When we hear the term ‘mental health‘, our minds often go straight to thinking about mental illness and if we’ve never experienced mental ill health, we don’t think the conversation applies to us. But it does, we all have mental health. The term ‘mental health’ encompasses a broader spectrum of experiences than mental illness. We can have good, as well as poor, mental health, and also be somewhere in between – our mental health is interchangeable, mental health is a sliding scale.
Good Mental Health
‘Good’ mental health doesn’t mean that we never experience a negative emotion. It’s perfectly normal to feel a whole range of emotions – from grief and sadness to excitement and happiness, and everything in between.
When we’re feeling mentally healthy, we’re able to cope with and express these fluctuations in our mood. We’re normally able to cope with the things that life throws at us, including any change and uncertainty that crop up.
Some Of Us Experience Mental Illness
We all have mental health, with around 1 in 4 of us experiencing mental illness. Mental illness occurs when our emotions go beyond what we would normally expect people to cope with at either end of the spectrum. This includes particularly low emotions, such as depression, and heightened emotions, such as mania.
Mental illness can affect the way that we think, feel, act, behave, and interact with other people. It can alter the way that we experience the world, and consequently the way that we respond to it.
Having a mental illness doesn’t mean that we will never feel mentally well again. For many of us, we will experience a period of mental illness, and then learn to manage it, or find that our illness goes into remission.
We All Have Different Experiences
There are a huge range of diagnoses under the term ‘mental illness’, and two people with an identical diagnosis can have very different experiences. Under ‘depression’ alone, there are numerous different types of depression.
People with diagnosable mental health conditions will have different combinations of symptoms, all of which will affect their lives differently based on their personal circumstances. For example, someone might have two or three symptoms of depression. These symptoms could have an impact on their life and cause them to feel distressed at times. They might need some support from their GP and mental health team. Their illness could impact the way that they’re able to interact with their family and friends. This person might still be able to work. They might still be able to look after their children, with some support, might still be able to drive, and might see their friends occasionally.
Another person might also have a diagnosis of depression. They might experience 10 or 11 symptoms. They might find that they’re frequently distressed, and struggle to look after themselves. This person might not be able to go into work, might need someone else to support their family for a while, and might be totally isolated from their friends. They might not be safe enough to drive, and it might reach the point where this person needs to spend some time in hospital.
There can be a whole spectrum of experiences within a diagnosis. Within depression, diagnosis is sometimes broken down into ‘mild’, ‘moderate’ and ‘severe’. It doesn’t mean that one person’s struggle is more valid or more important than another person’s.
Outside Influences Matter
All sorts of things can affect our mental health, and these things can also have an impact on how we experience different symptoms. This is often related to our background, gender, ethnicity, family set-up, job, living situation, and lots of other things.
For example, one of the symptoms of depression is struggling to sleep. If we live in a noisy area, with lots of different people in the house, and have a job that we have to be up for at 5 am each morning, then we’re likely to struggle with sleep-deprivation more than someone who lives in a quieter area.
Additionally, outside influences can impact how much we’re able to help ourselves. For example, we know that exercising can be helpful when it comes to managing to depression. However, many people, such as those with chronic physical health problems, are unable to exercise.
All of the things that make up our lives can affect how we experience mental illness, how much our symptoms affect us, and how able we are to manage our condition.
Timeframes Can Vary
Those of us with mental illness are likely to live with our illness for different lengths of time. For some of us, our illness might be something that we will live with for the majority of our lives. We can learn to manage it, and reach the point where we’re able to keep it under control, but our illness might not go into remission. Others may experience a single episode, or recurrent episodes, of their illness, but have periods of wellness in between. Many people experience both periods of wellness and periods of illness. Illness isn’t usually a set way of being and can change over the course of our lives.
We Can Have Better Days
When we have a diagnosable mental illness, such as depression, it doesn’t mean we’re always sad. We will probably have times when we smile, and times when we laugh. There might be minutes, hours, or days when we get the giggles, we have an amazing time, and we forget about our illness for a little while. Having good times doesn’t mean that we no longer have depression. Our mental health is always a sliding scale, we will always have better days and less-good days, even when mental illness is involved.
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