Psychiatry and mental health suffer heavily from stigma. As a result of that stigma, there has been a movement towards emphasizing mental health wellness, rather than psychiatric disorders. And because of the stigma associated with being labeled with psychiatric illness, psychiatric patients are now called ‘mental health clients.’ Psychiatric inpatient units have been renamed as ‘mental health units.’ And hospitals and medical centers are being renamed as ‘health centers.’ As such, there has been a blurring of the terms for describing normal mental health states and psychiatric disorders. But it is still important to be able to categorize what is within the realm of normal mental health, and what is psychopathology.
The following definitions help to distinguish between the different mental problems, spanning from normal everyday mental problems to severe psychopathology:
Mental distress is something everyone experiences. It is part of everyday life, and we all have our daily mishaps and disappointments. For example, maybe your car won’t start in the freezing winter weather. Or maybe a colleague was mean and nasty to you at work. Mental distress is normal, and a part of everyone’s life. Usually, you can cope with mental distress and just work through it yourself. If the mental distress is more severe, then you might go and talk with a friend or your mentor or your parents.
Mental health problems
Mental health problems occur when you have a major set-back in your life. Maybe your dog died. Or maybe you had a breakup with your boyfriend or girlfriend. Maybe you are having marital problems and getting separated or divorce. Maybe you lost everything and are going bankrupt. Maybe you got fired from you job. These major setbacks are faced by many of us, and these personal losses can cause significant distress. If you have mental health problems, you may need to see a counsellor to talk through your problems and bolster your coping skills.
Mental disorders are also known as mental illness or psychiatric disorders. Mental disorders are brain disorders, and are assessed and treated by psychiatrists. Unfortunately, psychiatry has not found useful biological markers to help diagnose and cure mental disorders. If you have a milder mental disorder, such as anxiety or depression, then you may start off with psychotherapy, and if that does not suffice alone, then prescription medication may augment the psychotherapy. For more severe mental disorders such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder, prescription medication treatment is the primary treatment, then once stabilized from acute illness, then psychotherapy, coaching, or helping with activities of daily living may be indicated.
It is important to distinguish between the 3 types of mental problems, as each has a different course and intervention. Psychopathology should not be ‘watered-down,’ as this is a serious brain disorder that needs psychiatric intervention. And mental health distress and problems should not be medicalized and treated as if they were full blown psychiatric disorders. Therefore, it is important to be able to define the different types of mental problems, so that the appropriate intervention can be instituted.