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Mental Health Definition: The Difference Between Mental Health and Mental Illness

In a recent Finnish study, what constituted a mental health definition was wide-ranging. “People’s notions of what is and is not a disease are important in the discourse on mental health and human behavior.”

What is Mental Health Definition?

There are differing opinions on the definition of mental health among those in and out of the psychiatric community. “Defining mental disorders and illnesses is not straightforward. Opinions of whether a certain phenomenon should be classified as an illness or disorder, or something falling within the category of normal emotional fluctuations or personality traits have changed significantly over the years, and continue to do so.”

Mental health definition is challenging because:

  • It’s hard to draw a definite line between ‘normal’ and ‘abnormal’ behavior
  • Not knowing when mental symptoms should be considered a disease
  • Grief and anxiety are normal reactions to hardships in life, but also may be due to an underlying mental illness, such as depression or an anxiety disorder
mental health definition
The Study Of Defining Mental Health Conditions

Kari Tikkinen is the principal author of the research study, an Academy of Finland clinical researcher and adjunct professor at the University of Helsinki. Tikkinen carried out the study using a Finnish dataset.

  • An international group of researchers studied 20 conditions, and whether or not they were considered illnesses.
  • Five different groups received a questionnaire;
    • 6,200 total individuals
    • 3,000 randomly chosen Finns
    • 1500 physicians, psychiatrists, and specialists
    • 1500 nurses
    • 200 members of the Finnish Parliament
    • 53% (3,259) responded
Mental Health Definition: Respondent Findings
  • Grief and homosexuality are not considered an illness.
  • Opinions varied on the mental health definition of alcoholism, work exhaustion, drug addiction, and gambling addiction.
  • At least 75% of respondents in all groups considered schizophrenia and autism illnesses.
  • At least 75% of respondents did not consider homosexuality and grief illnesses.
  • ADHD, anorexia, bulimia, depression, panic disorder, personality disorder, and generalized anxiety disorder were classified as diseases by 50-75% of respondents.
  • 50-75% of respondents did not classify premature ejaculation, absence of sexual desire and transsexualism as diseases.
  • Psychiatrists were most inclined to classify the conditions as diseases, followed by physicians, nurses, members of parliament and laypeople.

It’s important to note that the way people classify disease influences how society’s resources are spent, as well as the way certain groups of people are stigmatized. Tikkinen says, “Society’s attitude towards alcoholics and drug addicts largely depends on whether substance abuse is considered an illness or life choice.”

Click here to learn more about mental health diagnoses.