Mental Health Essentials

Scroll through the list below to find information on the basics of mental health.
You’re not alone. One in five Canadians has to deal with mental illness at some point in his life. That means that almost everyone knows someone who’s struggling with a mental health issue.

If you were to put 100 people in a room, chances are that:
  • Eight have experienced or will experience major depression
  • Three of them — most likely women — suffer from an eating disorder
  • Five have coped with an anxiety disorder serious enough to affect the quality of their lives — or will in the future

Whether it’s visible or not, mental health is a serious issue — in some cases, deadly serious. Did you know that suicide accounts for 24% of all deaths among 15–24 year-olds?

It doesn’t matter if you’re the one experiencing symptoms, or if it’s a friend or loved one. Mental health affects all of us.
Mental health disorders can even end up affecting the function and anatomy of your brain. Here’s a picture of the brain of a healthy person, compared to one of a person who’s suffering from bipolar disorder.

Figure 1: MRI Image of a Healthy Brain

Figure 2: MRI Image of a Brain following onset of Bipolar Disorder

In these pictures you can see shrinkage in the area of the brain responsible for language, emotion and some memories. The pictures show a striking difference.

But it’s not just your brain that can be affected by a mental health challenge. For example, depression can double your risk of heart disease, and increase the chance that you’ll have a stroke by nearly the same amount. What’s more, conditions like depression and stress have been shown to increase the risk of cancer.

It’s clear... your mental health matters. Mental health issues can cause the quality of your physical health to deteriorate quickly.
Many things can cause stress — relationship troubles, job changes, moving house or changing schools, the death or illness of a friend or family member, and even things like peer pressure and the need to perform or achieve. Stress is everywhere, and you can’t avoid it.

Some stress is good. For example, the stress you might feel if you were rooting for your favourite team to win the big game can be exhilarating.

Too much stress can be a bad thing, however. That’s why it’s important to identify what’s stressing you, what effects that stress is having on you, and the best way to manage your stress before it becomes distress.
Before you can manage your stress, you need to identify what symptoms you’re experiencing.

Physical Signs

  • Sometimes symptoms are physical — such as stomach-ache, irregular breathing, nausea, diarrhea, fatigue, or backache, headache or other physical pains.
  • Aches/Pains & Muscle Tension/Grinding Teeth
  • Frequent Colds/Infections
  • Allergies/Rashes/Skin Irritations
  • Constipation/Diarrhea/ Irritable Bowel Syndrome
  • Weight Loss/Weight Gain
  • Indigestion/Heartburn/Ulcers
  • Hyperventilating/Lump In The Throat/Pins & Needles
  • Dizziness/Palpitations
  • Panic Attacks/Nausea
  • Physical Tiredness or Feelings of Fatigue
  • Menstrual Changes/Loss Of Libido/Sexual Problems
  • Heart Problems/High Blood Pressure

Psychological Signs

  • Some signs of stress are psychological in nature, such as an inability to concentrate, poor memory, or negative thoughts
  • Inability to concentrate or make simple decisions
  • Memory lapses
  • Becoming rather vague
  • Easily distracted
  • Less intuitive & creative
  • Worrying
  • Negative thought patterns
  • Feelings of anxiety and depression

Emotional Signs

  • Sometimes stress will show up in emotional symptoms such as feelings of hopelessness or overwhelm, tearfulness, a lack of motivation, irritability, anger, or a sense helplessness
  • Tearful
  • Irritable
  • Mood swings
  • Extra sensitive to criticism
  • Defensive
  • Feeling out of control
  • Lack of motivation
  • Angry
  • Frustrated
  • Lack of confidence
  • Lack of self-esteem

Behavioural Signs

  • And finally, sometimes the symptoms of stress are behavioural. If you find yourself rushing because you feel like you have no time to spare, missing work or school, withdrawing from friends and family, or neglecting things like personal hygiene, it may be because of stress
  • No time for relaxation or pleasurable activities
  • Prone to accidents, forgetfulness
  • Increased reliance on alcohol, smoking, caffeine, recreational or illegal drugs
  • Becoming a workaholic
  • Poor Time Management and/or poor standards of work
  • Absenteeism
  • Self-Neglect/Change in your appearance
  • Social withdrawal
  • Relationship problems
  • Insomnia or waking tired
  • Recklessness
  • Aggressive/anger outbursts
  • Nervousness
  • Uncharacteristically lying

For most of us, stress shows as a combination of many of these signs and symptoms. What matters is that you identify and monitor your symptoms — and if they’re serious, that you get the help you need to manage them.
There are many ways to deal with mental health issues. Every person is different, so find the way that works best for you. And remember to try different strategies — what worked in the past may not work now, or may change in the future.

There are many options available to you to manage your mental health. These include stress reduction techniques, online cognitive behavioural therapy, or mental health apps or books. Reach out for support from others, or consult a mental health professional about different kinds of psychotherapy or medication.
For a number of reasons, people sometimes don’t get help with their mental health issues. Here are some of the most common explanations:

1. A lack of awareness

Often people just don’t know how to recognize an issue, or they may not know that help is available.

2. Stigma

Negative stereotypes about mental health can make people afraid to speak up, or cause them to worry about discrimination. Sometimes people don’t let anyone know because they are ashamed, or they feel others will look down on them or see them as “weak”. They may be worried about losing job opportunities or missing out on a promotion. They may even fear a boyfriend, girlfriend or spouse seeing them as less desirable.

Some of this concern is justified. In the past, people have used stereotypes about mental health to make decisions about whether someone can rent an apartment, whether they can get health insurance, or whether they should be hired or fired. Children with mental health issues are sometimes bullied or otherwise “shut out.”

Because of the stigma around mental health, many people have found that they lose their self-esteem or have difficulty making and keeping friends.

But there’s nothing “wrong” with going through mental health challenges or having a mental illness. If fear of being discriminated against is keeping you from a satisfying life, reach out for help.

3. Misunderstandings about the seriousness of mental health

Sometimes a busy lifestyle can cause people to put off getting help because they feel they don’t have time to address the problem. Other people think mental health is “nothing to worry about.”

These can be dangerous attitudes — it’s important to identify symptoms early, because mental health issues should be taken as seriously as physical health concerns.

4. Temperament

Some people just want to “do it themselves” and aren’t open to learning more about mental health. Sometimes self-help is all you need, but many mental health issues and disorders require professional help. 5. The belief — or fear — that medication is the only treatment

Sometimes, medication is necessary for a person to deal with mental health issues and “get their life back”. However, that doesn’t mean that everyone needs medication, or even that everyone who could benefit from medication needs the same kind.

Some people avoid medication because it scares them or they look down on it. To be clear — medication that manages your mood is very different from the kinds of drugs, like cocaine or LSD, that alter your mood. Prescription medications can save lives. Without medication, some people with mental disorders might suffer serious and disabling symptoms, or might physically harm themselves or others.

6. The belief that there’s no access to help

Some people live in more remote areas where professional care is not easily accessible. While it can be harder for someone to get help in rural areas than in big cities, the Internet means help is available anywhere you are. Click here to access resources for self-help, online therapy, stress reduction strategies, books and apps.

You might also consider asking others for help, exploring community resources, or finding out what’s offered by your school or employer.
Taking care of your mental health is as important as keeping yourself physically healthy. The importance of early identification of a mental health issue cannot be overstated, because the scientific evidence is clear... If a mental health issue is left untreated it can result in changes to your brain.

But assessing your mental health isn’t as easy to do as checking your physical health. After all — if your arm was broken, you and everyone around you would know it. With mental health, though, no one can see your pain. And there are no lab tests or endurance tests that rate mental fitness.

That’s why it’s important to use the FeelingBetterNow Assessment to give yourself a mental check-up. If you feel you may have signs of a mental health problem, or if you don’t know whether your poor concentration, stomach ache, anger or fatigue are related to a mental health issue, your FBN Assessment will identify the severity of your symptoms and, based on your answers, tell you where you are on the road to mental health. Your responses to the Assessment results in a science-based personal profile that reflects your mental health. You are guided to the best options for you right now, no matter whether those are stress reduction techniques, online therapy, apps, books or in-person therapy with the mental health care professional that best suits your issues.

Think you don’t need an assessment because your mood is OK? The FBN Assessment isn’t just for those who think they’re having trouble. If you’re feeling pretty good, let’s keep it that way! Stress is part of life. An FBN assessment will lead you to stress reduction tools that can help you continue to maintain your mental health.
If you’re ready to explore your mental health options, there’s a lot you can do. Help is available, and it comes in many forms. Depending on how you’re doing, your temperament, your location, and the kind of support you’re getting from the people around you, you may find help in a number of ways and in several different places.

You are unique, and there’s no “one size fits all” when it comes to mental health. FBN can connect you with many choices — take the time to explore your Toolbox and see which tools suit you best.

Your FBN Toolbox explains a wide variety of things that maybe helpful to you. In your Toolbox you’ll find information about evidence-based online therapies, stress reduction techniques, apps, books, community organizations, mental health websites, and services at your school or work. You’ll also find information on mental health care providers and the types of treatments and therapies that are available.
We all know someone who suffers from mental health issues. But many people who are going through a difficult time don’t recognize what is happening to them, and may delay seeking help.

That’s why your FBN Tool Box provides you with a Mental Health First Aid Kit to help you support others. To make sure that the support you give is effective, you need to know your Mental Health Basics, and understand the best ways to speak with a person who is having difficulties or is in crisis.
Whether you seek out help from a counselor, social worker, psychologist or doctor, it is helpful to be able to communicate your problems effectively so that you get the sort of care that is right for you.

When you use your FBN Toolbox, you’ll know what questions to ask, how to have a conversation about mental health, and how to follow up with your doctor to make sure you get the best treatment. The Toolbox will give you everything you need, including background information on Mental Health Basics and a Care Package you can share with your Care Provider and your family.
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