30% of the population lives with mental illness. That’s a statistic shared with me in an early 2000’s introduction to positive psychology. Today, Johns Hopkins reports that 26% of Americans suffer from a mental illness. Globally, it is reported that 11-18% of the global population has a mental illness. 

This is of course, a sliding scale based on culture, location, values, and other demographics. The term ‘illness’ is something experts are working toward changing, since it isn’t exactly true of everyone who lives on a spectrum of mental health. Think about the “Big Five”. Openness, Conscientiousness, Extroversion, Agreeableness, and Neuroticism. 

Our mental health is as much on a sliding scale as our physical health. No two of us are exactly alike, so why shouldn’t we apply what we know in our positive psychology to the categorized ‘illnesses’, which in some cases, are simply states of being? 

Adaptation of the term “Illness” 

No two individuals experience the world in the same way. This is true of those who live in abundance and those who live in a depletion of resources. There are times when higher levels of neuroticism is simply a cultural trait, rather than an individual red flag. 

The same is true for a lack of openness, or a mindset that is more collective, rather than individualistic. 

Experiencing traumatic events over time, as an environmental event, can skew our perception by tricking our brain into thinking that we need to be on high alert much more often than we actually do. 

Applied Perception of Mental Illness  

I imagine that there is a great deal of proactive, determined, grit filled thinking going on right now in the citizens of countries in war. Will they have an optimistic, positive thought filled day? Perhaps. But then, perhaps not. 

Does that make them any less positively proactive? No. Will positivity be called for? It depends on the person. I try to put myself in their shoes. How can we? How can we possibly know the carnage, fear and chaos that is laying the foundation for chronic post traumatic stress disorder? 

Our reality is not an illness as much as it is our reality. It is how we live our life, how we think and how we behave. Some of us have experienced hardships that are unspeakable.

Applied Psychology

We all chose this field for one reason or another. Rarely is our choice an impersonal decision, and it’s certainly not one for those who have never experienced any sort of suffering. 

There is no negative thinking or positive thinking when you also live with a mental health issue. It means your brain is wired differently, which means you are wired differently.

To know the strengths of character, the science of our subjective well-being and our institutional health, is to know our mental health on a continuum. We chose to be here so that we can help others align their social and cultural reality to one of living their best lives. 

We have to also honor our own realization of our biases and use of the terminology around this idea of mental health on a continuum.

In peace and defining mental health,


Author: k.  Aren Henry has a masters in community psychology and an advanced graduate certificate in mental health counseling. The Light Life is part of her “happiness noir” series, copyright 2021 ©  She’s a private practitioner and researcher in the United States. Henry Healing dot com is her calling card.



“We Are The Positive Psychology People”

Find out more about positive psychology courses and training at 

Share This