What Do You Mean, “Mental Health?” 


During May–National Mental Health Awareness Month–we take a closer look at the three parts of Mental Health: social, psychological and social. 

Mental Health Month Mark Sullivan

Mental Health vs. Mental Illness: Is There a Difference? 

The terms “mental health” and “mental illness” are often used interchangeably.  

Perhaps because the phrase “mental illness” arouses fear and stereotyped notions of people most severely impacted by mental health disorders, “mental health” is sometimes used to refer to mental illness.  

But mental health is important to every human, and like “medical” or physical health, each person’s mental health exists on a spectrum and can fluctuate by the day.  

The Three Pillars of Mental Health: Emotional, Psychological, Social 

Mental health is made up of our emotional, psychological, and social dimensions. 

Mental health is closely related to physical health, and these two parts of health overlap and impact each other. Similarly, thoughts (psychological), feelings (emotional), and relationships (social) all interact with and influence each other. Together, they allow us to adapt to the challenges of life. 

Emotional health  

Core to our mental health is the ability to manage emotions effectively, whether it be experiencing joy, sadness, anger, or anxiety, etc. Emotional health involves recognizing and regulating these emotions, rather than impulsively reacting to them, and enabling us to bounce back from setbacks and maintain a sense of balance. This is sometimes referred to as “resilience.” 

Psychological health 

Mental health includes psychological processes such as reasoning, memory, and problem-solving. Having psychological health means we can think clearly, make informed decisions, and maintain self-awareness and identity. 

Social health  

Social relationships provide a crucial source of emotional support. 

Humans have an innate need to belong and feel connected to others.  

Interacting with others allows us to express our feelings, share experiences, and give and receive empathy and understanding, which can help alleviate stress, anxiety, and depression. 

Roughly 1 in 5 people will experience a mental health disorder in a given year, and 46% will have a diagnosable mental health condition in their lifetime. [source]

“Diagnosable mental health disorder” means that the set of problems impacting their psychological, emotional, and/or social selves are serious enough to be included in the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Health Disorders

Caring for our Mental Health 

Mental health embodies the foundation of all human experience, influencing every aspect of our lives. 

By recognizing the interconnectedness of our emotional, psychological, and social parts, we can become more resilient, stable, confident people.  

But we can’t do it alone! Some of us need more help than others, and it’s important to know that help is available. That’s why organizations such as SouthLight Healthcare exist, along with many other community resources. 

Mark Sullivan

About our guest author, Mark Sullivan, MSW

Mark Sullivanv has supported SouthLight with marketing, market research and photography. He currently works as a market representative for HopeWay, a mental health treatment provider in Charlotte, NC. Follow Mark on LinkedIn!