Mental Health Matters: Understanding Mental HealthUnderstanding Mental Health

Finding emotional balance

Your mood and thoughts are constantly changing and are affected by many things in your life, such as stress at work, relationships with friends and family, and your normal day-to-day activities. Mental health involves finding a balance in all these parts of your life.

Feelings of stress, worry, or sadness are natural but these emotions can be a problem if they are getting in the way of your daily life. A person who is not able to find emotional balance may have trouble coping with problems they face, either because they don’t have the skills to manage stress and talk about their feelings or they don’t have information that may help them.

Talk to your doctor if you are having a hard time finding emotional balance or if feelings of stress, worry, or sadness continue to go unresolved. Your doctor can help you get your life back in balance.


Taking care of your mental health

A mentally healthy person is able to cope with life’s challenges. And looking after the “basics” of healthy living is a key component for good mental health.

Here are some tips to help you develop and maintain good mental health: 

  • Eat a well-balanced diet. Follow the food guidelines in Eating Well with Canada’s Food Guide. You can also speak to a registered dietician, free of charge by calling 1-877-510-5102 or through Eat Right Ontario.
  • Exercise regularly. Physical activity can positively affect your mood by reducing anxiety and stress and improving symptoms of depression.
  • Learn to balance work and life. Your work and personal life should not be demanding so much out of you that you feel out of control and overwhelmed. This balance is different for each person - find what works best for you.
  • Get enough sleep. Not getting enough sleep can affect your mental health. You may feel irritable and grumpy, have difficulty concentrating, and want to avoid your usual activities because you are too tired.
  • Manage your stress. Find out what causes your stress so that you can find ways to effectively cope. Stress can cause confusion, decreased concentration, and anxiety.
  • Learn communication skills. Good communication skills can help enhance relationships between you and your family, friends, and health care provider.

The Canadian Mental Health Association has information on mental health. You can use their Mental Health Meter to find out your strengths and areas for improvement when it comes to balancing your life.


Mental health in children and youth

Adults are not the only ones affected by mental health issues. Children can also have mental health problems, such as anxiety and depression. Parents play an important role in their child’s mental health by helping their child build self-esteem, learn social skills, develop friendships, and learn to express their feelings. Sometimes, when a child has difficult behaviour or problems in their relationships with others, parents may have trouble deciding whether their child is acting appropriately for their age or if they have a mental health problem that needs to be addressed. Some behavioural signs include: 

  • Having frequent outbursts of anger and rage.
  • Behaving aggressively or violently.
  • Having frequent mood swings.
  • Destroying property.
  • Losing appetite.
  • Loss of desire, among young children, for playtime.
  • Lack of confidence or self-esteem.
  • General disinterest in themselves, family members, friends or once-favored activities.
  • Not wanting to go to school.
  • Getting very low marks in school.
  • Frequent or prolonged physical symptoms, including stomachache or headache.
  • Having difficulty sleeping.
  • Lacking motivation or energy.
  • Being obsessed with his or her weight.
  • Worrying constantly.
  • Higher levels of unusual thoughts.
  • Higher levels of suspicion or paranoia.
  • Attempting to injure him or herself.

Some of these behaviours are part of normal childhood development, but these behaviours may be signs of a mental health problem if they occur over a long period of time, are intense, are inappropriate for the child’s age, or interfere with the child’s and family’s life. 

Here are some tips on what you can do if you are concerned about your child’s behaviours or emotions:

  • Talk to your child. Make sure your child knows that you love, accept, and support them. Listen to what your child has to say.
  • Talk to you your child’s teachers and friends to see if they have noticed any difference in the way your child has been acting.
  • Talk to your family doctor, who can provide help in many ways such as counselling, referring your child to a specialist, and assessing whether there is a physical cause for your child’s feelings.


Common mental disorders

Common mental disorders include:
  • Anxiety disorders: People suffering from general anxiety disorders are frightened or worried for a long period of time for no obvious reason. Some have anxiety beyond what other people have about very specific things, such as spiders, closed spaces, or certain events. The anxiety is usually short–term but it can sometimes last for a longer time period. Generalized anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, panic disorder, posttraumatic stress disorder, and social and specific phobias are all types of anxiety disorders.
  • Mood disorders: A person with a mood disorder experiences emotions (such as “lows” and “highs”) with greater intensity and for a longer time period than most people. Depression and bipolar disorder are mood disorders. People with bipolar disorder do have “highs,” but most of the time they feel down.
  • Psychotic disorders: In psychotic disorders, such as schizophrenia, a person loses contact with reality, and may experience confused thoughts and hallucinations.
  • Substance use disorders: People who depend on or abuse substances such as alcohol, medications (e.g., painkillers), or illegal drugs (e.g., heroin) have a substance use disorder. They have a high risk of having other mental health problems (e.g., anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder, or psychosis).
  • Other disorders: Other mental illnesses include attention deficit/hyperactivity disorder, eating disorders (e.g., anorexia, bulimia), and personality disorder.

Often, people with mental disorders are also faced with a combination of:

  • A family history of a problem.
  • A traumatic experience.
  • A problematic relationship.
  • Friends or family that have unhealthy ways of solving issues.

If you have one mental disorder, it can put you at risk for other mental health problems. For example, people with anxiety disorders sometimes self-treat their worry with alcohol. Mental health problems are not the result of just one cause.


Seeking help

Many resources exist to help people with mental health problems. If you feel you need help or want to talk to someone, don’t hesitate to do so.

Your family doctor may be a first step; he or she can ensure that there’s no other medical condition causing mental health problems. Your family doctor may also find a professional to help you, such as a psychiatrist (a medical doctor who specializes in mental illnesses) or a social worker with specialized training. A psychologist, who is not a medical doctor but who uses counselling and other non-medication methods, may also help you.

Community support is available. Self-help groups, for example, allow people who have similar experiences to provide support and advice for each other. Your friends and family can also serve as a support network.

The government has many mental health support initiatives. Psychiatric hospitals or general hospitals with psychiatric units treat people with mental illnesses. There are also community mental health programs and services available.



Mental Health - Health Canada
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Mental Health - Public Health Agency of Canada 
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Centre for Addiction and Mental Health
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Canadian Mental Health Association

Understanding Mental Illness

About Mental Health and Addictions