Mental Illness vs. Mental Wellness

In most of our society, the term “mental illness” is perceived as something to be afraid of or too much to handle. Although, mental illnesses can be scary at times, people often forget that the person who has a mental illness is still a person with a name and a set of lived experiences. Understanding this concept is imperative to help people who are struggling to get help and support from their communities.

As a clinician, I have worked with adults who live with various psychological and psychiatric struggles which have had various impacts on their lives and the lives of their families. While people often go directly to schizophrenia or bipolar as the primary examples of mental illness, other diagnoses such as clinical depression, clinical anxiety, and PTSD are more common forms of a mental illness. Some these diagnoses are examples of chronic (i.e., extended periods of time or lifelong) mental illnesses. However, if you live with or know someone who lives with any mental illness it is important to remember some important facts.

The first fact, is to remember that the person with the mental illness did not choose to have it, like a person who has cancer who did not choose to have cancer. This is important because people will often blame a person with mental illness for their symptoms and/or became agitated at the person who is experiencing the symptoms.

The second fact, is people who have mental illnesses often feel isolated and detached from others, so being a person that can support an adult with mental illness with appropriate boundaries can make a huge difference in someone’s life.

The third fact, is to remember to see the person as a person, not as their illness. I have had several of my patients who live with illnesses, such as bipolar, share with me that people only see them when they are ill, and not when they are well. Therefore, it can be paramount to the person that they are given the same amount of human decency as anyone else and see them when they are doing well, not only when they are not well.

While helping someone who lives with a mental illness is challenging, it is important to remember that you as the helper can enforce healthy boundaries. What are some examples of these boundaries?  As a helper you can you are allowed to say yes and no to requests that may make you feel uncomfortable. If you say yes, let your “yes” be a yes and your “no” be a no (Matthew 5:37). Boundaries are not meant to be a form of punishment to a person who is living with mental illness, but they are an understanding of what you can and cannot do in order to help someone. This is important to understand because this will help provide structure for a person who is extremely disorganized in their mental health.

Lastly, whether you are a helper or the person who has a mental illness, it is imperative to practice self-care and lead with kindness to prevent overwhelming anxiety, stress, depression, or relationship difficulties.       

I Thessalonians 5:11

Therefore encourage one another and build each other up, just as in fact you are doing.


Chance D. Gallo, M.A., LMHC-A is a psychology doctoral student in the Doctor of Psychology (Psy.D.) program at Northwest University in Kirkland, WA. He is currently finishing his internship at Meier Clinics in Bothell, WA where he has had extensive training in the Catalyst program and working with a diverse client population in outpatient services. Chance will be completing his pre-doctoral internship at a Washington State correctional center where he will continue his work of meeting the needs of some of the state’s most chronic mentally ill adults. When he is not working in behavioral health, he can be found enjoying nature with his wife and two dogs, traveling, or spending time with his family and friends.