Mental health, wellbeing and mental illness – what’s the difference?

Increasingly we hear the terms mental illness, mental health, and wellbeing used in the media, and in our communities and workplaces.

We think it’s great people are talking more about the importance of healthy minds, but sometimes the different terminology can be confusing.

Here’s a quick overview to help: 

Mental illness (or mental disorder): 

  • A mental illness is a health issue that significantly affects how a person feels, thinks, behaves, and interacts with other people. Examples are depression, schizophrenia, anxiety. 
  • In the same way people don’t choose to have cancer or poor thyroid function, people don’t choose to have a mental illness. 

Mental health: 

  • Mental health is not just the absence of a mental illness; it’s our ability to function well and productively to make good decisions, focus and contribute to life in a positive way. 
  • In the same way we can maintain or increase our physical health with activities like exercising and healthy eating, we can maintain or strengthen our mental health through a wide range of positive activities, habits and choices. These things also contribute to our overall sense of wellbeing. 

Mental health is not just the absence of a mental illness; it’s our ability to function well and productively.


  • Wellbeing is defined as ‘the state of being comfortable, healthy, or happy.’*  
  • However, wellbeing is much more than our moment-to-moment happiness. Other things also play a big part – such as how satisfied we are with our life as a whole, our sense of purpose and meaning, our connection to others, and how in control we feel. 

We know it can be hard talking about mental health and sometimes we can be fearful of things we don’t understand.

However, the more we use these terms in ways that are positive, supportive, compassionate and non-judgemental, the more normal it will be for people to ask for help when they need it. And that’s good for all of us.  

If you’d like to improve your mental health, have a chat with our team.

*definition from Oxford English Dictionary 

If you’d like to find out more about Outback Futures telehealth, call or text 0417 703 729 to chat or make an appointment. Find our Upcoming Clinics here.

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