What is the Difference Between Mental Health and a Mental Illness?

What is the Difference Between Mental Health and a Mental Illness?

These days, we hear a lot about mental health. This encouraging step toward recognizing the importance of mental health is important, but many people still easily get confused by the terminology used to discuss and understand mental wellness. One of the most common points of confusion comes between understanding the differences between mental health and mental illness. While everyone experiences mental health to a varying degree, just like your physical health, mental illnesses are particulars health problems that impact how you think, behave, and interact with others.

Mental illnesses can be particularly common and debilitating in teens, which is why many families turn to residential treatment centers for teens for help. These specialized treatment centers, designed for teenagers, can help individuals understand their mental illness and develop healthy and productive strategies and mechanisms for living a happy, healthy life. Here, we’re taking a closer look at the difference between mental health and mental illness and discussing effective ways to treat teens experiencing mental illness.

What is Mental Health?

Everyone has mental health. According to the World Health Organization (WHO), mental health can be understood as “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and can contribute to her or his community.”

Mental health, essentially, is like a barometer for our mental wellbeing. Over time, our mental health will fluctuate and everyone, no matter how happy you are, will experience poor mental health days. It’s important to note that feeling bad or having a negative mindset at times is perfectly natural. However, if these poor mental health days prolong and you can’t find a way to improve your mental wellbeing, it may be time to speak with a mental health professional.

What is a Mental Illness?

A mental illness, on the other hand, is a specific health problem that affects how a person thinks, behaves, and interacts with others and the world around them. Teenagers tend to be especially susceptible to mental illnesses as they work to navigate the challenging years of adolescence. They also may not have the experience or resources to deal with the mental illness as it affects their thinking and behavior.

Here are some of the most common mental illnesses affecting teens:

  • Anxiety.
  • Depression.
  • ADHD.
  • Mood disorders.
  • Eating disorders.
  • Schizophrenia.

What is the Difference Between Mental Health and Mental Illness?

As you can see, there’s a big difference between mental health and mental illness. Mental health refers to your current mental wellbeing and this can (and often does) fluctuate with time or in response to certain factors, such as friends, family, or your career or how you spend your time. Everyone has mental health, but depending on your state of being, you may experience positive or negative mental health.

While mental health can often be improved with time or through simple actions like talking with a friend or loved one, in some cases you may benefit from working with a mental health professional to help you identify what is hurting your mental health and how to find an effective solution.

A mental illness is a specific health problem that affects your thinking and behavior. To clarify this discrepancy, it can be helpful to compare mental health to your physical health.  We all have varying degrees of physical health, just like mental health, but not everyone always has a specific physical illness or health problem. Of course, the two are related. Just as a physical illness, like the flu, will negatively impact your overall physical health, experiencing a mental illness, like depression, will impact your mental health.

Tips to Improve Your Mental Health

Even if you aren’t experiencing a diagnosed mental illness, it’s still possible (and even likely) to experience poor mental health at times. However, there are simple steps you can take to boost your mental health and reduce those “bad days.”

Take a look at some of the all-natural ways you can improve your mental health:

  • Get more sleep: sleep is essential for every aspect of our health—including your mental health. While the amount of sleep each person needs will vary, try to get at least 6 to 8 hours of quality sleep a night.
  • Stay active: when we exercise, our brains naturally release endorphins that make us feel good and can boost our mood. Even light to moderate exercise, such as jogging, swimming, or yoga can make an amazing impact on your mental wellbeing.
  • A healthy diet: it’s true that “you are what you eat,” which is why it’s so important to maintain a healthy, balanced diet. Your physical health and mental health are connected, so when you improve your physical health through a good diet, many people also feel much better, too.
  • Be social: relationships, whether with your friends, family, or romantic partner, make a major impact on our mental wellbeing. While we all need time to wind down and it can be healthy to focus on yourself and your time spent alone, it’s also important to balance this with time maintaining relationships. Even if it’s a quick call with an old friend or a walk around the block, building healthy relationships is essential for maintaining and improving your mental health.

Residential Treatment Centers for Teens

While all these tips can help boost your mental health, the may not enough if you’re experiencing a medical mental illness. A mental illness, such as anxiety, depression, or schizophrenia, will require professional assistance from a doctor or mental health expert to identify an effective path toward treatment and mental wellness. Many teens benefit from going to a residential treatment center where they can receive around-the-clock care and develop healthy strategies for living with their mental illness.

Conclusion – What is the Difference Between Mental Health and a Mental Illness?  

Just like your physical health, it’s important to be aware of the state of your mental health and to take actions toward ensuring good mental health. Luckily, many of the steps to maintain good mental health are relatively simple, such as a good diet and regular exercise—you just need to stay focused and consistent. A mental illness, however, is not the same as mental health. If you’re experiencing a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, it’s critical to talk with a doctor or mental health expert.


I am a pop culture and social media expert. Aside from writing about the latest news health, I also enjoy pop culture and Yoga. I have BA in American Cultural Studies and currently enrolled in a Mass-Media MA program. I like to spend my spring breaks volunteering overseas.

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