The term mental health is commonly used in reference to mental illness. However, knowledge in the field has progressed to a level that appropriately differentiates the two. Although mental health and mental illness are related, they represent different psychological states.


Mental health is “a state of well-being in which the individual realizes his or her own abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to his or her community.”

Mental illness is defined as “collectively all diagnosable mental disorders” or “health conditions that are characterized by alterations in thinking, mood, or behavior (or some combination thereof) associated with distress and/or impaired functioning.” Depression is the most common type of mental illness, affecting more than 26% of the U.S. adult population.


  • Only about 17% of U.S. adults are considered to be in a state of optimal mental health. (HHS)
  • One in four adults−approximately 61.5 million Americans−experiences mental illness in a given year. (NIH, 2013)
  • Integrating mental health services into primary care is the most viable way of closing the treatment gap and ensuring that people get the mental health care they need. (WHO and WONKA, 2008)
  • Primary care for mental health is affordable and cost effective and leads to positive patient outcomes. (WHO and WONKA, 2008)
  • Through residency training and continuing medical education, family physicians are prepared to manage mental health problems in children, adolescents, and adults. (AAFP)

There is emerging evidence that positive mental health is associated with improved health outcomes. Researchers suggest that there are indicators of mental health, representing three domains. These include the following:

  • Emotional well-being, such as perceived life satisfaction, happiness, cheerfulness, peacefulness.
  • Psychological well-being, such as self-acceptance, personal growth including openness to new experiences, optimism, hopefulness, purpose in life, control of one’s environment, spirituality, self-direction, and positive relationships.
  • Social well-being, such as social acceptance, beliefs in the potential of people and society as a whole, personal self-worth and usefulness to society, sense of community.

See links below for more information about mental and emotional health, as well as anxiety and depression, and how your primary care physician can help.

Patient Resources:

Mental Health (English) (Spanish)

The Role of Primary Care in Mental Health

– See more at: Health is Primary