, feeling, mood, or behavior. Mental illness can be mild or severe, and it can interfere with a person's ability to function in daily life.

There are many different types of mental illness, and each person experiences it differently.

Some common symptoms of mental illness include:

  • Changes in mood, such as sadness, anxiety, or irritability
  • Changes in thinking, such as unrealistic beliefs or thoughts of self-harm
  • Changes in behavior, such as social isolation or substance abuse

Here are the most common types of mental illness:

  • Anxiety disorders are a group of mental health conditions that cause excessive nervousness, fear, apprehension, and worry. These disorders can cause significant distress and impairment in daily life.• Depression is a mood disorder that causes persistent feelings of sadness and loss of interest. It can affect people of all ages, races, and socioeconomic backgrounds.
  • Bipolar disorder is a mental health condition that causes unusual shifts in mood, energy, activity levels, and the ability to carry out day-to-day tasks.
  • Schizophrenia is a mental health condition that causes people to experience hallucinations, delusions, and disorganized thinking.
  • Attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a neurodevelopmental disorder that affects attention, hyperactivity, and impulsivity. It is often diagnosed in children, but it can also be diagnosed in adults.
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD) is an anxiety disorder that causes people to have repeated, unwanted thoughts or behaviors. These thoughts or behaviors can be time-consuming and interfere with daily life.
  • Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is a mental health condition that can develop after someone experiences or witnesses a traumatic event. Symptoms of PTSD can include flashbacks, nightmares, and anxiety.

There are many factors that can contribute to mental illness, including:

  • Genetics
  • Brain chemistry
  • Stress
  • Trauma

Mental illness is not caused by a lack of willpower or a moral failing. It is a serious medical condition that can have a significant impact on a person's life.

There are many things you can do to help someone with mental illness, including:

  • Listen to them without judgment
  • Offer support and encouragement
  • Encourage them to seek professional help
  • Help them to find resources and support groups

If you are struggling with your own mental health, there are many resources available to help you. You can talk to your doctor, a mental health professional, or a trusted friend or family member. There are also many online resources available, which we will list below.

Remember that you are not alone. Mental illness is a common problem, and there are many people who can help you. With treatment, you can live a healthy and productive life.


Mental Health Resources

High Country Behavioral Health provides mental health and addiction services in Western Wyoming and Eastern Idaho.

SAMHSA’s National Helpline – 1.800.662.4357 is a free, confidential, 24/7, 365-day-a-year treatment referral and information service (in English and Spanish) for individuals and families facing mental and/or substance use disorders.

Wyoming Department of Health

Idaho Department of Health and Welfare

Wyoming-Based Suicide Prevention Hotline 1-800-273-TALK

Idaho Suicide Prevention 208-398-4357

National Suicide Prevention Hotline 988

LatinX Mental Health Resources

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