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Who Has Mental Health?

by Tina Summers

Well, actually we all do.

Many people are confused by the term “mental health.” Mental health simply refers to the health of our mind. Like physical health, it is a part of our general well-being and is measured on a continuum of poor to well. Unfortunately, in today’s usage, the term mental health has become confused with mental illness – that is to say people equate the term mental health with having a mental health disorder.

The World Health Organization in a fact sheet defines Mental Health as “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

I am often asked when symptoms of poor mental health, indicate a disorder. For example, parents and those who work with kids may say that the kids have “depression” when they see them with symptoms such as sadness and lack of interest in life’s activities. While someone might be in a depressed state of mind for a period of time, this does not mean they have depression as a diagnosis. A diagnosis must be made by a qualified practitioner who will look for a specific number of symptoms that persist over specified lengths of time and that begin to interfere with daily or previously held functioning.

We all show symptoms of poor mental health from time to time, and the symptoms of many disorders both of our mental and physical health can overlap. For example, we could suffer a significant physical injury and the resulting constant pain may affect our mood and interest in daily activities – two symptoms of depression. However, in this case, the pain is a significant cause for our depression symptoms and our mental health should improve as the pain subsides. So we need to be careful not to confuse the short term onset of some disorder symptoms, as having a mental health disorder.

So, how do you know when you have a disorder or when to seek help? Much like physical health, when symptoms persist and/or are interfering with the functioning of your life, it is a good time to seek support beginning with your family doctor. Another option, if you are concerned about a child and you live in Waterloo Region, is to contact Front Door – a service that helps people access local children’s mental health services.

So when it comes to mental health, the catchy phrase “If it looks like a duck, quacks like a duck and swims like a duck, it must be a duck” may not be accurate. But, it may be time to talk to a specialist.