What immediately springs to mind when we hear the words mental health? Was it depression, anxiety, PTSD ? They are, however, examples of poor, or mental ill-health. The terms ‘mental health’ and ‘mental ill-health’ have become interchangeable. So, what is the difference? Mental health is defined as:

A state of well-being in which every individual realises their own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively, and enables sound decision making and informed choices.”

World Health Organisation

Well-being is generally about feeling well; the experience of health, happiness and prosperity, including having good mental health, and a sense of achievement, meaning or purpose. Mental ill-health is defined as:

Mental health problems/illness range from the worries we all experience as part of everyday life to serious long-term conditions. The majority of people who experience mental health problems can get over them or learn to live with them, especially if they get help early on.

The Mental Health Foundation

From these definitions, it’s clear that mental health is not mental ill-health, illness, disorders, issues or conditions. The 2017 Stephenson Farmer Thriving at Work report reiterates this differentiation and encourages greater understanding, stating:

By mental health we do not mean “mental ill health”. We mean the mental health we all have, just as we all have physical health. The correct way to view mental health is that we all have it and we fluctuate between thriving, struggling and being ill and possibly off work.

The fundamental stigma-tackling principle of Time to Change, 2007’s trailblazing campaign, is:

We all have physical health. We all have mental health. Let’s look after our mental health as we do our physical health.

But, we often pay little or no attention to our mental health until we experience change of some kind, for all manner of reasons, with significant and often far reaching effects. Even then, what do we do about it.

Your mental health, and how you experience this, is individual to you. Looking after and paying attention to your mental health, as you do your physical health, is key to your well-being. Explore our ‘My Mental Health’ section to find out more.