Mental Illness

MENTAL ILLNESS is characterized by alterations in thinking, mood or behavior associated with significant distress and impaired functioning.

Examples of specific mental illnesses include: mood disorders; major depression and bipolar disorder; schizophrenia; anxiety disorders; self injury; and suicide.


Mental illness is a collection of disorders such as depression, bipolar disorder, depression, and anxiety.  

The symptoms can range from loss of motivation and energy, changed sleep patterns, extreme mood swings, disturbances in thought or perception, or overwhelming obsessions or fears.  

Mental illness interferes with relationships and affects a person’s ability to function on a day-to-day basis, often leading to social isolation.


Causes of Mental Illness

Can be the result of an interaction of physical, environmental, and social factors.  

Physical factors can 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 that can negatively impact a person’s mental health can include severe psychological trauma, such as war, or sexual abuse.  Social factors 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), and our work environment impact our mental well-being.  The amount of stress people are under, and the duration of that stress can impact one’s mental health, especially in situations where individuals are unable to change their circumstances.


Recovery from Mental Illness

Yes, people can, and do, recover from mental illness.  Recovery is a very individual thing, and can be defined as ‘living well in the presence or absence of symptoms’.  

Hope, healing, a sense of empowerment and social connections are key to an individual’s recovery from mental illness. Recovery focused social and psychiatric services, educational programs, affordable housing and financial assistance are also key to recovery. And the earlier people get help, the better the outcome, so if you or someone you know appears to be developing the symptoms of a mental illness, it is important to seek help as soon as possible.

Myth #1: Mental illnesses aren’t real illnesses.

Reality: The words we use to describe mental illnesses have changed greatly over time. What hasn’t changed is the fact that 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.


Myth #2: Mental illnesses will never affect me.

Reality: 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 co-worker will experience challenges.


Myth #3: Mental illnesses are just an excuse for poor behaviour.

Reality: It’s true that some people who experience mental illnesses may act in ways that are unexpected or seem strange to others. We need to remember that the illness, not the person, is behind these behaviours. No one chooses to experience a mental illness. People who experience a change in their behaviour due to a mental illness may feel extremely embarrassed or ashamed around others.


Myth #4: Bad parenting causes mental illnesses.

Reality: No one factor can cause mental illnesses. Mental illnesses are complicated conditions that arise from a combination of genetics, biology, environment, and life experiences. Family members and loved ones do have a big role in support and recovery.


Myth #5: People with mental illnesses are violent and dangerous.

Reality: 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. People who experience mental illnesses are much more likely to be victims of violence than to be violent.


Myth #6: People don’t recover from mental illnesses.

Reality: People can and do recover from mental illnesses. Today, there are many different kinds of treatments, services, and supports that can help. People who experience mental illnesses can and do lead productive, engaged lives. 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.


Myth #7: People who experience mental illnesses are weak and can’t handle stress.

Reality: Stress impacts well-being, but this is true for everyone. People who experience mental illnesses may actually be better at managing stress than people who haven’t experienced mental illnesses. Many people who experience mental illnesses learn skills like stress management and problem-solving so they can take care of stress before it affects their well-being. Taking care of yourself and asking for help when you need it are signs of strength, not weakness.


Myth #8: Kids can’t have a mental illness like depression. Those are adult problems

Reality: Even children can experience mental illnesses. In fact, many mental illnesses first appear when a person is young. Mental illnesses may look different in children than in adults, but they are a real concern. Mental illnesses can impact the way young people learn and build skills, which can lead to challenges in the future.

Most people believe that mental disorders are rare and “happen to someone else.”

In fact, mental illnesses are common and widespread.

Statistics show that one in every five Canadians will have a mental health problem at some point in their lives. Mental illness affects males and females, young and old, and is found in every ethno-cultural and socio-economic group.

How common is it?

  • Schizophrenia affects 1% of the Canadian population.
  • Anxiety disorders affect 5% of the household population, causing mild to severe impairment.
  • Suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among 15-24 year olds and 16% among 25-44 year olds.
  • Suicide is one of the leading causes of death in both men and women from adolescence to middle age.
  • The mortality rate due to suicide among men is four times the rate among women.


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