This idea might confuse some people. It’s only recently that I’ve noticed the conversation bouncing around about the difference between mental illness and mental health, and the more attention I have payed to it, and considered my own experiences with mental illness and mental health, the more I have realised it’s a vital conversation to be had. We tend to use these two phrases as interchangeable, bad mental health meaning mental illness and no mental illness meaning good mental health, but I can’t help but feel like this is super unhealthy for everyone.
Everyone has mental health. Whether it’s good or bad. It’s our mental wellbeing. How well we are coping with life, how we feel about ourselves, how well we are looking after ourselves. Sure, bad mental health can lead to mental illness, but they are not one in the same. Not everyone has a mental illness. We need to clarify these differences, as the discussion of mental health and how to keep on top of your mental wellbeing is important for everyone, not just people with mental illness.
Having said that, for those of us with mental illness, knowing that we can also have good mental health is an empowering idea. There’s some sort of definitive label that can come with having a mental illness, as if we have no power over our mental health beyond that diagnosis. I have struggled with that idea before. Feeling like there’s an entire identity battle between you and your diagnosis over who has control of your actions. I’ve realised that when we spend time learning strategies to cope with our illness and look after ourselves, we are simultaneously learning how to have good mental health, despite mental illness.
When I am looking after myself, yes, I have a mental illness, and I have good mental health. When I can’t cope, or I let my self-care strategies slide, or I experience some new trauma, my mental health may take a dip.
Realising this is also a good kick up the arse to stop making excuses for myself. I may not have control over the fact that I have an illness, but if I have the power to influence my mental wellbeing by nurturing it, then I can influence the amount of power I give to my illness. I might not always be the most consistent with this, but at least being aware of it means I can take some more responsibility for myself, and I feel truly empowered by the knowledge that my mental illness doesn’t have to define my entire life.