Is Mental Health and mental illness the same?

Mental health is a term that we so frequently use yet how many of us actually know what it means? Give this term a thought and think of what this term actually means for you. Define it in your own words.

Mental health is the term often used as a substitute for mental illnesses like depression, anxiety, schizophrenia and others. Contrary to how most people define it, according to the World Health Organization (WHO):

Mental health is “a state of well-being in which every individual realises his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

So rather than being about ‘what’s the problem?’ it’s really about ‘what’s going well?’.

It is about wellness than illness.

Consider both, mental wellness or health, and mental illness on a continuum.

- Is Mental Health and mental illness the same?

Mental health is at one end of the spectrum – represented by feeling good and functioning well – while mental health conditions (or mental illness) are at the other – represented by symptoms that affect people’s thoughts, feelings or behaviour.

Not everyone will be diagnosed with a mental illness but everyone certainly has “mental health”.

Researchers have shown that high levels of mental health are associated with:

  • Increased learning
  • Creativity and productivity
  • More pro-social behaviour and positive social relationships and
  • Improved physical health and life expectancy

In contrast, mental health conditions (or mental illness) can cause distress, impact on day-to-day functioning and relationships, and are associated with poor physical health and premature death from suicide.

Let’s understand what mental illness actually is.

Mental Illness (MI) refers to a disorder of mood, thought, perception, orientation, and memory which can affect the overall functions of social cognition and behaviour causing distress to the individual and his/ her family, this also includes conditions created due to substance abuse and alcohol.

What is the current scenario of mental health in India?

According to the World Health Organization, 7.5 per cent of India’s 135-crore population suffers from mental health issues, major and minor. That’s over 10 core people. Conversely, to provide care for those 10 core people, as per a 2015 Ministry of Health report, there were only 3,800 psychiatrists, 898 clinical psychologists, 850 psychiatric social workers, 1,500 psychiatric nurses and 43 mental health hospitals with a combined capacity of 20,000 beds in all of India.

While these figures are alarming, they do not include the number of counselling psychologists as these are not yet (as of March 12 ‘2019) included within the definition of mental health practitioners in India.

We also have the highest rate of suicide in the world between the ages of 15-29.

A cross-sectional study conducted by Jugal Kishore, Anvi Gupta (2011), who aimed to assess the myths, beliefs and perceptions about mental disorders and health-seeking behavior in general population and medical professionals of India showed:

  1. That the mental disorders were initially thought to be because of loss of semen or vaginal secretion, less sexual desire, excessive masturbation, God’s punishment for their past, and polluted air.
  2. 40.2% in rural areas, 33.3% in urban areas, and 7.9% professionals believed that mental illnesses are untreatable.
  3. Many believed that psychiatrists are eccentric (46.1% rural, 8.4% urban, 7.9% professionals), tend to know nothing, and do nothing (21.5% rural, 13.7% urban, 3.9% professionals), while 74.4% of rural subjects, 37.1% of urban subjects, and 17.6% professionals did not know that psychiatry is a branch of medicine.
  4. More people in rural areas than in urban area thought that keeping fasting or a faith healer can cure them from mental illnesses, whereas 11.8% of medical professionals believed the same. Most of the people also reported that they would rather go to someone close who could listen to their problems when they were sad and anxious.
  5. Only 15.6% of urban and 34.4% of the rural population said that they would like to go to a psychiatrist when they or their family members would suffer from some mental illness.

This is interesting but at the same time very unfortunate finding.

Though it sounds bizarre, yet many people don’t go to a mental health professional for a mental health exam even today. Their reasons could vary. In many cases, people only seek out a mental health professional only after some crisis has occurred.

According to a survey by WHO, India ranks 2nd when overall mental illnesses are concerned, ranks 1st in the list of countries where people are most affected by depression and anxiety, and ranks 2nd followed by China in the list of countries where people are more abused by drugs and alcohol. This is an alarming situation!

Ask yourself this, “Now that I am aware of how devastating the effects of mental illness can be, should I visit some mental health professional the next time I feel something’s wrong?” you will probably answer “yes” now, wouldn’t you?


  • Having sound mental health can help you to enjoy your life, environment, and the people in it.
  • You will be creative, willing to learn new things, better able to cope with difficult times in personal and professional lives.
  • It will also prevent the onset or relapse of any physical or mental illness.
  • Taking care of and maintaining mental health can serve two purposes- precaution and cure.
When do you think mental health is more important, when one is having some mental illness or when one is already living a sound life?
  • Ideally, in both of these scenarios, mental health is equally important. It goes without saying that when one is already suffering from some mental illness, one needs to visit a Mental Health Practitioner.
  • But for people who are already living with good mental health, it becomes equally important to develop and sustain habits that would help one to continue living a healthy life.

But what can one do when one is already suffering from some mental illness?

Visit a psychiatrist and also a psychotherapist.

Thanks to different psychological schools of thought there are different types of therapies to choose from. Some of the therapies that this huge reservoir of therapies consists of are Behavioural therapy, Psychoanalysis, Cognitive Behavioral therapy, Hypnotherapy etc.

While each of these therapies has their plus points and minus points, we prefer using an integrated approach to these therapies. This integrated approach severs as a really effective tool to deal with many mental issues. We will have more articles focusing on understanding how this integrated approach can help to deal with different types of mental issues.

If you are someone who wishes to learn and practice this integrated approach then refer to this link for the complete course details.
If you or someone you know would like to consult a practitioner for matters related to mental health, feel free to connect with us on +92-8080208473.
June 8, 2019
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