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EP. 132 Three Differences Between Mental Health & Mental Illness

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Tim starts by explaining that what he and Kimberly are sharing in this podcast episode is solely their opinions, and it is not professional medical advice. They are not mental health clinicians, and what they share in this episode is their personal beliefs. With that said, let’s get into the difference between mental health and mental illness.

Mental illnesses are described as illnesses that may impact a person's thoughts, perceptions, feelings and behaviours. Some of the most common mental illnesses are anxiety disorder, bipolar affective disorder, depression, dissociative disorders, eating disorders, obsessive compulsive disorders, paranoia, post-traumatic stress disorder, and schizophrenia.

To compare mental health and mental illness, Tim compares them to the digestive system. A person can have a healthy, functioning digestive system. A person can also disrupt their digestive systems normal functions by eating poorly and not prioritizing nutrition. A disrupted digestive system is not a pathologic issue. If a person were to develop pancreatic cancer, he or she would have an illness. The same is true of mental health and mental illness. Our mental health can fluctuate, but that doesn’t mean we have a mental illness when it fluctuates in an unhealthy direction. Mental illness comes about with a medical diagnosis. For example, everybody feels the emotion of anxiousness, but not everybody suffers from anxiety.

Tim explains that people casually use terms to describe people that are actually inaccurate and are serious mental health illnesses. For example, we’ve probably all heard someone say they are “OCD” or heard somebody call someone else “OCD.” People will also casually use the term “narcissist” even when they don’t understand the depth of what they are saying. These labels used in casual manners can be triggering and cause a person who actually has mental illness to feel shame about their illness.

There is no shame in having a mental illness. We have to normalize conversations about mental health and mental illness, because when a person feels shame about something going on in their mind, they will often hide. Someone could have a mental illness and no one could know about it because the person is afraid of bringing shame to him or herself or their families. This is a tragedy. If you personally suffer from a mental illness there is nothing to be ashamed of. God cares about your pain. Psalm 34:18 says, “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

Tim goes on to explain the three differences between mental health and mental illness.

  1. Focus. When you have a mental health issue, your focus is isolated. For example, Kimberly recently lost her father to Covid, and his loss was the focus of her sadness. Someone who is sad can pinpoint where the sadness is coming from. When the sadness becomes pervasive, it turns into a mental illness called depression. Depression occurs when a blanket of sadness covers every aspect of your life, and it prevents you from functioning. We can use this same comparison between many emotional and mental struggles.

  2. Duration. A mental health struggle is normally temporary, whereas mental illnesses can become perpetual or permanent.

  3. Intensity. A mental health struggle normally has a moderate intensity, whereas mental illnesses can be incredibly intense.

You can be selfish but not a narcissist. You can be sad but not clinically depressed. You can be organized but not suffer from obsessive compulsive disorder. You can have mood swings without being bipolar. There is no shame in having a mental illness, but we have to stop using technical words to describe mundane experiences, or the true meaning behind these terms can become diluted.

Tim’s new book “Breathe” can be useful to someone with mental health struggles, as well as someone suffering from mental illness. You can purchase the book by following this link:


Psalm 34:18 “The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit.”

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