Mental Health

Mentally Healthy but Mentally Ill

The mental health continuum looks at mental health and mental illness as separate things. They may affect each other, but one does not determine the other. In other words, you can have brilliant mental health but yet have a mental illness.




Being mentally ill is often synonymous with having poor mental health and well-being. However, another approach- the mental health continuum – looks at mental health as a spectrum separate from illness. According to this model, it is possible to have both mental illness and good mental health.


Mental health, according to WHO, is a person’s state of well-being whereby (s)he is able to realise abilities, cope with normal stressors, work productively, and¬†contribute to society. Mental health encompasses three factors- social, psychological, and emotional. Social factors refer to things like support systems and reputation within society. Psychological factors look at thought processes and how someone understands the world around him/her. Emotional factors refer to how a person is able to handle and express emotions in a non-destructive manner.

Mental illness, on the other hand, comes about when someone is unable to function properly due to emotional, behavioural, and social factors. Mental illness is also diagnosable using the DSM-V and/or ICD 10.




With mental health and mental illness separated, let’s look at the mental health continuum. The model states that somebody with mental illness could also have good mental health. An example of such a situation is when, despite having strong support systems, positive thought patterns, and the ability to manage day-to-day tasks, the person displays symptoms (e.g. psychosis, exhaustion, excessive feelings of being hopeless) that warrant diagnoses of mental illness. Having good mental health is a protective factor against mental illness, but it merely decreases the chances of mental illness, not prevent it.

Similarly, a person can be very physically healthy but yet have a physical illness. For example, someone who is physically healthy (e.g. ideal BMI, has a balanced diet, strong immune system) could still suffer from illnesses such as diabetes or hypertension. Limiting your sugar intake can reduce the chances of diabetes, but it does not mean you are immune to diabetes.

In a nutshell, according to this approach, mental illness and mental health do not exist on the same spectrum. You could have poor mental health, but no mental illness (and vice versa).

What do you think of this approach?

References, Links & Sources

  • Keyes, C. L. (2002). The mental health continuum: From languishing to flourishing in life. Journal of health and social behavior, 207-222.
  • Lyubomirsky, S. (2008). The how of happiness: A scientific approach to getting the life you want.
  • World Health Organization. (2004). Promoting mental health: Concepts, emerging evidence, practice: A summary report.

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