“Mental Health” versus “Mental Illness”

Apr 22, 2021 | Insights

I have been facilitating a workshop titled Understanding & Managing Mental Illness in the Workplace for the past 3 years and have been asked on a few occasions why I use the term “Mental Illness” when “Mental Health” is so much more positive?  Let me explain.

Managing mental health in the workplace refers to actions that can be taken by employers and managers to ensure that employees remain mentally well.  In comparison, managing mental illness refers to actions that can be taken by employers and managers to ensure that those employees with a diagnosed mental illness are managed optimally, supporting their wellness and productivity in the workplace.

In this particular workshop the focus is the most commonly seen-at-work mental illnesses, how these differ from what can be considered the “normal ups and downs of life”, and how these employees are in need of unique management and reasonable accommodation.   This workshop does not focus on how to maintain optimal mental health in employees more generally, i.e. for those who don’t have a mental illness diagnosis. Other workshops such as The Power of being Assertive, Adapting to Change, Building Resilience and Remote Communication Epic Fails, would speak more to these themes.

In short, “mental health” can be considered an umbrella term under which “mental illness” falls. Use the graph below as a illustrative way to understand various aspects of mental health management versus various aspects of mental illness management.

If you want to focus on mental health management, there are a number of topics to choose from, combined in any number of ways.  However, if it is understanding mental illness that you are interested in, I would advise you to start with the general topic, and, from there, take a closer look at some specifics such as addiction, depression, burnout, etc, dependent on your unique workplace situation.

There is a lot to each title, and selecting the right one for you is so important in avoiding misalignment and disappointment.

If you are looking for a session that will be positive and uplifting for your team, then Understanding & Managing Mental Illness in the Workplace is not the one.  Mental illness cannot be dressed up into something that is positive and uplifting but – believe me – improving your understanding is something for which you will be forever grateful, especially if you are someone that has to deal with it on an ever increasing frequency in your workplace.

Take care everyone.

From your partner in mental health at work,

Lesley

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