Glossary of mental ill-health terms

When communicating about mental ill-health, it is important to consider the key terms of reference.

What is mental health?

Mental health relates to the social and emotional wellbeing of individuals. Being mentally healthy, or having good mental health, is more than just the absence of an illness, rather a state of overall wellbeing.

What is mental ill-health?

Broadly, ‘mental ill-health’ refers to both mental illness and mental health problems.

What is mental illness?

A mental illness is a disorder diagnosed by a medical professional that significantly interferes with an individual’s cognitive, emotional or social abilities. Mental illness includes: mood disorders (eating disorders, personality disorders, substance use and psychotic disorders), like depression, anxiety and bipolar disorder etc.

What are mental health problems?

A mental health problem also interferes with a person’s cognitive, emotional or social abilities, but may not meet the criteria for a diagnosed mental illness. These may be the result of life stressors taking a toll on you emotionally, but often resolve over time when the situation changes.

If you are unsure on referencing the correct terminology, read a recent news item on terms of reference.