Mental Illness

What do you think of when you hear someone is experiencing a mental illness?

Some people feel concern, fear, or confusion. Some even avoid those who experience mental illnesses. But mental illnesses are just like any other illness: everyone deserves care, help, and support. This section will explore mental illness, the stigma affecting those of us living with a mental illness, treatment options, and how you can find support for yourself or someone you know.

Mental illnesses are illnesses of the brain. They are health conditions that affect the way we think, feel and behave. Mental illnesses can affect how we relate to others, and interact with the world around us. Mental illnesses can disrupt a person’s life or create challenges in daily functioning. Access to services, support from loved ones and the ability to participate in one’s community play a big part in the way people experience mental illnesses.

No. Health Professionals divide mental illnesses into different groups based on signs and symptoms. Common groupings include:

  • anxiety disorders,
  • mood disorders,
  • eating disorders,
  • dementia,
  • psychotic disorders,
  • personality disorders,
  • and childhood disorders.

Within these groups are diverse types of mental illness. People may experience different symptoms even for the same illness. These types of mental illness include (but are not limited to) Depression, Bipolar Disorder, Eating Disorders, Generalized Anxiety Disorder (GAD), Obsessive Compulsive Disorder (OCD), Phobias and Panic Disorders, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), Postpartum Depression, Schizophrenia, and Stress.

Stigma is a negative stereotype that marginalizes people because of their illness. Stigma may be intentional or unintentional. It involves prejudice and discrimination of those of us who live with a mental health issue (and their families) based on fear and lack of understanding. Many people with a mental illness report the stigma and how others judge them is one of their greatest barriers to a complete and satisfying life.

What people think about mental illnesses and addictions really does matter. When society believes that a person with a mental illness is untrustworthy, dangerous or simply “less than” themselves, it has real impact. Stigma can keep those of us with a mental illness or addiction from talking to a loved one, for fear of losing that love. It can keep someone from telling their employer when they need adjustments to workload, for fear of losing their job. It can keep someone from seeking medical help for fear of judgment. Yet not seeking treatment can have devastating results, including loss of income, increased illness severity, hopelessness and suicide. Stigma is real, and it has real consequences. Many of us might not even know we are contributing to stigma. While talking about mental illness and addiction is becoming more acceptable, it certainly still lags behind the acceptability of talking about other health problems.

  • Take the time to listen to a person who has experienced a mental illness or addiction. Listening to a person’s experience of living with a mental illness is one of the most effective ways of increasing our understanding and decreasing stigma.
  • Avoid using words that add to the stigma such as calling someone “nuts” or “crazy”.
  • Spot discrimination? Don’t be afraid to call it what it is. A call to action to change discriminatory practices or policies can reduce stigma and inspire hope.
  • Ask questions and get information from trusted sources—this website is a start!
  • Find the experts: people in recovery, counselors, physicians or resources such as self help, peer support and other community resources that focus on helping those with mental health problems, mental illness or an addiction. Make use of them.

Health professionals and researchers believe mental illness is usually the result of an interaction of physical, environmental, and social factors. Physical factors may include a person’s individual genetic make-up, which may put them at higher risk for developing a mental illness. Factors can also include physical trauma, such as a brain injury, or the misuse of substances such as street drugs or alcohol. Environmental factors includes psychological trauma, such as a tragic event, violence, neglect and abuse. Social factors can include things such as where we live, whether we have strong support networks (close family and friends who make us feel safe and who we can rely on), our work environment, stress people are under, and situations where individuals are unable to change their circumstances.

Yes! Just like any other health condition, mental illness can be treated. Experiencing a mental illness can be distressing. You may wonder if you’ll feel like yourself again. You may not know what’s happening to you, and you may worry about other people’s reactions. Mental illness is not your fault and it’s not a sign of weakness. The good news is all mental illnesses can be treated and recovery is possible. Treatments can include different approaches such as counselling, medication and self-care. Support groups can connect people with shared experiences and there are many self-help strategies to try. Visit the Find Support page of this app to find services near you.

Yes! There is treatment, such as counselling or medication that can help with reducing or eliminating symptoms. Most people with mental illness lead full and productive lives. Some illnesses flare up and others need to be managed longer term like diabetes or asthma. With the right supports, a person can move forward on a path of recovery. Seeking help early can help you on your journey of recovery and may even reduce the risk of problems in the future. There are many ways to live in recovery, but the most important thing to remember is to set upon a journey of recovery that fits your needs and goals for living a satisfying and fulfilled life.

When you or someone you know experiences a mental illness, you may have conflicting feelings. You may feel worried about the future or feel relieved that the problem has a name. These feelings—and many more—are normal. You can be an important person in both your own and your loved one’s recovery. Emotional support is important, but don’t forget about practical help with daily tasks, if needed. Remember to take care of yourself and reach out for help when you need it. Visit the Find Support section of this app to connect to local services and supports.