Why mental health and mental illness are interrelated

Why mental health and mental illness are interrelated

Posted by Amanda Furness

One of the positive ways organisations and individuals can help reduce stigma is by understanding and spreading the word about the dual continuum model of mental health and mental illness.

Before looking at the continuum, it is useful to consider definitions of the 2 terms –

The World Health Organisation define mental health as, “… a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community.”

Health Scotland define mental illness as, “… a diagnosable condition that significantly interferes with an individual’s cognitive, emotional or social abilities e.g. depression, anxiety, schizophrenia.”

In 2002, the American sociologist and psychologist, Corey Keyes, designed the dual continuum model to illustrate that mental health is a complex state and is not merely an absence of mental illness. A person’s mental health includes; their wellbeing, their functioning as an individual, as well as their functioning in society.

Keyes coined the positive psychology terms ‘flourishing’ and ‘languishing’ which he used at either end of the range to describe a person’s mental health.  ‘Flourishing’ to represent an individual who is functioning optimally and implies growth, goodness and resilience.  Whilst ‘languishing’ denotes an individual who is living a life that feels empty and hollow.

The continuum makes it easy to see and appreciate that an individual with a diagnosed mental illness can actually be looking after their mental health very well and be ‘flourishing’ (top left quadrant of figure 1 below).  Conversely, someone could have no diagnosable mental illness but be ‘languishing’ with a low level of mental wellbeing (bottom right quadrant of figure 1 below).


Figure 1- Illustration of the Dual Continuum Model of Mental Illness and Mental Health

In a practical sense, it is important that managers don’t make assumptions about people in the workplace.  Many people’s mental health fluctuates on the scale at different points of their lives in response to different stressors and life experiences.

Our Mental Health Awareness: Training for Managers introduces an updated Continuum model which incorporates the ideas above as well as the important dimensions of the impact of stigma and personal resilience. This updated model is less linear and takes into account changing fluctuations around mental health and resilience.

Two people in work meeting



Find out more about our Mental Health Awareness training here