bipolar Health LGBTQIA2+ Mental Health Mental Health Awareness Mental Illness society

Mental Health vs Mental Illness

CW: mental health, mental illness, bipolar, BPD, eating disorders

So, it’s Mental Health Awareness Week 2018. A time to shine light on pressing topics in an environment, via the main stream media and ignorant officials, that don’t quite get it right.

Firstly, let’s just debunk something that I find people often confuse. We all have mental health, just like we all have physical health.

Mental health = the current status of our mind. The fact that this is in many ways invisible, stigmatised and incorrectly cited, is in part one of the reasons why we can never have an accurate conversation on the topic. So, in sum, mental health is the spectrum of how healthy your mind is.

Then, what is mental illness? That one is even simpler. Mental illness, like Asthma or Diabetes, is a chronic, prolonged or degenerate mental sickness. It could happen sporadically throughout your life, be sustained by aggravating life circumstances or have permanence. Many of these include General Anxiety Disorder, Depression, Manic Depression (Bipolar) or schizophrenia etcetera.

So, when I talk about mental health, it’s broad and relative to everyone and their current status. Mental illness on the other hand, is relative to only those that are diagnosed or self-diagnosed with an illness. Please note, I mention self-diagnosis not because it is entirely plausible nor is it accurate to diagnose your own illnesses, but the simple fact is: the internet, online mental illness communities and free resources are often more helpful, available and useful than the NHS.

It’s within these two definitions that I find myself thinking about Kanye West. I’m not talking about his damaging bullshit, although it is damaging as hell, I’m talking about everyone’s ignorance in their commentary.

I’ve seen memes online, twitter threads and articles dissecting his ‘mental health’ or claims saying he has a major mental illness. I also saw it recently around the Genderquake ‘debate’ on Channel 4 and the transphobic hecklers in the unpoliced audience.

People with mental illnesses can be arseholes, just like those without them – and vice versa. However, claiming people have an illness due to their behaviour, is problematic AF. Now, there is probably rightful concern to have for Kanye and his spiralling in many instances. He clearly hasn’t got the supportive team around him he needs and considering the comments he has made about his addiction to opiates and the plastic surgery he has had, yes he might be unwell.

However, we can’t conflate our mental wellbeing with a mental illness – especially when it is based on how someone composes themselves.

There needs to be greater care taken when using these two terms. They aren’t interchangeable, and they are both very different. Likewise, ignorance towards mental health and the plethora of mental illnesses out there can’t be summed up and diagnosed in a newspaper article or a tweet.

One mental illness doesn’t have a set criteria of what defines it, often they exist in pairs or groups and can overlap. People will get multiple diagnosis or one that changes over the course of their life. In my own example, I have a diagnosis of bipolar affective disorder (bipolar 2) and I am in therapy for BPD (borderline personality disorder). These two illnesses beget other issues, not always, but commonly. Such as eating disorders, most commonly binge eating disorder – which again, I also suffer with.

The media, especially when talking about celebrities, paint a caricature of what poor mental health is or what a mental illness could look like. This polarised world of only seeing someone at their worst, or in episodic moments of ill health, feeds into the confusion of what we expect to see and how we should react.

If you don’t understand a mental illness, research it.

If you don’t know whether you’re suffering from a momentary time of poor mental health, reach out to someone if you can – or go to your GP. They aren’t always helpful but can sometimes shed light on issues you might not have thought about. Yet, I can’t stress enough, do not take a GP’s comments with finality, they have next to no training on mental health and are not trained to diagnose illnesses.

Use them as a guide, if anything, to stack up to your own experience and research.

Most importantly, allow yourself to be of poor mental health, if you have a fever you wouldn’t necessarily leave the house, would you? So, in the same vein, if you are feeling low and unsociable, stay in and look after yourself, it might pass, or it might not.

But it’s okay to feel mentally unwell and it’s absolutely normal to have a mental illness.


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