What Mental Health Is + 11 Things It Is NOT

What is mental health?

It is finally really emerging on the public radar more than ever.  About time too, because millions of people every year live with mental health issues.  

People are sad about current circumstances.

They’re questioning who they are.

They’re anxious about the future.

Simply put, people are struggling.

Not that this is a bad thing, necessarily.  But it does allow us more opportunity than ever to discuss mental health.  

It’s time, friends.  It’s been time.  If our discussion of mental health was the latest James Patterson novel from the library, it would be way past due.

So let’s talk about what mental health is, and what it isn’t.  Let’s face the facts.

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Also, I am not a doctor or mental health professional. Just someone who has lived with anxiety for many years who is passionate about sharing her experiences and tips for success. If you are in crisis call your doctor, then click here for some good mental health resources.

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What mental health IS

Often, we see the phrase mental health used interchangeably with mental illness.  I will discuss this more later, but suffice it to say: Mental health is something everyone has.  That’s why more people need to talk about it.

We need to talk about how we are.  Even when we’re doing okay!  It’s important to share those successes, just as much as it’s important to tell people when we’re struggling.

Right now, we’re unconsciously writing the book of human history.  What are future generations going to learn?

what mental health is

It is important.

Mental health is important to discuss for the reason above: Our children and children’s children are listening.  They are going to look to their parents and ancestors for ways to cope with depression and anxiety.  If we do not discuss it, we are leaving them at a disadvantage.  They will flounder and fail, and it will be our fault.

It is something everyone has.

Like I said, we all have mental health.  We all have a mind, and it is either healthy or unhealthy.  For this reason it is important to talk about.  It makes people feel less alone to be able to talk about how their life is going, even when it’s going well.  We are creatures that thrive on connection.

It is linked to your physical health.

Did you know that our bodies and minds are linked together? They are the best of friends, and sometimes the bitterest of enemies.  Have you noticed that when you feel physically sick, you tend to feel a little down, or maybe anxious about your health? And, on the flip side, when you are anxious or depressed you might get stomach aches or aches and pains.  That’s because mental health is linked to the ways our bodies feel.

It exists on a continuum.

All mental illness is so varied and different.  I am more mentally ill than some people, and others are more mentally ill than me.  This is important for people to understand because it could positively influence their perceptions of what mental health issues are like.  They might see stories of someone who needs to live in an inpatient facility due to their mental illness, and they might think this should be the case for their neighbor with bipolar disorder.  People need to have a more realistic understanding of what mental illness is like for the average person.

what mental health is not

It is worth making time for.

How could someone think it is not?  We only get one brain, and one life.  We need to protect it at all costs.  It’s so important to take control of our own health and make time to deal with any issues we might be facing.  Who wants to spend their life living in misery?

It is part of being human.

As I said above, we all have mental health. It is innate to us as human beings.  To live as authentically and purposefully as possible, it is absolutely imperative that we make learning about how our mind works more of a priority.  Learning about it, and treating any issues as well!

It is something we need to look after.

Our mental health is something we need to take care of.  What happens to, let’s say, a mom who is depressed when she is not taking care of herself?  For one thing, her partner or spouse has to shoulder a lot of unnecessary responsibility in being a caretaker for them.  Also, her kids pick up on the negative emotions and it might trigger mental illness in them.  Not that being depressed is someone’s fault.  But it is their responsibility to get help.

journal, what mental health is
Celestial Journal (Diary, Notebook)- Journaling is a great way to take care of your health!

It is positive and negative.

It can either be good, or it can be bad.  You can be doing fantastic emotionally, or you can be struggling.  Or, more likely, somewhere in between!  This is the continuum I mentioned.  Mental health isn’t one specific thing.  It can be two opposing ends on the same line, and everything in between.

It is changeable.

If you live with mental illness, you can absolutely get better!  Trust me, I have felt hopeless before.  I’ve even wanted to take my own life.  But, I flipped that imaginary coin, and I didn’t.  Instead, I got better.  It took a lot of time, but it happened.  And it’s possible for you too.  

Also, this is exactly why it’s important to be grateful for all the amazing things in your life.  Life is so fleeting, and your health and your family and your awesome job could all be gone in an instant.  So spend today being thankful for all the great things the universe has given you.

It is complex.

It really is so freaking complicated.  I usually just tell people that I have bipolar disorder, anxiety, and chronic fatigue.  But that is a massive oversimplification.  My mental health is an entire volume of novels filled with pain, and sadness, and confusion, and despair, and questioning what the hell it all means.  And that is true for so many people.  So, when you ask a friend about their mental health, do not assume you will get a simple answer.  Or that your friend will want to tell the full story.

It is real.

Mental health exists.  It is something that is in the universe whether you want it to be there or not.  It can be positive, or it can be negative.  It can change at the drop of a hat.  And it is something we all live with.  Period period, as my beloved grandma would have said.

What mental health ISN’T

Okay, now that we discussed what mental health IS, let’s talk about what it ISN’T.  There are misconceptions everywhere you look.  Have you ever told someone you had bipolar disorder and they cringed, the wheels turning visibly in their head about how close the nearest mental health facility is?  No?  Just me?

It is not a sign of weakness.

Just because you have depression or anxiety or borderline personality disorder, etc., does not mean you are weak.  Have you ever seen the post go around on Facebook that says, “People cry not because they’re weak.  It’s because they’ve been strong for too long.”  The internet claims Johnny Depp said that, but I’m taking that with a grain of salt.  Suffice it to say, people who live with mental illness are stronger than they could ever know.

It is not shameful.

Because everyone has their periods of sadness or anxiety, it is definitely not something to be ashamed of.  Why should you feel ashamed for feeling a legitimate human emotion?  “If you prick us, do we not bleed? If you tickle us, do we not laugh?”  (Said The Bard himself.)  Men especially need to hear this message.  Your.  Feelings.  Are.  Valid.  Full stop.  Period period.

It is not all in your mind.

You are not imagining the things that you feel.  When people tell you this, this is called gaslighting. That is a form of abuse that many people face.  Their loved ones make them feel as though they are making up their mental health issues.  If that is true for you, I see you.  I believe you.  And if you want to shut them up, say, “Yes, obviously my depression is in my mind.  It’s called mental health.”  You have to joke about it sometimes!

It isn’t always something negative.

Our mental health can be a good thing.  First of all, you might be in a good place and not experiencing any sadness, anxiety, guilt, etc.  If so, that is awesome.  Live your life to the fullest, and never stop being grateful.  But also, even if you are feeling these things, it isn’t completely 100% horrible.  You can use it as a teaching moment for loved ones who might be ignorant to the plight of the mentally ill.  You can be an inspiration for those around you.  Like the Rudy Ruettiger of depression.

positive affirmations book, what mental health is
A Year of Positive Thinking: Daily Inspiration, Wisdom, and Courage- Click here to snag a copy!positive affirmations book, what mental health is

It isn’t something you decide to have.

I think I stated this above, but if you have depression or anxiety, you did not choose to have it.  Insert motivational statement about how I believe you can choose to TRY to get well, because I do.  But at the end of the day, you did not choose this illness.  Why would anyone?  That’s ludicrous.  If you wanted attention, you could choose from a whole slew of other things to accomplish that.

It isn’t something to think about only when it feels broken.

This is one of the most important statements in this whole blog post, so write it down.  Get out a post-it, and write: I commit to care about my mental health, even when it’s not broken. How do you think it gets broken in the first place?  It’s when someone who is doing well stops giving a damn.

It isn’t an interchangeable term with mental illness.

Mental health is not mental illness.  You can not use those terms interchangeably.  However, mental illness is a result of poor mental health practices.  Remember that.  

It isn’t feeling good all the time.

To be mentally healthy, it is not required that you feel good all the time.  Write that on a post-it as well.  There is not someone keeping score of your emotions on a daily basis.  Mentally healthy people will feel sad, and angry, and tired.  That doesn’t mean they have mental illness.  That would be something for a medical professional to determine.

Click HERE to download this free PDF Daily Feelings Worksheet

It isn’t something you can snap out of.

Just as you cannot choose to be mentally ill, you cannot choose to snap out of it.  You can’t make yourself well at the drop of a hat.  You absolutely CAN get better, but it takes time.  It takes doctors, and rest, and patience, and often medication.  Sometimes it takes more self care than you could ever imagine.  If someone tells you to snap out of it, they are not the sort of person you need in your life.

It isn’t fixed.

There is no cure for depression or anxiety. If anyone tells you that, they are likely selling something.  You can have periods of happiness and stability, but that doesn’t mean it is gone forever.  This is why we need to underscore the importance of regular self care.

It isn’t fake news.

MENTAL.  ILLESS.  IS.  REAL.  It is as real as diabetes, or heart disease, or cancer.  In some ways, it is a cancer of the mind.  It festers in dark places, and spreads to your heart and soul.  It is not made up, and it is not going away any time soon.

what is mental health

Mental health needs to be discussed.

We need to speak as loudly as possible. We’ve been quiet little church mice for way too long. We need to freaking scream at the top of our lungs. “WE ARE NOT OKAY. WE NEED HELP.” Do you ever feel like the only way you can get your kids to listen is raising your voice? Yeah. That’s what’s happening here.

What is mental health for you? How do you care for yourself on a daily basis? Tell me in the comments, and then make sure you share this on social media. We need to spread the word!

The more we discuss what mental health is, the sooner we can begin to heal.

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Related posts for what mental health is:

Depression Expectations Vs Reality

Mental Illness: How Do You Get Diagnosed?

3 Self Care Tips that Will Get You Through Lockdown

What You Can Do To Relieve Stress TODAY

70 thoughts on “What Mental Health Is + 11 Things It Is NOT”

  1. We definitely need to have more open conversations about this topic! Thanks for taking the time to write this in-depth post!

  2. Another excellent post my dear. Mental health and mental illness are separate things and I find myself constantly having to correct people. You can have mental health ISSUES which could be classed as mental illness. But mental health, as you say, is something everyone has by default for being human.

    1. Right! Mental health ISSUES/mental illness vs mental health. One day more people will have a better understanding. Until then, we’ll keep doing what we do. Thanks for reading!

  3. I agree! I think it’s very important to talk and find support for mental health. There is nothing to be ashamed of!

  4. Mental health is important that, current situtation takes toll in mental health of everyone including me. Thanks for sharing it can help my anxiety and fear towards future.

  5. It took me way too long to realize the difference between mental health and mental illness, and that, just like physical health, we need to take care of our mental health even (especially!) when things are going well. Thanks for this. You are right, it is way past due to talk about!

  6. Mental health is something that is very fragile! I read this post and found a lot of interesting moments that I should think about!

  7. Your posts are always so thoughtful and really make you think. This list is so true and something to always remember.

  8. I love this so much! I identify with literally everything said here. I’ve always had anxiety but after I had my daughter my mental health changed A LOT. I went from a little anxious to SERIOUS ups and downs and it was a STRUGGLE.

    I love that you took the time to clear the air on this because it NEEDS to be said. ❤️

    1. I’m sorry when you went through that! I had massive postpartum issues, especially with my first. It’s such a hard season. Thanks for sharing about you, and taking the time to read.

  9. Mental health like physical health is so important to be talk about and I think that it should be address immediately and properly.

  10. Jen… another great post and definitely a reminder I needed myself. I’ve been struggling with mental health for a long time, but only now I have started to recognize it.
    I agree that it is not a sign of weakness, but sometimes we forget that. Especially when the society around us is trying to convince us that it is.
    Thank you for another great read!

    1. No problem! I’m sorry you’ve been struggling. Feel free to DM me on Twitter if you need to chat. I’ve been there. Thanks for reading, as always.

  11. This was really easy to read ad packed with very useful information. You are right, it is time that we all realize that mental health is something everyone has and we should talk about it even when we are feeling good, as often times there is a negative connotation. Keep sharing!

  12. What a beautifully written post. I love how you compare what mental health is and what it isn’t. There is so much stigma about mental health. Even now with the pandemic, mental illness seems to be the illness no one talks about or hears about. It is wonderful, also, to see someone differentiate between mental illness and mental health. As a mental health therapist, I am much appreciative of this. <3

  13. Girl, I feel you. It’s so hard to remind yourself that mental health shouldn’t have a stigma and that we dont need to ashamed.

    1. Yeah, the stigma is very deeply ingrained. We might not even be aware we think some of these things. Thanks so much for reading!

  14. Great post! I think it is really important to address all of these misconceptions. I was always told that I just needed to be stronger, which made it really hard to deal with the things I had going on. Thank you!

    1. Yeah that one’s tough. It’s TRUE, maybe, in some ways, but that doesn’t mean it’s the kind of thing that needs to get said. I totally get it! Thanks so much for reading, and take care.

  15. I have always felt that mental health and illness is as important as the physical illnesses. I know that mental illness can lead to a lot of real physical ailments if not taken care of.

  16. Really enjoyed reading this, mental
    health plays a major role in my life, but I hid it away for over a decade. Facing up to it and letting people know was the best thing I ever did.

  17. These posts are great and very educational. I have suffered from anxiety since and depression my father died suddenly when I was 15. The meds help.

    1. Oh, I’m so sorry for your loss! That had to be hard. Anxiety is so hard, but you got this 🙂 Thanks for reading!

    2. Thanks for sharing such comprehensive, honest and useful resource for us. I have had to read this over and over again because I wanted to digest every word you wrote. The quote about people crying not because they are weak but because they have been strong for too long resonated with me. I feel expressing gratitude like you said is important.

      1. Thank you for the kind feedback! I’m glad it resonated with you so much. Feel free to share to help spread the word!

  18. I love this! I love that you focused on the importance of prioritizing our mental health in a positive way. While that certainly doesn’t erase mental illness (I wish it did, then I could stop taking meds and take care of it easily lol), it does help us to better manage and navigate our mental state. A better self-understanding is SO important!

  19. I love this! I feel like it debunks a lot of myths for people. I really don’t like it when people use mental health and mental illness interchangeably as they are not the same thing. Thank you for this post, I think a lot of people will learn something from it

    Emily x

  20. Absolutely love this post! Taking care of our mental health is a serious is a serious challenge. Sad that so many people don’t know about it and don’t even consider mental health a serious issue. Spreading awareness about it is what we all should be doing. Thanks for sharing!

  21. There is such a stigma when it comes to talking about mental health and especially if someone is not ok. We NEED to be able to talk about it.

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