Definitions, Words and Meanings

Text Box: Part Three: Definitions, Words and Meanings




The definitions and terms related
to mental health are evolving and still subject to much debate.  Terms are often used interchangeably, which
can be confusing as well as inaccurate. 
It is therefore useful to attempt to define the vocabulary of mental
health and to make distinctions. 
Specific countries use different terminology to refer to the same
issue.  The following definitions and
terminology are based on current usage by such organizations as the WHO, ILO,
PAHO and the European Union.


MENTAL HEALTH:            Though
many elements of mental health may be identifiable, the term is not easy to
define.  The meaning of being mentally
healthy is subject to many interpretations rooted in value judgments, which may
vary across cultures.  Mental health
should not be seen as the absence of illness, but more to do with a form of
subjective well being, when individuals feel that they are coping, fairly in
control of their lives, able to face challenges, and take on
responsibility.  Mental health is a
state of successful performance of mental function, resulting in productive
activities, fulfilling relationships with other people, and the ability to
adapt to change and to cope with adversity specific to the individual’s


MENTAL HEALTH PROBLEMS:  The vast majority
of mental health problems are relatively mild, though distressing to the person
at the time, and if recognized can be alleviated by support and perhaps some
professional help.  Work and home life
need not be too adversely affected if the appropriate help is obtained. 


MENTAL ILLNESS:  Mental illness
refers collectively to all diagnosable mental health problems that become
“clinical,” that is where a degree of professional intervention and treatment
is required.  Generally, the term refers
to more serious problems, rather than, for example, a mild episode of
depression or anxiety requiring temporary help.


The major psychotic illnesses,
such as endogenous depression, schizophrenia, and manic-depressive psychosis,
would fall in this category and would be seen less often in the workplace.  Mental illness is sometimes referred to as
psychiatric disability.  This term is
used primarily in the United States.


MENTAL DISORDERS:  Mental disorders
are health conditions characterized by alterations in thinking; mood or
behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and/or impaired
functioning.  Mental disorders are
associated with increased mortality rates. 
The risk of death among individuals with a mental disorder is several
times higher than in the population as a whole.





DEPRESSION:  Depression is an example of a mental disorder largely marked by
alterations in mood as well as loss of interest in activities previously
enjoyed.  It affects more women than
men, by a ratio of about 2 to 1.  It is
projected that up to 340 million people will have depression in the near
future.  The risk of suicide is high
amongst those suffering from depression. 
Yearly, over 800,000 deaths attributable to suicide are recorded
worldwide.  The majority of suicides are
due to depression.


There is a great deal of
information about the different types, causes and treatments of
depression.  However, it is important to
realize that depression is not simple. 
There are different types and different degrees of each type.  There is a high degree of variation among
people with depression in terms of symptoms, course of illness, and response to
treatment, all indicating the complexity and interacting causes of this
illness.  The most common form of
depression is chronic unipolar depression (clinical depression).  This category of depression has been
frequently discussed and written about in the popular media in recent years,
primarily due to new modalities of treatment.


Other types of depression
recognized at this time are:

Acute Situational Depression


Bipolar Depression (manic
depressive disorder)

Seasonal Affective Disorder

Post Partum Depression

Depression secondary to other
diseases or drugs


multidimensional concept that implies the creation of individual, social, and
environmental conditions, which enable optimal overall psychological
development.  It is especially focused,
among other concerns, on personal autonomy, adaptability, and ability to cope
with stressors, self-confidence, social skills, social responsibility, and
tolerance.  Prevention of mental
disorders could be one of its outcomes.


based on specific knowledge about causal relationships between an illness and
risk factors.  Prevention results in
measurable outcomes.  Within the context
of the workplace, prevention is concerned with taking action to reduce or
eliminate stressors.  Prevention and
promotion are overlapping and related activities.  Promotion can be simultaneously preventative and vice versa.


post-traumatic stress disorder can occur as an acute disorder soon after a
trauma or have a delayed onset in which symptoms occur more than 6 months after
the trauma.  It can occur at any age and
can follow a natural disaster such as flood or fire or a man-made disaster such
as war, imprisonment, assault, or rape.


REHABILITATION:  A process aimed
at enabling persons with disabilities to regain and maintain their optimal
physical, sensory, intellectual, psychiatric, and/or restore functions or
compensate for the loss or absence of a function or for a functional
limitation.  The rehabilitation process
does not involve initial medical care. 
It includes a wide range of measures and activities from more basic and
general rehabilitation to goal-oriented activities, for instance vocation


STRESS:  Stress is defined
as a nonspecific response of the body to any demand made upon it which results
in symptoms such as rise in the blood pressure, release of hormones, quickness
of breathe, tightening of muscles, perspiration, and increased cardiac
activity.  Stress is not necessarily
negative.  Some stress keeps us
motivated and alert, while too little stress can create problems.  However, too much stress can trigger
problems with mental and physical health, particularly over a prolonged period
of time.


JOB STRESS:  Job stress can be
defined as the harmful physical and emotional response that occurs when the
requirements of the job do not match the capabilities, resources, or needs of
the worker.  Job stress can lead to poor
health and even injury.  Long-term
exposure to job stress has been linked to an increased risk of musculo-skeletal
disorders, depression, and job burnout, and may contribute to a range of
debilitating diseases, ranging from cardiovascular disease to cancer.  Stressful working conditions also may
interfere with an employee’s ability to work safely, contributing to work
injuries and illnesses.  In the workplace
of the 1990s, the most highly ranked and frequently reported organizational
stressors are potential job loss, technological advances, and ineffective top
management.  At the work unit level,
work overload, poor supervision, and inadequate training are the top-ranking


BURNOUT:   This term is used
most frequently in Finland to refer to job stressors and resulting mental
health problems that may occur.  It is
defined as a three-dimensional syndrome, characterized by energy depletion
(exhaustion), increased mental distance from one’s job (cynicism) and reduced
professional efficacy.


WORK ABILITY:  Individuals’ work
ability is based on their physical, psychological and social capacity and
professional competence, the work itself, the work environment, and the work
organization. This term is often used in Finland and the world of work.


JOB INSECURITY:  Job insecurity
can be defined as perceived powerlessness to maintain desired continuity in a
threatened job situation or as a concern about the future of one’s job.




STIGMA:  Stigma can be
defined as a mark of shame, disgrace or disapproval, which results in an
individual being shunned or rejected by others.  Stigma associated with all forms of mental illness is strong but generally
increases the more an individual’s behavior differs from that of the ‘norm.’


effectively dealing with employees who become disabled is referred to as
“disability management.”  Disability
management means using services, people, and materials to (i) minimize the
impact and cost of disability to the employer and the employee and (ii)
encourage return to work of an employee with disabilities.  It should be noted that the term “disability
management” is not commonly used, despite the fact that practices understood to
be within the scope of disability management processes are now taking place
within enterprises of all sizes worldwide.


HEALTH: A state of complete physical, social and mental
well-being, and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.  2. 
Health is a resource for everyday life, not the object of living.  It is a positive concept emphasizing social
and personal resources as well as physical capabilities.[1] 





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