Mental illness or mental distress; stigma and concealment in University students - a discussion paper

John Power

Research output: Contribution to journalArticlepeer-review


This discussion paper addresses the issue of mental distress, sometimes mis- perceived or misinterpreted as mental illness. The
focus is on positive psychology. Reflecting in part on a UK-based study with younger University students studying to health
related degrees, nursing, midwifery and medicine (N = 12), many of the students were apparently suffering dis-stress with
disordered eating at least in part being used as a coping mechanism. However notwithstanding that they were at the end of
their first year studies in health, a significant number of the students interpreted their approach to eating as a mental illness.
Consequently, many within the study felt stigmatised and were reluctant to acknowledge certainly to the University health care
authorities that there was an issue; perceiving both academic and career/professional consequences of mental health labelling. The
paper approaches the issue of mental health from a health promoting perspective, reflecting against the theory of salutogenesis
and its focus within the three dimensions of comprehensibility, manageability and meaningfulness as an approach to building
resilience and managing stressors to better facilitate a sense of coherence. Complex manifestations of distress and poor coping
mechanisms can in some cases be misinterpreted or miss perceived as mental illness. Promoting mental health and reducing the
stigma of mental illness or the misperception of mental distress as mental illness, would need to be addressed in order to more
effectively outreach certainly to younger University students who might be at risk. The focus should be on how better to promote
their sense of coherence.
Original languageEnglish
Pages (from-to)29-37
Number of pages8
JournalInternational Journal of Health Care
Issue number1
Publication statusPublished - 19 Oct 2015

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