Mental Illness Terminology: Mental Health Introduction

Mental Illness / Mental Disorders

  • The terms “mental illness,” “mental disorders,” and “psychological disorders” tend to be used interchangeably.
  • The American Psychiatric Association defines mental illness as: changes in emotion, thinking or behavior that are associated with distress or problems functioning in social, work or family situations. 

Mental Health Concerns vs. Mental Illness

  • “Mental health concerns” may sometimes also be used to refer to mental illness, but more typically that phrase refers to issues that are not deemed frequent enough or impactful enough to be diagnosed as mental illness.
  • The Mayo Clinic differentiates mental health concerns from mental illness this way: “Many people have mental health concerns from time to time. But a mental health concern becomes a mental illness when ongoing signs and symptoms cause frequent stress and affect your ability to function. A mental illness can make you miserable and can cause problems in your daily life, such as at school or work or in relationships.” (Mental Illness)
  • Another name for “mental health concerns” is “emotional imbalance.”

Emotional Imbalance

Bo Forbes notes these potential ways of experiencing emotional imbalance (mental health concerns):

  • Low self-esteem
  • Constant worrying
  • Insomnia
  • Persistent body image issues
  • Chronic pain disorders
  • General sense of malaise

The Anxiety–Depression Continuum

Imagine a continuum of emotional imbalance: at one end is anxiety with racing thoughts, incessant worry, and physical agitation. At the other end is depression, with sluggish and negative thinking, lack of engagement in life, and physical lethargy… As surprising as it sounds… the mind can occupy one end of the continuum while the body inhabits the other. Put another way, it’s possible to experience both anxiety and depression at the same time. – Bo Forbes PsyD