Mental Illness vs. Mental Health

Published 10:06 pm Wednesday, August 21, 2019

The startling fact that there have been more acts of mass violence in the US than calendar days in 2019 has rocked my sense of security and drains my heart daily. Respectively, the rhetoric associating these acts of rage with mental illness baffles and infuriates me.


Absolutely, I think these perpetrators are unstable and their cowardliness is indicative of serious mental health issues. Albeit, the vast majority of our population experiences serious mental health issues at some juncture during their lifetime. Thus, I believe it is crucial we differentiate between “mental health” and “mental illness” as we address what is transpiring in our world. Factually, only 3.5% of violent incidents can be attributed to individuals with a diagnosable mental illness. Rather, they are six times more likely to be victims of violence.

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Dehumanizing, hateful ideologies are rarely associated with mental illness. Hate is a learned emotion and when acted upon with rage correctly labeling and dealing with hate crimes is imperative. I believe hate results from pain, fear and insecurities, and is a poisonous blend of judgment and anger. So, yes, we must find a way to deal with hate and its ugly manifestations as well as all mental health conditions. 


I strongly caution against doing so at the expense of those suffering, struggling with mental illness though as the same will have dire consequences. Mental illness is the only illness people do not universally feel empathy for those who are afflicted. Scapegoating and blaming acts of hate on mental illness will only set us back heightening public bias, rejection and discrimination.


While I do not understand hate, I do understand mental illness and many mental health issues first hand and all of the associations traditionally, falsely attributed by societal stigmas. Long story short, my “forever 21 year old daughter” Caroline deRosset Wesley, hanged herself nearly five years ago. Her final words being “Do not lose hope.” I will struggle with the same until my last breath.


Mental Illness runs the spectrum of environmental stress, genetics and biochemical imbalance or a combination. During the 12 years that we as a family battled the demons of her disease, I was consistently shocked by the innocent ignorance of others to our seeking treatments and solutions. What hurt the most was recognizing the discomfort of others discussing a child having a serious mental illness. In reality, half of all mental illness disorders begin by age 14 and require a lifetime commitment to quell, as opposed to mental health issues, which can be overcome with proper address. 


Since Caroline’s death, slowly but surely, I have seen an incredible shift in attitudes and a vast array of new options and resources available within the mental health arena nationally and clearly on the local level both within the scope of mental health and mental illness.


Incredibly significant, relevant is that the 2018 Polk County Community Health Assessment identified mental health as the No. 1 priority for action. Already our school system has implemented unparalleled initiatives to address the same and that’s just one example of swift action embracing this essential need. 


To learn more about the distinguishing principles of Mental Health and Mental Illness and to stand in solidarity embracing one another as whole healthy individuals seeking safe, healthy communities, please consider joining us for the 5th Annual Walk / Remembrance at Harmon Field, Saturday, September 7 from 5:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m. This vital, family-centered, and free event is sponsored by Polk, Fit, Fresh and Friendly (PF3) and has been underwritten by an anonymous donor via Polk County Community Foundation. 


Mary Wells Prioleau can be reached at


Submitted by Mary Wells Prioleau