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  • Writer's pictureBen Slater

Why is mental health so confusing?

So you’re finding mental health and wellbeing confusing?

You are not alone.

At the root of that confusion is how you’re mixing up three key mental health terms:

mental health, poor mental health and mental ill health.

Let’s get them straight in your head.

Firstly, mental health is any aspect of health that affects feelings, thoughts and behaviour.

We all have mental health because there is no health without mental health.

Let’s take a tree for example, there is no growth, trunk, no branches, no leaves without roots. There is no tree without roots - even though you can’t see the roots. There is no health without mental mental health - even though you can’t always see mental health.

Secondly, poor mental health is a state that negatively affects feelings, thoughts and behaviour.

Poor mental health can cause distress or reduced function in daily living that varies from person to person.

Returning to our tree analogy, if there is an extended period without rain, it will negatively impact the tree. We will see slowed growth, leaves turning brown and dropping, and a drying out of some of the branches. The tree favours maintaining core moisture and health over new growth - ready to grow again when the rains come.

When managing a period of poor mental health, we can do the same. We can find growing and thriving difficult, falling back on fulfilling basic or core needs with the capacity we have left.

And everyone is different, just as the oak and the olive tree respond differently to dry seasons, so do we.

Thirdly, mental ill health. Mental ill health is when poor mental health impacts someone's life to the point where it could warrant a diagnosis. Meeting the threshold for diagnosis doesn't mean that the person is seeking one. Treatments exist for each illness.

So what does this mean for our tree? Our tree now needs intervention in order to recover, in order to thrive in the future. Whether that is binding up, propping up, feeding, watering, pest control or tree surgery, the right response for the right ill health exists. And the earlier we can do this, the more likely accelerated recovery will be.

Mental health, poor mental health and mental ill health.

Why is this distinction important?

Mental health” reminds us not to default to illness when talking about mental health.

It highlights the stigma and negativity we put in the phrase. For example, if someone says, “Mavis from accounts has mental health”, they are never referring to the vital role it plays in holistic health. It is always a whispered slur.

Poor mental health” reminds us that we are never going to be 100% all of the time.

Our aim is to be as healthy as we can in a world that is never perfect. And that means recognising seasons of growth and dry seasons and knowing the healthiest things to do and think in each season. It is not failure. It is recognising negative changes in health and making or persevering with positive choices for restoration and recovery.

It also reminds us that not every negative change in health is illness.

Mental ill health” reminds us that sometimes we get unwell.

It is not about what is wrong with us. It is about what is happening for us. Sometimes what is happening for us exceeds our capacity to cope for an extended period and this starts to impede or shut down our daily life to a point where we can’t recover alone or by simply changing lifestyle choices.

It also reminds us that we can be unwell and not have - or be seeking - a diagnosis.

Lifting the confusion on these three terms is the first step to a solid, clear understanding of mental health.

That’s why it is always a key part of our training at fwd.

Know better. Do better.

Apply for the latest round of training here.

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