by Courtney Oliver, LMHC

There’s a lot of buzz these days about mental health. Everyone has mental health, just like everyone has physical health. The terms mental health and mental illness tend to be used interchangeably as if they mean the same thing, but they do not. Not everyone will experience mental illness in their life, but they might experience a mental health challenge. This is similar to people having challenges with their physical health. 

Mental health is defined as our mental well-being, emotions, thoughts, and feelings, how we deal with problems and challenges, connect with others, and understand the world. Mental illness affects how individuals think, feel, behave, and interact. Mental illnesses have many various symptoms and these symptoms are not identical for everyone, even with a similar diagnosis. For example, not all individuals experiencing depression exhibit the same symptoms. 

Just like individuals have different degrees of physical health, the same goes for mental health. People may have poor mental health without having a mental illness. Good mental health is not about feeling happy all the time; it is about living and coping well despite challenges.

It can be difficult to know when it is time to seek support for your child’s mental health. How can you tell the difference between behaviors that are part of the normal stages of development and those that are cause for concern? Professionals share it is best to seek help if your child’s new behavior continues for two weeks or longer; causes distress for your child or your family; or interferes with your child’s functioning at school, home, or interactions with others outside your family. If your child’s behavior is unsafe, or if your child talks about wanting to hurt themselves or someone else, seek help immediately. 

The first step in seeking support for your child is to talk with the adults who interact with your child (ie, teachers, coaches, family members) and might be able to provide another perspective on your child’s behavior. The second step is to reach out to your child’s pediatrician to discuss the recent symptoms and any collateral information received from other adults. Working with your child’s doctor can provide you with a variety of steps on how to address your concerns. It is important to remember that you know and understand your child best and to trust your instincts when making decisions. 

In order to prevent mental illness stigmas, as well as validate and support individuals living with a mental health challenge, it is important to understand the appropriate terminology. Below are some different ways to refer to mental illness. 

Don’t use: “Afflicted by mental illness”, “suffers from mental illness” or “is a victim of mental illness”

Use Instead: “Living with a mental illness”

Don’t use: “Mentally ill person” or “Person who is mentally ill”

Use instead: “Person with a mental illness” or “Person living with a mental health issue”

Don’t use: “Schizophrenic, psychotic, disturbed, crazy, or insane

Use instead: “Person living with schizophrenia”; “Person experiencing psychosis, disorientation or hallucination; Person living with a mental illness”

Don’t use: “Substance abuse,” “addict” or “user”

Use instead: “Substance use disorder”

Don’t use: “Committed suicide”

Use instead: “Died by suicide” or “lost by suicide”