Mental Health Overview

Mental Health vs. Mental Illness – What’s the difference?

Many people use the terms “mental health” and “mental illness” interchangeably, when really, they mean different things. Mental health is defined as the state of our psychological and emotional well-being. It is a necessary resource for living a healthy life and a main factor in overall health. It influences how we think and feel about ourselves and others, how we interpret events, and deal with the normal stresses of life. It affects our capacity to learn, communicate, and form, sustain, or end relationships. Justas we all have physical health, we all have mental health, too.

Good mental health allows you to feel, think, and act in ways that help you enjoy life and effectively cope with its challenges. It includes having a sense of purpose and self, as well as strong relationships and connections. Your mental health can be positively or negatively influenced by factors such as life experiences, relationships with others, work environment, physical health, and community. Maintaining good mental health can help reduce the risk of developing mental health issues or illnesses.

Need help now? Call the Nova Scotia mental health and addictions crisis line:

Mental illness describes the reduced ability for a person to function effectively over a prolonged period due to factors such as significant levels of stress , changes in thinking, mood, or behaviour, feelings of isolation, loneliness, or sadness, and the feeling of being disconnected from people and activities. Mental illness is not the same as feeling temporarily distressed because of normal reactions to difficult situations. Most of us can regain control of our lives after a difficult situation, even if we are experiencing poor mental health. People with mental illness feel distress regularly and may not be able to cope with the simplest aspects of everyday life.

While poor mental health can contribute to mental illness, it is important to understand that mental health and mental illness are not the same thing. Mental health is not simply the absence of a diagnosed mental illness and living with a mental illness does not mean you can not have good mental health. One in five people in Canada will experience a mental health issue or illness in any given year. But five in five of us have mental health.


  • In 2020, depression became the leading cause of disability worldwide.
  • 500,000 people are unable to work in any given week because of a mental health distress.
  • 1 in 3 Canadians (33.3%) will be affected by a mental illness during their lifetime.
  • 70% of disability costs are attributed to mental illness.
  • About 4,000 Canadians per year die by suicide—an average of almost 11 suicides a day.