Mental Health or Mental Illness?

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I dislike the terms ‘Mental Heath’ and/or ‘Mental Illness’. Actually that’s a bit of an understatement.

For me, simply using the word ‘mental’ immediately brings images to my mind of the mental asylums of old, with padded cells, beds with wide leather straps and children being torn from the arms of their mothers. The film industry frankly hasn’t helped either. The pictures of a wife or husband being dragged away screaming, out of control, desperate. (As an aside …. And they wonder why we still hide our true feelings and thoughts?!)

I’d go as far as to say that I find it distressing. It brings fear into my mind. Fear that only a few generations ago, this could have been any one of us taken away by the men in white coats and having every element of control of ourselves and our lives taken away. And the realisation that in fact an understanding of this disease is so very recent. If we had been born a little earlier, we too could have been locked up, with no likelihood of ever seeing the light of day again. A prison.

I have been searching within the old grey matter for some time now for a softer phrase. A kinder term and finally I came across a fellow blogger (Lynda Estacio) who recently described her mental health as her emotional health.

My search is over.

I have thanked her, because for me, it describes the illness without any upsetting connotations.

My life is one filled with emotion. I am a person whose days historically have been ones filled with a zigzag of extreme highs and extreme lows. If I was happy, I was overexcitable and faintly manic. If I loved, I loved with an intensity almost beyond reason and with obsessive undertones. If I hated, I loathed with intensity. If I was sad, I was distraught and simply unable to understand it or come to terms with it. Grief from a death or the devastating effects of a divorce therefore almost destroyed me. Essentially, my emotions were too extreme. As per usual, there was no moderation, and never any ability to control them or even understand them.

Now, thankfully there is less of a zigzag of emotion day after day, and more of a smooth curving of ups and downs. And that is good. That gives me the space and ability to deal with the natural ups and downs of life. Sure I have my blips. We all do. I have my insecurities and that is acceptable and normal, completely normal. Yes, it is normal and good to have emotion.

But in excess, it is exhausting.

In excess, it is frightening.

But in moderation, as with most things, emotion is truly wonderful and completely natural.

So, thank you therefore WordPress once again for introducing me to a blogger who has given me a new way to think about this illness, this disease. I just have to care for my body and my emotional heath.

Emotional Health. I like it … very much.

Katie xx

How do you describe your depression and/or anxiety? Do you mind ‘Mental Illness’ or is it just me!

89 thoughts on “Mental Health or Mental Illness?”

  1. This is fantastic Katie: the phrase ’emotional health’ is a brilliant one, because EVERYONE has to look after their emotional health (just as everyone has to look after their mental health, but I totally agree that this is a much more accessible and acceptable term). Your description of where things were too extreme is also brilliant. And how you manage this now.

    Liked by 2 people

    1. Thanks so much … it just feels better to me. The word emotion takes away the fear and softens it a little. I’m so glad you like my ramblings … sorry they’re a little off the wall sometimes! Katie x

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  2. I agree! Mental illness has bad connotations. Being an alcoholic I don’t have an issue with the term alcoholism but can see why some prefer to call it alcohol abuse disorder, given alcoholism/alcoholic does carry a level of stigma. I think our issues have much common ground there in that much work is still needed to remove the shame/embarrassment etc around addiction as well as depression and anxiety. Emotional health is a much better term, at least until we get to a stage where these things are met with zero judgement or shame and the same kindness as any other illness or disease. My two-pence. 🙂 Anna x

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    1. Yes, you’ve got a point here … I think there is plenty of work still to be done to remove the stigma, shame and embarrassment of not being a perfect example of mankind. And, I do wish that those who ARE perfect would stop bragging about it on social media … b****stards!! Thanks so much for reading and I hope you’re doing ok? Katie x

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  3. What a fantastic post ant alternative name for mental health! You should lead the way with Emotional Health ! Because that is what it is..emotions on many levels ..mental on many levels just sounds ridiculous when you put it that way! Brilliant as ever Katie 😘

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    1. Thanks so much! Of course I can’t take credit for the name but I do prefer it. For me, it’s about emotions and hormones gone crazy to the extreme … for others of course it’s far, far worse than. But I hate the pictures that Mental Illness generates. Thanks so much for reading … I love your input! Katie x

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  4. I think my view is very influenced that I’ve been a health professional in both my current and previous careers, so the illness model just makes sense to me. I like the idea of emotional health, but it seems to refer to a narrower spectrum of inner experience than mental health. Personally my depression has had strong cognitive and psychomotor elements that I think are better captured by the term mental illness. Still, the more we talk about language on this topic the better!

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    1. Absolutely … thank goodness for wordpress so we can all talk about it and our own experiences and that I’m sure helps us become more relaxed about talking in ‘public’ circles rather than just here. And the more we talk in public, the more the stigma starts to weaken. Brilliant! Katie x

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  5. Language is a funny thing. Groups associate with a term until they feel it has curdled with the inevitable connotations, then rush to pick a less offensive one (e.g., retard to handicapped to special needs).
    For me, I do not worry about “mental” because I did not grow up in an era where people or their relatives were taken and committed to asylums. You’ve made me realize that’s why I don’t fear using my own name when discussing “emotional health.”
    I’m also in the same camp as ashleyleia there, in that an accurate term describes a specific condition. “Emotional health” deals with emotions, and perhaps confuses a doctor regarding the severity of the issue.
    My counselor DOES refer to what we’re learning as improving emotional intelligence, so you may be onto something. 🙂

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Oooh I love what you’re saying … and you’re right about the specific conditions. I think if I was at the top end of the bipolar spectrum I’d certainly not want to soften the name of it in any way, shape or form. It might almost be seen as trying to diminish the importance of it and I should never want to do that. However, in my case, where it’s emotions and hormones gone completely haywire and a hefty dose of anxiety and depression to join it, it sits quite well with me, but not for everyone. But, whatever it’s called, what I love is that we’re all able here to talk about it, all from different angles and perspectives. And I love what you say. You’re spot on! Thanks so much for reading and your input, it makes it all worthwhile. Katie xx

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  6. I say mental health because I feel it’s a good factual term for lots of emotional and psychological health issues but I can see how the word mental can be negative. I would never say mental illness because my immediate perception is it’s an overtly unflattering and unhelpful way of describing someone’s emotional or psychological health. It’s also true that the word(s) can sometimes cause some people to draw unwanted and untrue conclusions about others based on the connotation of the word(s).

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  7. I like this expression very much. I would far prefer to think I am attending to my emotional wellbeing than referring to Mental Health or Illness. Kinder, gentler and infinitely less scary. Xx

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  8. I like “emotional wellness/health” a lot, and I can relate to it as someone who is anxious and depressed, but there are still some mental aspects of my issues, like toxic thoughts, low sense of worth, etc. that I think that term doesn’t really cover. I don’t look at my mind and think it’s healthy, to be honest. It is true that the word “mental,” has been taken into a highly negative stigma, so I understand your feelings on how dramatic and drastic it sounds, but for example, for people with eating disorders and body dysmorphia, I might consider that more of a mental health issue. And while I think emotional roller coasters and issues are caused by inexplicable hormones a lot of the time, they also derive from the state of mind and how it was shaped throughout the life through external factors. All we can really control is the way we think, what our mentality is, so maybe using “mental health/illness” at least makes me feel like I have a chance at regaining some semblance of control, at re-shaping my mind, whereas with “emotional,” I don’t think there’s anything I can do about it. Rarely can people control their emotions, but they can work with how they think. At the same time, “emotional” lets us accept and release that desire to control everything in life, because such emotions never really go away, they come and go, and acknowledging this aspect of our lives to be our “emotional health” could be freeing in a different way. Before I flip flop too hard (I always end up having a back-and-forth debate with myself) I’ll conclude that I think both terms work and can be used for different areas. I’d consider my anxiety to be part of my emotional health, and it derives from my mental health at that moment.
    This is a great topic 😀 I had a lot of fun thinking about this and will likely continue to do so. Thanks!

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    1. What I love is how these things make us think! Thanks so much for your perspective, I really love hearing how everyone sees things. If I was at the top end of the perspective with bipolar for example, I completely agree that emotional health would not be appropriate, without a doubt. I think, that for me it works very well as my problem is extreme emotions and hormones which in turn means that I react in the same way, ie in an extreme manner. It’s hard to control and to moderate especially as this has been my default setting for so long … getting there though, but it’s a slow process. Thanks so much for reading and giving your views … I love it! Katie x

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Yes! I love these sort of thinking incentives 🙂 And I always have great discussions on blogs, which I also love, compared to the more toxic comment sections on other sites. I thought it was a deep topic and I appreciated it a lot. I’m glad you’re getting there! It’s all about movement, so keep on moving 🙂 as painfully slow as it may be 😦
        💗

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  9. Emotional health most definitely. All my life extremes and especially in love were due to deep felt emotions. I was not ill or mental. They were relationships that I worked hard at, filed my heart with,and let go when they had run their courses with the strength of sadness as strong as the strength of passion.
    The highs were skyrises and the lows were bottomlessly gruelling. But emotions I don’t regret.
    Mentally shaken but not ill.
    Judi

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    1. I totally understand. Relationships were for me the hardest to deal with due to my extremes of emotion. And it was so darn exhausting. I like that you don’t regret the emotions … that’s truly good. After all, it’s what makes us human. Katie

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  10. You have found the best description Emotional Health it is more fitting as it describes people who are more sensitive than others. They feel everything deeper. Their emotions can become torn, fears, and constant attack from people shreds their nervous system due to shocking behaviour of others.

    Whereas Mental Illness or Health really describes people who are unbalanced their behaviour is extremely negative and often harmful to themselves or others at all times with perhaps flashes of positivity. These types of people often come into contact with sensitives and cause all the problems.

    Thank you for highlighting this problem. It is something I have not been able to equate so many people mentally ill just not so. Blessings to you

    Liked by 3 people

    1. Thanks so much. I do appreciate and love you responding and giving your thoughts. I for one am desperately sensitive which is hard work and exhausting … the huge extremes of highs and lows are slowly receding and becoming gentler and it is all about my emotions. Blessings to you also. Katie

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      1. Being sensitive is hard work because we react to people and surroundings on the deepest level which others do not appreciate. Eventually you will gain more control and your emotions will balance. The more you can clearly look at yourself and accept what others have done and how your have reacted be it good or wrong things will just go and issues will be finished. Take care Katie you are a special lady.

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      2. Thank you so much … time alongside with working on oneself is a great healer. I think I’ve found that time alone doesn’t do a whole lot, I have to really apply myself and work hard. Thanks for your support … truly appreciated. Katie

        Liked by 1 person

  11. Wow! I stumbled across this (instead of going to bed on time… You win some, you lose some), and I feel so honored that I inspired you! I know for me it’s a both and, rather than either/or. Mostly, finding healthy ways of expressing my emotions is what I’ve been working on, but there’s also some “mental” stuff to work through, too. Things like cognitive distortions, and finding a way to distance my true thoughts and true self from the lies that depression likes to whisper in my ear. But the emotional health and balance is an integral part of this whole journey, at least for me.

    Thanks for making my night feel extra special!

    Liked by 2 people

    1. You’re a superstar! It’s made me think completely differently about myself. Because my issues are so related to emotions being completely out of kilter and historically there being little moderation in how I react to certain situations and people, this term ‘emotional health and wellbeing’ has really set me straight. I am not at the top end of the bipolar scale for example and if I was, it wouldn’t probably be appropriate, but for me, and clearly for many others, it is. So I take no credit in the term, that’s all down to you! Hence, you’re my superstar! Thank you. Katie xx

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  12. Interesting. I dont really care about words anymore. I live in an area where stigmatization runs rampant like you wouldn’t believe. I find using words like ‘mental illness’ or ‘mental health’ is something people here find easier to comprehend than relatively ‘new’ phrasings like ’emotional health’. Now that’s not to say that they at all comprehend mental ‘anything’ but relativity goes a long way. In my family however a simple ‘ill’ goes a long way. ‘I feel unwell’. The same way one’d talk about a fever. Enjoyed reading your viewpoint and I can see how emotional health can be relatively freeing and less, as you say, distressing ^^

    Liked by 2 people

    1. I’m sorry that it’s so stigmatised where you live, that must be hard for those who want and need to talk about it. And yes, having a family who understands is key. I know that I can say to my husband that “I feel sad” and his arms just wrap around me immediately. Thank God for families. Thanks so much for reading and commenting, I love how everyone sees this topic in different ways. Katie x

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      1. It’s a pity but I do believe everyone here is getting better! Your husband sounds lovely, Im so happy you have that kind of support. I do wish support like that finds everyone someday. No worries, really enjoyed it xx

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  13. Beautiful. Some days parenting a daughter with depression does seem more like an illness than anything but words are powerful. I think I use different words to describe it based on the day lol.

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  14. I’m glad you’ve found a term you’re comfortable with. As someone with Bipolar one which can come with delusions and psychosis I’m afraid emotional may not fully cover it for me. When I’m unwell it isn’t really my emotions that are out of check…it’s my mental well being. So some of us may have to stick with that. But as I say, glad you found your description. (John)

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    1. Absolutely right … what works for me is completely inappropriate for you. Mine is minor in comparison. I hope you’re doing ok …? And thanks for reading and commenting even if it wasn’t right for you. Katie

      Liked by 1 person

  15. I love this because it does give people comfort and actually doesn’t make them feel isolated or outcasted more than they already feel.

    Though I admit I still use mental health/illness. I believe it’s a personal preference. I think I use it for me personally because sometimes I don’t know how to face my own reality. When I instill in my brain that I need to deal with my mental state or my mentality it makes it more real for me, that something needs to be fixed (or that I need to learn how to cope with the negativity in my life).

    Thanks for this post, this is why I wanted to go on here in the first place, to really learn about other people, their life experiences, and just stir conversation about an issue that many people in our society don’t even want to talk about. You’re inspiring, thanks 🙂

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  16. I enjoyed reading your perspective. I respect your insight. Personally, I am ok with the use of mental health over mental illness. I believe mental health is a word that reflects the mind body connection. It is representative of a state of being. So I have made peace with the use of it. I also would like to break down the stigma associated with mental health.

    I notice a lot of people are uncomfortable with the word mental itself. Because of the negative associations they connect with it. I am glad you opened up this discussion.

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  17. Thank you for sharing this! I have to apologize, I just blogged about my recent experience with medication surrounding chronic pain and my ‘mental health’ and I definitely used the word mental…I believe in my very first sentence. I like the word ’emotional’ but sometimes it’s not quite enough to describe the actual roller coaster my brain goes on! I do think we need to be more open, and I come from a family who has suffered at the hands of being quiet for too many decades; trying to be ‘strong’ for too long. Every time I open up about my health in any way, I find I am greeted with kindness and compassion and so many people who are struggling with similar (or worse) issues…and that all helps to keep being genuine in the struggle we all face every day. I am going to try to come up with a better word for ‘mental’ from now on. 🙂

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  18. I generally use the term Psychological health, as it refers to both cognition and emotion. It still sounds a little stale, but I think it has fewer connotations than “Mental” health.

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  19. Really enjoyed reading your post. I think it’s great that you have found a more comforting alternative to the word “mental”. I can relate to what you mentioned about the image the word “mental” conjures images of asylums and padded cells. I do wonder though, if for some people mental health refers to the functioning of the brain while emotional health refers to the stability of one’s emotions. Just a something to think about!

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  20. I agree with the fact that the stigma is far from fact, and that the media has a large part to play in this, but I wonder if using a different word will add to the confusion instead of clearing it up?

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Quite possibly! I think it’s just that for me, perhaps because I’m very much at the lower end of the spectrum, I don’t want to try to pretend that I’m worse than I actually am and the connotations of some of the words used can be so negative and perhaps normalising it, like ‘physical health’ has a more positive tone to it. Perhaps I’ve received such negativity in the past as regards to the stigma has slightly pushed me down the route to look for gentler and more positive ways of talking about it. Of course I could just be massively over-sensitive! Either way, you’re probably quite right, I’m quite possibly creating total confusion! Katie x

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