When we think about how healthy we are, sometimes we only think about the way our body feels. But there is more to being healthy than just our physical health. In this section, we’re going to give some information about mental illnesses, suicide, as well as coping strategies that are important for all of us.
Why should we all figure out more ways of being mentally healthy and well? Because life is full of ups and downs, and the truth is, life is not perfect for anyone. It’s easy to enjoy the good times in life, and it’s also important to learn how to deal with the hard times that are going to come up for all of us. We can’t avoid challenging times, but we can work at developing strong relationships with people that can support us, and learn more healthy coping skills.
Being mentally well can also help prevent mental illness which can develop in the teen years or younger. To read more about mental illness, suicide, and how to cope with the struggles of everyday life, check out the other mental health sections listed along the left side of the page.
- When we are dealing with mental illness we also have to talk about “stigma.” When something is “stigmatized”, it means people think it’s bad. Sometimes this happens with mental illness, and it can make people feel ashamed or embarrassed if they, or someone they know deals with one. In fact, dealing with stigma and poor treatment from others can be just as hard as dealing with the actual mental illness. Stigma can make it difficult to talk about mental illness and makes it harder to get help.
We can all fight the stigma around mental illness by being supportive and not judging anyone for whatever they are going through.
- What Does it Feel Like to Have a Mental Illness?
- If someone was going through a hard time in their life, what might they feel? Think about a time when things were going bad for you. What kind of emotions did you have?
Someone might feel:
It is possible for anyone to experience these feelings. They aren’t bad or wrong and they are normal human emotions. It’s okay to feel sad sometimes, but if you’re worried about the intensity of your emotions you should talk to someone about it. Everyone will experience at least some of these emotions during their lifetime. Because of this, we can understand how someone else might be feeling when they are going through a hard time.
When someone with a mental illness has these emotions, it might not be clear why they feel that way. Sometimes friends and family will misunderstand how the person is feeling and they might think that the person with a mental illness is just being difficult. However, even if we don’t know why someone is feeling sad or upset, the feelings are still real and valid.
When someone doesn’t have a mental illness, they can still think back to when they were having a hard time and then begin to understand what someone with a mental illness might be going through. Just like anyone else, someone with a mental illness can take steps towards mental wellness. It might just take extra steps to get there, such as taking medication, seeing a therapist, taking time off etc.
- Different Types of Mental Illness
- There are lots of different mental illnesses, but we will focus on four of the more common ones that affect youth: anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Keep in mind the info here is on general signs and symptoms and that only a qualified health care provider can diagnose someone. Remember, all mental illnesses can be treated, and many people can recover!
These are basic signs and symptoms, for more info on specific mental illnesses check out the mental health websites in the resources section.
Anxiety disorders are the most common mental illness; about 1 in 10 people have one. There are different types of anxiety disorders like obsessive compulsive disorder, social anxiety disorder, phobias, and post-traumatic stress syndrome. Sometimes people can get anxiety or panic attacks. The symptoms of a panic or anxiety attack can include sweating, headache, nausea, tunnel vision and a racing heart.
People can feel depressed for lots of different reasons and it can last several weeks or months, or happen once in a while throughout someone’s life. Depression can make people feel sad or worthless, and it can make it hard to get out of bed and face the day. Depression can make people lose interest in doing the things they love.
Bipolar disorder is extreme mood swings that are out of proportion to the things that are going on in life. The moods are sometimes called either “highs” or “lows”. The “highs” can make someone feel really active or energetic, but also irritable, agitated, and impulsive. This means they might do something without really thinking it through, or they might have poor judgment. The “high” mood is usually followed by a “crash” or low depressed mood.
People with schizophrenia might hear, see, smell or feel things that other people don’t. These experiences can be very real and scary for someone with schizophrenia, so it’s important to never judge someone else if they are reacting to something we can’t see. Some people with schizophrenia might withdraw from interacting with other people and become paranoid.
Some people think that if you have schizophrenia you might get violent. This isn’t true! Only a small percentage of people with schizophrenia will have violent outbursts, and most of the time that is outburst is directed at themselves. Most people with mental illnesses are actually more likely to be the victim of violence.
Also, if someone sees or hears things that others don’t, that doesn’t mean they definitely have schizophrenia. In some cultures, people who experience things that others don’t are considered to have gifts and be special.
Stress – Is that a mental illness…
Stress isn’t a mental illness on its own, and everyone experiences it. People might get stressed over homework, relationships, Facebook, family fights, or whatever! Stress can also be part of positive experiences, like going on a date, starting a job, and so on.
People can feel a variety of things when they are stressed, including tension, anxiety, confusion, and irritability. There can also be physical symptoms such as headaches, muscle stiffness, increase or loss of appetite, or tiredness. These feelings might be different for each person. When people are feeling stressed, it’s important to take a break and try to relax. This could mean going to bed earlier to get enough rest, going for a walk, or talking to someone. If people are feeling super stressed out all the time and don’t know how to deal with it, talking with someone about it can really help. It’s important for all of us to learn how to reduce our stress.
If you’re worried about the intensity of your emotions or don’t feel able to deal with problems in life, try talking to someone about it! Friends, family, your cousin or aunty or anyone else you trust might be able to help. If you want to speak to a counselor, Klinic has a drop-in counseling program (for anyone over age 13) and there’s also the Crisis Line you could call. The Crisis Line is 204-786-8686 (1-888-322-3019 for out of Manitoba callers), and it’s open 24/7. For more resources available to youth in Manitoba check out the Resources page.
- Treatment for mental illness depends a lot on the situation and no one treatment plan will work for everyone. Talking to a counselor, going to therapy, using medication, or joining a support group are just a few ways that mental illness can be treated.
Sometimes a doctor will prescribe medication to treat mental illness. It can be helpful to ask questions and gather information about the medication.
Questions you might ask are:
- What are the side effects?
- Why am I taking this?
- Are there any alternatives to taking this medication?
- Is this the lowest dose I can take for it to be effective?
- What are the expected results?
- If I take drugs/alcohol or another medication while on this prescription, what will happen?
- How long should I take it for?
- Will it make my birth control pill less effective?
- What should I do if I miss a dose?
- How often should I take it?
- What time of the day should I take this?
Any medication can have side effects. If you have side effects they don’t like, talk to a doctor about it. There might be some other medication or treatment they could try. Stopping any medication all at once can be dangerous, be sure to check with your health care provider first.
With or without mental illness, everyone can learn more healthy ways of coping. Healthy coping can help us look after ourselves at any time in our lives.
Sometimes people having a hard time might try to cope by harming themselves. Self-harm is not a suicide attempt, but actually a way to cope with really painful feelings. People may use self-harm to:
◦Release adrenaline, which is a chemical that temporarily lowers pain
◦Replace emotional pain with physical pain
◦Give them a sense of control over their life, even though they might feel like the behavior is controlling them.
Cutting is one form of self-harm. Cutting can have risks like, cutting too deep (bleeding more) or, getting an infection like HIV or Hep C. If people are cutting, it’s important to keep cutting objects clean, to not to share them, try to avoid veins, have a first-aid kit and phone nearby (in case you need to call for help) nearby, and to go to a hospital if necessary. While self harm is often about feeling a sense of control and managing emotional pain, there is a chance someone could accidentally kill themselves. Because there are risks with self-harm, it’s important to explore healthy ways coping which are discussed in the next section.
To reduce risks associated with cutting, some people might snap an elastic band against their wrist, draw on themselves with red marker, or squeeze ice cubes in their hands.
Self-medicating is when someone tries to feel better or numb difficult feelings by using a substance not prescribed by a doctor (alcohol for example). There can be risks with self-medicating and there are ways to stay safer. For more on possible risks and ways to reduce the chance of something bad happening if someone is choosing to use drugs or alcohol check out our Substance Use section.
- Thoughts of Suicide
- There’s no question about it, suicide is a heavy topic. If you are thinking about suicide, or if you are worried about someone else who might be suicidal, you should tell someone. It can be really hard to talk about, but talking about it to someone you trust can be the starting point to getting help.
Here are some possible signs that someone is thinking of suicide:
- Having a plan to kill themselves
- Saying goodbye
- Increase in drug/alcohol use
- Giving away their things
- Acting withdrawn
- Talking about suicide either in person or on-line (like someone posting “no one would miss me if I was gone”, or “I don’t want to live anymore” on Facebook).
Warning signs should always be taken seriously. Some people talk about suicide or show other warning signs because they want help and don’t know how to ask. Don’t forget, we all need attention, especially if we are struggling.
If someone is talking about suicide, or showing warning signs for the first time, what should you do? Listen to them, don’t judge them, go with them to a counselor if they agree to, call a crisis line with them or on your own, and tell them you care about them. If you are worried that a friend may be suicidal, talk to an adult you trust about it. Let your friend know that you are worried about them and that you can’t keep it a secret. You can’t predict how they will react and there is a chance they might be mad, but it’s a chance you need to take in order to keep them safe.
What if someone is talking about suicide for the 10th or 50th time? You can do the same things. In fact, people who have attempted are at a higher risk to die by suicide than others.
If you are worried about a friend, is it okay to ask them directly if they are thinking about suicide? Yes! Asking someone in a non-judgmental way shows your friend that you care and want to help.
Try to ask directly and in a way that doesn’t make the other person feel judged. There’s a difference between, “You’re not suicidal, are you?” and, “Are you thinking about suicide?” By asking in a non-judgmental way, you’re letting them know that you have noticed something is up with them and you care enough to check it out. It might also allow them to talk about it, which can be a first step to getting help.
You don’t have to be able to “solve” the other person’s problems in order to be helpful. If someone is suicidal they need help and support from a trusted adult (counsellor, guidance counsellor, uncle, auntie, Elder, etc.). You can help by going with them to talk to an adult, or supporting them.
Taking care of yourself is super important if you are supporting someone who is suicidal (or going through a hard time) or if you are grieving the loss of someone who died by suicide. Loosing someone to suicide is a very difficult thing to go through. There may be a lot of mixed feelings (anger, sadness, guilt, etc. all are normal) and questions that come up when we think about the person. It is important to know that you are not alone, that it is not your fault, and that it can be good to talk to someone about your feelings when you are ready.
For more information about suicide, visit Manitoba’s “Reason to Live” website.
Improving Our Mental Health
There are lots of ways that people can improve their mental health. It can be helpful to think about the people you can talk to, things you like to do, and things that you like about yourself. You could even make lists to help yourself remember when you are having a tough time. Writing your lists on a good day can be really helpful when things aren’t going well. Keep your lists in mind and remember it’s important to look after yourself!
Your lists might look something like these…
People I can talk to:
- A trusted friend or family member
- A trusted guidance counsellor or teacher
- Someone at a Teen Clinic
- A counsellor at a Community Health Clinic
- A phone line. The ones on our list are non-judgmental, youth-friendly and won’t force you to talk about something if you don’t want to!
- You can call the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Program in Winnipeg at 204.958.9660.
Things I like to do:
- Hang-out with friends
- Talk to people
- Write, draw, play music
- Play sports
- Go for a walk
- Watch TV/Movies
- Go shopping
- Make something
- Get to know myself
Things I like about myself:
- Funny / have a good sense of humor
- Good at helping people
- Good at drawing, painting, writing, etc.
- Good at sports or dancing or walking your dog
- Good at cheering people up / yourself up
- A good friend
- Being kind
- Being smart
- Good at cooking
- Good at music
- …And so on and on!
It isn’t arrogant or conceited to like things about yourself, everyone has skills and talents, and there’s nothing wrong with feeling proud, showing them, or acknowledging them!
Everyone needs healthy coping skills, especially when they’re not feeling great. Depending on someone’s circumstances, it might be more difficult for someone to get through a hard time than it is for others, but that doesn’t make it impossible, and there are some things on these lists that anyone can do!
For a list of cool places to hangout and do activities in Winnipeg, click here.