Mental Health is not the opposite of mental illness, and it’s a community matter

The way we talk about mental health matters, and finding a shared language is an important way to make sure we are all on the same wavelength.

On Monday, October 10, which was World Mental Health Day, CAMH shared this video.

(Below isn’t a full transcript, but some highlights. Listen to the video if you have 6 minutes, it’s a great baseline. Honestly, I was surprised by how simple it is to contribute to your mental health, and yet, I would have been hard-pressed to craft the list of simple things we can do, to help go about it. It’s a real indictment of the cultural waters we’re swimming in that a 46 year old woman needs to be told by a mental health PSA that letting yourself try a new hobby and understanding we all experience good and bad feelings, feels revelatory. Or that in investing energy towards your community, you are cultivating an environment that supports everyone around you to be more mentally healthy!)

“Mental health plays an important role in our overall wellbeing. 1 in 3 Canadians will experience one of 6 mental health illnesses or substance use disorders in their lifetime. In any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental illness or addiction. Awareness has been raised about the importance of helping those experiencing mental illness to get access to treatments that will improve their mental health. But what about the 4/5, or 80% of the population, who will not experience a mental illness or an addiction? What about their mental health? Are they mentally healthy?

First, what is mental health?

There is some confusion about what mental health means and this can have an impact on how we address mental health. For example, a lot of people think that when we talk about mental health, we’re talking about mental illness… that these subjects are one and the same. Really, mental health and mental illness are two different things. Mental illnesses are conditions where our moods, emotions and behaviours severely and negatively impact how we function in our lives. Mental illnesses can include depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and other mood disorders.

Mental health is a positive concept. It relates to our ability to enjoy life and to manage it in ways that help us reach our goals and cope with stressors. It’s a sense of spiritual and emotional wellbeing. This means mental health is more than the absence of mental illness.

If mental health and mental illness are two different ideas, what’s the relationship between them? Sometimes, people see them as two ends of a continuum, with one opposite to the other.

But a lot of research shows we should see them as two separate but interconnected concepts, that can be looked at, measured and responded to, separately. On two separate continuums.

A person with no mental illness is not necessarily mentally healthy – they may be feeling down or experiencing a high level of stress because of life circumstances.

But we can all strive for good mental health. Even individuals with mental illness can have good mental health.

While there are things we can do for our own mental health, the community where we live, work and play, has a big impact on our mental health. A community can promote mental health when its members have access to good jobs, income and housing. A mentally healthy community makes people feel safe, secure and like they belong, because it’s inclusive of people of all ages, backgrounds, sexual orientation.

There are simple things you can do to help create a community that is mentally healthy: accept that everybody faces daily challenges, get involved in your community, give back, support different types of people in your community.

Finally, there are things you can do for your own mental health. Know and accept life can be challenging. Create purpose in your life by learning trying new activities, like starting a hobby and setting realistic goals. Create trusting relationships with people who know and support you. Know and accept your strengths and weaknesses. Accept yourself and others – it’s the basis of self-esteem. And learn to recognize and understand that you and others have good and bad feelings.

By increasing good mental health, all of these things contribute to the wellbeing of Canadians. As the WHO famously said, there is no health without mental health.”

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