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


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