What are Mental Illnesses?
Mental illnesses are health problems that affect the way we think about ourselves, relate to others, and interact with the world around us. They affect our thougths, feelings, and behaviours. Mental illnesses can disrupt a person’s life or create challenges, but with the right supports, a person can get back on a path to recovery and wellness.
It’s important to understand that there are many different types of mental illnesses that affect people in different ways. Within each mental illness, people may have very different symptoms and challenges. However symptoms are just one piece. Access to services, support from loved ones, and the ability to participate in communities play a big part in the way people experience mental illnesses. Culture, background, and personal beliefs also shape the way people understand mental illnesses.
There are several different types of mental illnesses, often grouped into larger categories including anxiety disorders, mood disorders, eating disorders, psychotic disorders, personality disorders, childhood disorders, and dementia. For more information on several of these categories, and the mental illnesses that fall into them, please check the Beautiful Minds Program resource page.
Myths about Mental Illness
Mental illnesses affect everyone in some way. We all likely know someone who has experienced a mental illness at some point. Yet there are still many hurtful attitudes around mental illnesses that fuel stigma and discrimination and make it harder to reach out for help. It’s time to look at the facts. Here are some of the more common myths we hear about mental illnesses.
Myth #1: Mental illnesses aren’t real illnesses.
Fact: Mental illnesses are not the regular ups and downs of life. Mental illnesses create distress, don’t go away on their own, and are real health problems with effective treatments. When someone breaks their arm, we wouldn’t expect them to just “get over it.” Nor would we blame them if they needed a cast, sling, or other help in their daily life while they recovered.
Myth #2: Mental illnesses will never affect me.
Fact: All of us will be affected by mental illnesses. Researchers estimate that as many as one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness at some point in their life. You may not experience a mental illness yourself, but it’s very likely that a family member, friend, or someone at school will experience challenges.
Myth #3: People with mental illnesses are violent and dangerous.
Fact: Some people try to predict violence so they know what to avoid. However, the causes of violence are complicated. Researchers agree that mental illnesses are not a good predictor of violence. In fact, if we look at mental illnesses on their own, people who experience a mental illness are no more violent than people without a mental illness. Excluding people from communities is linked to violence. And people with mental illnesses are often among those who are excluded. It’s also important to note that people who experience mental illnesses are much more likely to be victims of violence than to be violent.
Myth #4: People don’t recover from mental illnesses.
Fact: People can and do recover from mental illnesses. Today, there are many different kinds of treatments, services, and supports that can help. No one should expect to feel unwell forever. The fact is, people who experience mental illnesses can and do lead productive, engaged lives. They work, volunteer, or contribute their unique skills and abilities to their communities. Even when people experience mental illnesses that last for a long time, they can learn how to manage their symptoms so they can get back to their goals. If someone continues to experience many challenges, it may be a sign that different approaches or supports are needed.
What about Mental Health?
Mental health is key to our well-being, and affects each of us, just because we are alive. We can’t be truly healthy without it. It involves how we feel, think, act, and interact with the world around us. Mental health is about realizing our potential, coping with the normal stresses of life, and making a contribution to our community. It may be more helpful to think of good mental health as thriving. Good mental health isn’t about avoiding problems or trying to achieve a ‘perfect’ life. It’s about living well and feeling capable despite challenges. Mental well-being is bigger than the presence or absence of a mental illness. People who live with a mental illness can and do thrive, just as people without a mental illness may experience poor mental health. Each of our paths to mental well-being will be unique. We all have our own goals, our own challenges, our own talents, and our own supports. But good mental health is in everyone’s reach.
How can you support your own mental health?
There are so many things that you can do to help keep yourself mentally well, and that can help you out when things aren’t going so well. Here are just a few tips!
• Do things that increase your self-esteem and make you feel good about yourself
• Build positive support networks with friends, family, and other people in your community so that you have people to help you when things are tough
• Get involved – in your community, in sports, in school activities, anything that you enjoy! Having a sense of purpose is key to maintaining good mental health.
• Develop ways to cope positively with stress. Check out our page on coping for some tips and ideas.
• Recognize your emotions. Emotional well-being is not about being happy all the time. Feeling sad, angry, and anxious at times is part of being human.
• Reach out. When you are struggling, if you think you might be experiencing mental distress, or a mental illness, connect with someone who can help. Check out our get help page for more information.
The information on this page is take from pamphlets that are available through the Canadian Mental Health Association. If you are interested in reading more or checking out their other resources please visit their site!