mental illness, mental health, mental wellness

the public health agency of canada has a site on mental health – or mental illness, if you prefer that term. the definition is:

Mental illnesses are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood or behaviour (or some combination thereof) associated with significant distress and impaired functioning over an extended period of time. The symptoms of mental illness vary from mild to severe, depending on the type of mental illness, the individual, the family and the socio-economic environment.

this is an ok definition as it goes but i ask myself right away – if there is an alteration, a change, then what has it changed from? has it changed from ease (as opposed to distress) and skilful (as opposed to impaired) functioning? or maybe just from distress (as opposed to significant distress) and acceptable (as opposed to impaired) functioning?

so let’s say that when one is not mentally ill, then one varies somewhere between ease and distress and between skilful and acceptable functioning.

this is again ok but just not very exciting, is it?

what’s mental wellness, then?

fortunately, the public health agency has something to say about this, too. in fact, it is the UN definition of wellness:

Wellness is not only the absence of illness but also the sense of total physical and mental well-being.

this sounds fabulous! it sounds as great as the definition of non-illness sounds unexciting.

unfortunately, it also sounds pretty unrealistic.

i think that’s partly because of the dualism involved in illness vs. wellness. when you take these definitions, someone with a chronic condition could never have well-being. the diabetic who lies totally content on the deck of a cruise ship during her honeymoon – sorry, no wellness. on the other hand, a physically healthy psychopath with not a care in the world would enjoy all-round well-being.

obviously, there is something wrong with this picture.

i certainly have no easy answer to this. i guess my point is that mental health, mental illness and mental wellbeing are difficult concepts to pin down. in the end, i think every person needs to define these terms for themselves.

isabella mori
counselling in vancouver

61 thoughts on “mental illness, mental health, mental wellness

  1. Vitallywell

    There are so many factors to mental wellness that the source needs to be determined first. Nutrition, brain chemistry, emotional trauma, operating on bad information… As you can see, a multi-faceted approach is often needed. Obviously there is no 1 answer to this issue.

  2. isabella mori

    hi vitallywell, and thanks for visiting.

    more often than not, the source cannot be determined. i think that’s partly because several things play together. e.g. if the environmental conditions are very positive, a person who is genetically predisposed to depression may not experience anything more the occasional “blueness”.

    and then of course there are situations when there IS one major contributor and it’s so relieving when one finds it and can deal with it. a client of mine used to deal with horrible episodes of depression until the found out that much of it was hormonally related.

  3. Vitallywell

    Absolutely – hormones are a huge factor regarding mental states.

    I just received this info this morning from WC Douglass newsletter. Rather significant numbers and I would guess that parasites rarely come up as a possible cause for schizophrenia.

    “Do you have a cat” may be a valid question question for patients.


    New feline study proves I’m not crazy after all

    Dear Friend,

    You may wonder why I even care about having one of my controversial views vindicated by new research. Well, one reason is that it proves that I’m not crazy… Back in 2001, I wrote about the dangers of the Toxoplasma gondi parasite that’s found in cat feces, and its potential to cause schizophrenia.

    Now, research just published in the American Journal of Psychiatry proves that I’m not off my rocker after all. According to the research, anyone who has been exposed to toxoplasma – which, potentially, might mean anyone who has pet cats – could have a greater chance of developing schizophrenia. Among those studied in the research, those who came in contact with toxoplasma had a 26 percent greater risk. That’s not an insignificant number if you ask me.

    While this may be bad news for cat lovers (it gives real credence to the “crazy cat lady” stereotype, doesn’t it?), it’s good news for doctors seeking more information about this terrible and devastating disorder. Each year, there are as many as 2 million reported cases of schizophrenia in the U.S. alone.

    This new research could mean that the administration of powerful antiparasitic drugs to battle toxoplasma may actually slow or stop the progression of this wasting mental disorder. The researchers suggested that while schizophrenia is not an automatic result of toxoplasma infection, the infection could trigger the disorder in people who are genetically predisposed to mental disorders.

    The tie between toxoplasma infection and schizophrenia has long been suspected, but never proven. “Until now, the only thing we could say is that some people with schizophrenia also had been infected with toxoplasma at some point, but we couldn’t tease out which came first,” said Dr. Robert Yolken, a lead researcher of the study. “With our current study, we were able to show that infection came first.” This is good. Because it’s about time that the medical community approached the topic of mental disorders with some clear-headed thinking.

  4. Judy Chamberlain

    Do you not think that the benefits to mental health of owning a cat outweigh the risks of being affected by toxoplasma gondi. The endorphins released by strokind and being loved by you cat or any other pet must be good for your emotional wellbeing.

  5. Vitallywell

    Pets are wonderful for stress reduction and relaxation(very important) and not to mention companionship for the elderly and/or recluse individuals. The post is in no way to suggest people not have a cat (or any other pet). The post is simply to bring awareness to the possibilities of parasites and possible mental health implications.

    Prior to coming upon this report, I was completely unaware that certain parasites had an effect on mental illness (schizophrenia in this case) and that may be the only parasite/mental illness combination there is.

    Aside from the mental health implication is the physical health implications of parasites – pets can be carriers/infected. That is why it is important to have your pets checked out by a veterinarian (a license requirement in my city).

    PS – I have a cat.

  6. Online Medical Doctor

    Pets are a wonderful for stress reduction and relaxation – I can’t say enough about that.

    However, sometimes the unexpected illness or death of a pet can have quite the opposite effect, especially for adolescents.

  7. Online Medical Doctor

    Isabella – it is part of life. I’m not sure why I was in such a morbid mood. We had a pet pass a way not too long ago and it was especially hard on our little ones….

    on a lighter note, I have been leisurely reading some of the blogs on your blogroll – I must say thank you for turning me on to a few of them… they are all great!

  8. isabella mori

    hi doctor … thanks for following up on this!

    i’m glad you like the blogs on my blog roll. would be curious to hear which ones stand out particularly!

    i’m sorry about the loss of your animal friend. i think i know what you mean – we still talk about the loss of our dog 12 years ago!

    you know what’s interesting – when you made your first comment, i replied with some vague philosophical statement; and now that i know the story behind your comment, i feel i can connect much better with you.

    goes to show, doesn’t it, that stories, be they as short as they may, can be very powerful.

  9. Jenna M

    I think mental wellness has a lot to do with what we eat also. Remember Omega 3?? According to the Scientists at the National Institutes of Health an increase in depression in North America during the last century has been associated with the decline in consumption of DHA (docosahexaenoic acid, found in Omega 3) during the same period. Something to think about! I’d recommend checking out to find out about a great product which has Higer DHA levels than popular brands and is being offered at a discount right now if you enter coupon code “gift of health”.
    I’ve used it for a while now and it’s been great.

  10. gari

    No sooner do I write Feb and it published. This feels like a Communist plot. (If you’re under forty there’s probably no humor in that line. Maybe you have to be under fifty, come to think of it.)

    This is my effort to thank those who link over to me. I always forget someone, no, maybe a few, so if that’s you, please let me know if you want to be added to the list.

    Rather than be snarky, we’re using your own words to describe your blogs, for the most part.

    Manic Depression News and Discussion Forum

  11. gari

    Try Digital Doorway, who hosts Change of Shift, a nursing blog. This is how digital describes himself: A digital venue for creative expression, nursing adventures, reflections on healthcare, thoughtful reverie, thoughtless repose, and other flotsam and jetsam. See, everyone’s a poet.

    Midwife with a Knife (sounds so scary) has been in San Diego for a conference. Did you ever stop to think: What if all conferences were in San Diego or Hawaii, maybe?

    Manic Depression News and Discussion Forum

  12. Circumcision Sunshine Coast

    Mental health is very important and mental health has a lot to do with self image. Both female and male self-images are very important for self confidence. I am a great supporter of male mental health and work in the community in support of male health.

  13. carb blocker

    “Mens sana in corpore sano” as the ancient romans used to say. It means “a healthy body is the home of a healthy mind” and it should make us aware of the fact that we can’t ignore our bodies if we want a healthy mind.

  14. Glen

    Stress is never good for any body. I think when your stressed out and start thinking about all your problems your health deteriarates because of it. The power your brain has over your body is unbelieveable.

  15. Israel Petrea

    it’s really interesting read, I have been following your blog since the last three days. But I still not able to subscribe it from my iphone, do you have any solutions regarding this trouble?

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    it’s really interesting read, I think when your stressed out and start thinking about all your problems your health deteriarates because of it. A digital venue for creative expression, nursing adventures, reflections on healthcare, thoughtful reverie, thoughtless repose, and other flotsam and jetsam. See, everyone’s a poet. For more information visit Anabolic Steroids

  17. Raj

    I think, stress plays a great role when we talk about mental illness. I personally was a victim myself. That was about 2 years ago. Loads of medication and support from family helped me get back on my feat. Anyways, this was an interesting read and thought I should share my little story because I could relate to your post.

  18. Amit

    Its a part of life… In life some times our mind fails us, we cant do anything but if you are willing to fight you can do aur try to do… don’t fail try…. may be….

  19. kikio

    Mental illnesses are characterized by alterations in thinking.Mental health is very important and mental health has a lot to do with self image.

  20. Mark

    One of the things the new studies show is that different treatments work can solve the mental illness, but they have to be selected carefully.

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    it is possible to recover from a mental health problem and live a productive and fulfilling life. It is important to remember that having a mental health problem is not a sign of weakness.

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  25. Austin

    thanks for the comment, doctor. yes, death and illness of a pet can be disturbing – but that’s just part of life, isn’t it?

  26. techFlout

    I found this incredibly helpful. Thank you so much.. I’m off to do some more research and learning and hopefully elevate the experience my readers have on my blog.

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