Learn About Mental Health
Your mental health is affected by numerous factors from your daily life, including the stress of balancing work with your health and relationships. In this section you will find resources to help you stay mentally fit and healthy. To help you learn more about mental health, CMHA offers a wide range of resources to help support mental health awareness and wellness in your community.
Many of us look forward to our retirement and see our later years as a chance to reflect and enjoy the lives we built for ourselves. But for hundreds of thousands of Canadians, this time of reflection becomes a time of loss and confusion. Memories disappear—eventually, people living with Alzheimer’s disease may not be able to remember their own names. Some memory loss is a normal part of ageing, but when memory loss and confusion impact your day-to-day life, it might be a sign of Alzheimer’s disease.
Suddenly your heart is racing, palms are sweaty, stomach’s churning. Your muscles are tense and your senses alert. Your mind is flooded with worries and fears that something bad will happen. This is anxiety; and we have all had it. When faced with a threatening event such as a physical attack or a natural disaster, most people feel anxiety or fear. Our bodies give us a surge of adrenaline and our instincts take over. This gives us the strength we need to get out of the situation and survive. Anxiety is our body’s response to stress and danger, but in today’s world most of the ‘dangers’ we face day to day are not ones we can fight with our fists or run away from easily. These modern ‘dangers’ are many and can be anything from a heavy work load at your job to family conflicts, aggressive drivers or money troubles. Some anxiety from time to time is normal and healthy; it can help motivate us and help get us out of tough situations. But when anxiety lasts for weeks or months, develops into a constant sense of dread or begins to affect your everyday life, you may have an anxiety disorder.
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Children and Youth
There are times when children just can’t seem to concentrate. This isn’t a huge problem for most kids—they can regain their focus and get back on task fairly easily. But it’s a serious problem for others. Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) is a real illness that makes it difficult for children to sit still, concentrate and complete their work correctly and on time. Of course, it’s normal for children to want to run around or play loudly on occasion, and no one would expect a young child to sit quietly for a long time. But with ADHD, these behaviours happen often for a long time and in different environments (for example, at home and at school), and interfere a lot with the child’s life.
Attention-Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder in Adults
Everyone feels distracted and restless at times. For the most of us, the feelings pass and we can easily get back to work. Some people struggle with these problems for many years. Some don’t realize they have an illness until their child has similar problems and is diagnosed with attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. Others don’t even realize that they have an illness—they assume their illness is “just who they are.” Attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder can affect adults too, and it can cause a lot of distress. But proper diagnosis and treatment can help you feel better and gain control of your life.
Mood swings. We all have them once in a while. Sometimes we’re happy and excited about the world around us. Other times we’re sad and the world around us seems overwhelming or dull. We can even experience these very different feelings within the space of a day. But for some people these mood swings can happen to the extreme. If your moods swing from extremely low to extremely high you may have a mental illness called bipolar disorder.
Borderline Personality Disorder
In the past, people thought that someone with borderline personality disorder (BPD) was “on the borderline” between psychosis and neurosis (anxiety/depression). Today, we know much more about BPD, and there is more research on BDP than any other personality disorder.
Mental Health Crises and Emergencies
Symptoms of a mental illness can be better or worse at times. This happens when people are doing their best to manage their illness, too. Experiencing worsening symptoms for a short period of time is a normal part of the recovery process. Sometimes we need outside help when symptoms become worse. Some people may also need urgent emergency help if they’re at risk of hurting themselves or others. Fortunately, we can take steps to help control mental health crises and emergencies
After years of working hard at your job each day, you’ve just been laid off. You feel sad, tired and emotionally drained. The last thing you feel like doing is getting out of bed in the morning. This sadness is a natural part of being human and feeling this way for a few days is normal. In fact, many people hear people say “I’m depressed” in their day-to-day life when they are talking about that low feeling that we can all have from time to time. But if these sad feelings last for more than a couple of weeks and you start noticing that it’s affecting your life in a big way, you may be suffering from an illness called depression.
Millions of people aren’t happy with the way they look. In fact, the National Eating Disorder Information Centre estimates that up to 40% of nine year-old girls have dieted to lose weight—even when they were at a normal weight. We’re constantly told that thinner is better and that we should look a certain way. Some people go to extremes to lose weight because they feel like they’re not thin enough. And unfortunately, this can lead to an eating disorder.
Mental Health and Substances
With all of the information coming at us these days, it can be hard to filter out what is good information and what information isn’t so good. This is especially true when it comes to information about mental health and substance use.
Generalized Anxiety Disorder
Worry is a normal reaction to a stressful or troubling event, and it usually goes away on its own. But what happens when the worry doesn’t go away? Some people worry all the time—even when everything is okay. They might feel like their worry is out of control or feel like they just can’t stop their worried thoughts. Others don’t notice their problem with constant worry until they feel physical signs of stress, like headaches, stomach aches, muscle tension and fatigue. We all worry sometimes. But if you seem to worry much more than other people and you worry so much that it affects the quality of your life, you may have something called generalized anxiety disorder.
Help for Mental Illnesses
IMAGINE THIS: One day, you develop a nagging cough, or get sharp back pain. Most of us wait a few days to see if things get worse or improve, then we might do some research on things we can do at home. We go to friends and family for advice. If the problem still doesn’t go away on its own, we usually go to the doctor to get it checked out to find out what it is and what to do about it.
NOW IMAGINE THIS: One day, you wake up and realize that emotionally, you’ve been feeling different lately. You’re not sure what it is, but you (or others) notice that you’re acting differently, feeling unlike yourself and having thoughts that bother you. Two months later, you’re feeling even getting worse, but you still haven’t asked for help. You think it will go away on its own, that it’s not serious, that it’s all in your head. You reason that maybe it’s just your personality or your age or stress. Things you might try on your own don’t seem to help. Or maybe you suspect what it could be and you’re scared of what family, friends and coworkers would say. So you keep it to yourself and just try to get by day-to-day, hoping it will change.
Why do we treat our mental health so differently from our physical health?
Mental Illnesses in Children and Youth
Kids and teens are constantly changing. They grow up quickly and before you know it, your giggly, energetic toddler is a teenager who sleeps until noon. As we grow, it’s normal to change as we learn new things and our bodies transform into our adult selves. But with all these changes going on, how can we tell which changes are normal? At what point should we start worrying that our child’s tantrums or teenager’s mood swings are more than just “growing pains?” It can be hard to tell. The truth is, for many kids, these sudden changes aren’t just a part of growing up—they’re symptoms of a mental illness.
Moods are our emotions. They affect us every day. Sometimes we’re sad, other times we’re happy. We might even be sad and happy in the same day. But sometimes people’s mood can get “stuck” on sad. Or the moods might change a lot or become extreme. When this happens, it affects our lives. And it might be caused by a group of mental illnesses called mood disorders.
Most of us have had times when we find ourselves thinking about something constantly. We might daydream about someone or something, get a catchy tune stuck in our heads, or worry that we forgot to lock the door before leaving for work. Maybe we have a “lucky” sweater that we wear because we think it will help us win a game or pass a test.
Repetitive thoughts, worries and rituals like these have a definite place in our lives. But when these thoughts and actions begin to impact your everyday life it may be a sign of something more serious: a mental illness called obsessive-compulsive disorder.
You’re waiting in line at the bank. You’re running late, you have a million other errands to run and the child at the back of the line won’t stop screaming. Suddenly you start feeling strange. Your heart starts racing. You start to feel dizzy, nauseous and sweaty. After a minute, it feels so bad that you get the overwhelming feeling you’re going to die. It’s hard to breathe and your hands and feet start to tingle. You are absolutely terrified. Within a few minutes, the terror slowly starts to subside. Your heart rate and breathing start to return to normal. This is what a panic attack feels like.
Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder
You’re driving down the highway, the road is wet and cars keep racing past you, splashing water on to your windshield. Suddenly you lose control of the car and feel the car plummeting down an embankment. You hear glass breaking, metal screeching and feel searing pain all over your body. You open your eyes and realize that you’re sitting in your cubicle at work on a sunny Tuesday. You’ve just relived the car accident you were in two months ago for the hundredth time since it happened.
What do you think of when you hear the word “psychotic?” Some people are scared of psychosis because of the way it’s shown on TV or in the movies. In real life, though, psychosis is a serious and disabling mental health condition—but it is treatable and many people recover after only one episode when they get proper treatment.
Schizophrenia can be a frightening experience on its own. Unfortunately, it’s often misunderstood, in part due to sensational stories in the news and other media. Some people assume that people who experience schizophrenia are dangerous or believe that people who experience schizophrenia should be treated without respect for their rights and dignity. These public perceptions can leave people scared to talk about their experiences and seek help. The truth is that many people learn how to manage schizophrenia with the right tools and supports. It’s time to learn the facts about schizophrenia and see it for what it is: a treatable illness.
Seasonal Affective Disorder
Have you ever noticed how different you feel when the sun is shining on your face? How about when it’s rainy and dreary here in BC? How do you feel then? Everyone’s mood can be affected by the weather. It dictates what we wear, when we travel and what activities we choose to do. But when the seasons change, bringing long term changes in the weather, temperature and length of day, some people are affected in other ways. The seasonal changes can affect their entire sense of well-being. If you find that you feel like a completely different person depending on the season, you may have a mental illness called seasonal affective disorder.
People go to great lengths to protect themselves from pain and injury. But some people hurt themselves on purpose to help them deal with bad feelings or thoughts. This is called self-harm. People who self-harm don’t do it to end their life—instead, self-harm may be the best way they know to survive.
Social Anxiety Disorder
Amal is a young man in his 20s. When he was a child, everyone thought he was very shy. Now that he’s in university, he’s having a hard time fitting in. He rarely joins class discussions, and he avoids talking to his classmates. He lives in constant fear of doing or saying the wrong thing. He thinks that other people will judge him or laugh at him. When he does talk to others, he feels shaky and nauseous. Amal has always been a good student, but his grades are starting to slip. His teachers notice that he doesn’t asks questions or participate—in fact, he’s been missing more and more classes as the school year goes on.
Youth and Self-Injury
People cope with difficult thoughts, feelings, or situations in different ways. Some people cope by injuring themselves on purpose and it may be the only way for them to feel better. Self-injury may seem frightening, but its important to look beyond the injuries and see what’s really going on. What is self-injury? Self-injury means that someone hurts themself on purpose but doesn’t intend to end their life. Common acts of self-injury include cutting skin, burning skin, hitting yourself to the point of injury, and preventing wounds from healing. Self-injury itself isn’t a mental illness, but may be a sign that someone needs care and support. In some cases, self-injury can be a sign of a mental health problem. People self-injure for many different reasons.