Psychiatry: What Is the Difference between a Mental Condition and a Mental Disorder?

Technically, there is no difference between a mental health condition and a disorder. Medically, they are the same thing. However, some prefer one over the other and you should be sensitive to their preferences.Anxiety

Whether you’re talking about a mental health condition or disorder, you should be able to create a healthy environment in which people feel comfortable asking questions and seeking treatment. Mental health conditions and disorders are common. In fact, more than 50% of Americans will be diagnosed with at least one mental health condition in their lifetime.

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The argument for whether one should use condition or disorder is somewhat tangential to the more important topic of mental health awareness. The continued striving for more resources in the mental health profession is the most important conversation surrounding mental health. Areas such as residential treatment centers for youth are critical to ensuring we provide relief from these mental conditions to the general population.

One thing is for certain: we need more research and more awareness. These disorders or conditions are more common than we think and we need to work together to understand them better.

What Is Mental Health?

The medical definition of a mental health disorder is a disturbance of the normal physical or mental health of the mind or body. These disturbances can be referred to as disorders or conditions and they can cause significant discomfort in individuals’ lives.

There is an ongoing debate as to whether condition or disorder is preferable. Many of the terms used in the mental health profession were derived from earlier understandings of mental health and the brain prior to the current medical advancements. These terms were often created based on unclear understandings of the physiology and anatomy of the brain.

Going even further back, mental disorders had religious and sexist connotations. For example, women suffering from psychosis were often labeled hysterical. Examples such as this display the antiquated nature of many of the terms used in the mental health profession.

What Does It Mean to be Mentally Healthy?

Mental health does not simply imply the absence of diagnosable mental health problems. However, the absence of diagnosable mental health problems makes mental health more attainable and sustainable.

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Optimal mental health is based on a spectrum and has the following potential advantages:

  • Improves the ability to learn
  • Improves the ability to feel, express, and manage emotions.
  • Improves relationship management skills.
  • Develops healthy coping mechanisms and helps manage change and uncertainty.

What Is a Mental Illness?

Mental health describes the foundation of emotions, thinking, communication, learning, reliance, and self-esteem. It is the key to relationship management, personal and emotional well-being, and contributing to a community or society.

Mental illness describes any number of conditions that affect an individual’s ability to enjoy their life and cope with the common stresses each of us faces on a daily basis. However, these conditions are treatable and they should be considered much the same as physical disorders such as heart or lung conditions.

These illnesses do not discriminate and they are treatable. We are constantly trying to understand how the brain works and treatments are becoming more available based on the expanding knowledge.

While mental illnesses can affect anyone of any gender, geography, income, social status, race/ethnicity, religion, or sexual orientation, they typically take effect by the age of 24. Mental illnesses can take many forms and they vary in severity. Some conditions are mild and have limited effects on the overall psyche while others are debilitating and may require hospitalization.

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What Are the Types of Mental Illnesses?

Mood Disorders

Mood disorders describe psychiatric conditions that have prolonged, pervasive emotional distress. These disorders don’t only affect your thoughts; they can affect your physical health.

Some examples of mood disorders include the following:

  • Major depression
  • Persistent depressive disorder
  • Bipolar disorder
  • Postpartum depression

Anxiety Disorders

Anxiety disorders describe disorders that cause excessive anxiety and fear in individuals. Each anxiety disorder is unique and causes disruptive symptoms such as social withdrawal, excessive fear, restlessness, and irritability. The following disorders are considered anxiety disorders:

  • Generalized anxiety disorder
  • Obsessive-compulsive disorder
  • Panic disorder
  • Phobias
  • Agoraphobia
  • Social anxiety

Eating Disorders

Eating disorders are mental disorders that can cause both physical and emotional damage and they occur when someone has an eating abnormality. The following examples are eating disorders:

  • Anorexia nervosa
  • Bulimia
  • Binge eating

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Trauma-Related Disorders

When you experience something particularly stressful, you can develop unhealthy disorders that cause you to struggle with the occurrence. The following are some trauma-related disorders:

  • Post-traumatic stress disorder
  • Acute stress disorder

Impulse-Control Disorders

Impulse control disorders are those that cause people to have difficulty controlling their behavior. Their behavior is often erratic and causes harm to others and themselves.

Examples of impulse-control disorders include:

  • Kleptomania
  • Pyromania

How Do I Treat Mental Illness?

Treatment for mental illnesses depends on the type and severity of the condition and the makeup of the individual. In most cases, a combination of treatments works best. If you have a mild illness with minimally disruptive symptoms, treatment from your primary care physician might suffice.

However, if you have a severe illness with symptoms that can potentially cause harm, more intensive care might be needed. For these types of disorders, a team approach is typically best.

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Examples of Treatment Professionals

  • Family or primary care doctor
  • Nurse practitioner
  • Physician assistant
  • Psychiatrist, a medical doctor who diagnoses and treats mental illnesses
  • Psychotherapists, such as a psychologist or a licensed counselor
  • Pharmacist
  • Social worker
  • Family members


In many cases, medications can be used as a starting point to treat mental disorders. These medications do not treat the underlying condition but they can treat symptoms, making other forms of treatment possible.

Types of medications:

  • Antidepressants
  • Anti-anxiety medication
  • Mood-stabilizers
  • Antipsychotic medications.


Talk therapy involves talking freely about your condition with a mental health professional. During this form of therapy, you learn about your condition and you can discuss it in a judgment-free environment, which often helps patients uncover insights into their coping and stress management skills.

Each type of psychotherapy has its own approach to improving patients’ well-being. They have different durations and it’s critical that you choose the right therapist for your specific condition.

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Key Takeaways

The debate discussing whether mental condition or disorder is the proper usage has differing viewpoints. To most, these terms are interchangeable, but you should be sensitive to those who have preferences regarding which terms are more appropriate.

Mental health disorders are serious conditions that should not be taken lightly. Whether someone suffers from a minor or severe mental condition, they should seek treatment from certified doctors.









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