Mental Illness and Mental Wellness … should we differentiate?

This article explores the difference between mental illness and mental wellness … a much needed differentiation.

Mental Illness and Mental Wellness … should we differentiate?

Mental Illness is typically associated with those that have a diagnosed clinical disorder; those that have a label and who have become another statistical number according to the current Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders[i].

Mental illness is without a doubt a much needed terminology in our current society … it is with the symptoms and diagnosis of mental illness that people may begin to seek, accept and implement much needed healing and support.

But is mental illness limited solely to those with a formal diagnosis... is this terminology supporting the growth of all, or does the term ‘mental illness’ limit and thus hinder potential healing and development for all?

What if we changed the word illness to wellness. Rather than wait for mental illness, we may ask ‘does that person live mental wellness’? What if we used a different indicator (i.e., mental wellness) to assess when to seek and/or offer healing and support … what if mental wellness became our new marker of ‘will healing and support be beneficial here’?

The questions we could ask:

  1. What is our standard as a human race as to what qualifies ‘mental wellness’?
  2. Who truly has an understanding and acceptance of what mental wellness really is?
  3. Who is living true mental wellness?

Mental wellness in truth is far more than the absence of a mental illness diagnosis.

If one can say they are reasonably consistent:

  • In producing thoughts of love and joy throughout their every day
  • Living in a way that embraces equality for all others
  • In offering a sound mind and body
  • In living with a harmless approach to day-to-day living towards self and others
  • In appreciating oneself and others

Then one could truly say they are in a state of mental wellness.

If we were to adopt this as our foundational understanding and approach to the practice and study of mental health, we would then be more aware of the ill mental health of humanity as whole, as few could truly state they are living true mental wellness.

Our current accepted definition of mental illness allows us to deny and bury the depth of society’s ill mental health. The definition ‘mental wellness’ allows us to be honest and acknowledge that we as a human race are not truly living in a way that is supportive for all.

To see the true advancement of humanity as whole we need to first be honest with our starting point.

The questions remain, are we ready to actually see:

  1. How many people are truly living mental wellness? or more importantly
  2. How many people are NOT living their true state of mental wellness?

If we are to advance as a human race, our approach to mental illness and mental health needs to expand to embrace mental wellness.


  • [i]

    Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is an academic guideline outlining the criteria required for a formal diagnosis to occur of a behavioural, intellectual or mental health disorder.

Filed under

Mental healthHealing

  • By Tanya Curtis, Author, Behavioural Specialist, Assoc Dip Ed. (Child Care), BHlthSci. (BehMgt), MBehMgt, MCoun

    Tanya is dedicated to supporting people to understand and change their unwanted behaviours and live their full potential. Tanya’s deep care and love of people shines through all of the initiative she dedicates herself to.

  • Photography: Matt Paul