What’s the difference between mental health and mental illness? Many people confuse mental health with mental illness, but they’re actually two different things. Mental health is more than just not having a mental illness. Let’s face it, life isn’t perfect for anyone, and good mental health comes from knowing that we can cope with whatever life sends our way. Mental health is about the quality of our life and being able to find a balance between the many parts of our lives – family, school, social life, relationships, activities, spiritual beliefs, and so on.
It’s almost impossible to have perfect mental health. Life is full of ups and downs, and everyone will face difficult and stressful situations. The cool thing is that we can all work at improving our mental health in the same way that we can change and improve our physical health. By developing strong relationships with people that can support us and learning more healthy coping skills, we can build good mental health one step at a time. For more info, check out the Coping section at the end of this section.
Being mentally well can also help prevent mental illness which can start to show up 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 sections below.
- What is Mental Health?
Mental health is part of our overall health, everyone has it and it changes throughout our lives. Mental health is about:
- How you feel, think, and act
- How you cope with the ups and downs of everyday life
- How you feel about yourself and your life
- How you see yourself and your future
- How stress affects you
- How you deal with negative things that happen in your life
- Your self-esteem or confidence
Everyone has ways that they deal with stress or hard times. What we do to get through a tough time is called coping. We can all learn more and healthier ways of coping. It can’t make stressful times go away, but good coping can make hard times easier to deal with. For more on building up your coping strategies check out the Coping section below.
Stress isn’t a mental illness on its own, and everyone experiences it. People might get stressed over homework, relationships, social media, 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, (204)786-8686 or 1-888-322-3019, and it’s on 24/7. For more resources available to youth in Manitoba check out the Resources page.
Trauma is a person’s experience of an unexpected event or a life circumstance that has lasting effects. Trauma can be witnessed, experienced, or can include historical events and intergenerational hurts, which means people may still be affected by the hurtful things that happened in their family or to their family members. The history of residential schools are a clear example of intergenerational trauma.
Someone who has experienced trauma might feel really stressed or overwhelmed for a long time as trauma can make it hard for people to cope with changes, or their thoughts and feelings. These reactions are not wrong and can actually make a lot of sense when you think about them as a way of coping.
- Blood/Bone Memory and Intergenerational Wisdom
An Indigenous way of understanding trauma is called Blood/Bone Memory or Ancestral Memory. Indigenous Knowledge Keepers have said that trauma, grief or pain experienced by our ancestors, grandparents and/or family members can be passed down to us as it is carried in our blood and bones . This is important because it can give meaning to our suffering. Suffering also comes from systems of oppression and experiencing discrimination which is important to understand too. However there is more to it.
It can make it more bearable and easier to deal with it if we understand why we are experiencing pain and know that it is not always ours. Knowing this can make it easier to love ourselves, have compassion and take on the responsibility of our own wellness. It means that we are connected to a long line of loved ones before and after us that we are taking care of too. Knowing our blood/bone memories can make us more resilient.
There is a balance to understand though. We don’t just carry the hard negative stuff from our family, we also carry all the good. We have the strengths, love and gifts of our ancestors in our blood and bones too. Even if we don’t know our family we have them in our blood and bones and we come from a powerful line of people who survived to make us. So it is important that we remember our Intergenerational Wisdom every time we hear intergenerational trauma . We carry gifts and strengths that we haven’t discovered yet within ourselves. This can give us hope and help us explore and learn about ourselves.
- Different Types of Mental Illness
- There are lots of different mental illnesses, but we focus mainly on four of the more common ones that affect youth: anxiety disorders, depression, bipolar disorder, and schizophrenia. Keep in mind the info here is general signs and symptoms 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 victims 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.
- 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. For more, check out the Coping section below.
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:
- Relieve tension
- 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, not to share them, try to avoid veins, have a first-aid kit and phone nearby (in case you need to call for help), and get medical attention if necessary. While self-harm is often the result of feeling out of control and trying to managing emotional pain, there is a chance someone could accidentally cut too deep which can result in accidental death. Other ways to lower risks are to try snapping an elastic band against their wrist, draw on themselves with red marker, or squeeze ice cubes in their hands. These can have similar effects without breaking the skin.
Because there are risks with self-harm, it’s important to explore healthier ways coping. For more info check out the Coping section below.
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 ways to stay safer. For more on the risks and ways to lower the chance of something bad happening if someone is choosing to use drugs or alcohol check out our Substance Use section.
- Thoughts of Suicide
- 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. Anyone who is thinking about suicide or worried about a friend who may be thinking about suicide can call the Manitoba Suicide Line 1-877-435-7170. The number is free and there are trained counsellors who can help. You can also visit their website, www.reasontolive.ca.
Signs that someone is thinking of suicide:
- 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).
- Having a plan to kill themselves
- Saying goodbye
- Increase in drug/alcohol use
- Giving away their things
- Acting withdrawn
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, 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 of dying by suicide.
If you are worried about a friend, ask them directly if they are thinking about suicide. 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 “solve” the other person’s problems in order to be helpful. If someone is suicidal they need help and support from trusted adults (counsellor, guidance counsellor, uncle, auntie, Elder, etc.) as well as from friends. 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. Losing 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 that Manitoba Suicide Line’s website, www.reasontolive.ca.
Improving our mental health…
There are lots of ways that people can improve their mental health. It’s helpful to think about the supportive people in your life that you can talk to, the 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.
Helping a friend
If a friend comes to us for help it’s important to be non-judgemental, we need to actively listen to what they have to say, and it can be helpful to connect them to resources. Sometimes we need to include an adult in the conversation too especially if we are worried about them hurting themselves or someone else. Check out this video to see how to help a friend.
Questions About Mental Health
- I’m feeling really stressed, what can I do?
- Stress is a part of life, but sometimes it can get to be too much. When this happens it can affect how we feel, how we act, and how we cope. It can also change how our bodies work by doing things like increasing tension, causing headaches, affecting sleep and eating habits.
When we feel really stressed it’s important to take time for self-care/fun to let some of that stress go. This may also mean taking a step-back from some commitments like friends, work, sports or school work. It’s always okay to talk with a teacher about getting an extension or a coach about missing some practices. In fact, sometimes this can be really important.
Sometimes talking about it with someone you trust and look up to can help make the situation easier to manage. Spending time with supportive people who make you feel good about yourself can also reduce stress. It can also help to make a list of things you like to do, maybe hanging out with friends, doing something creative, listening or playing music, reading, whatever you like to do. Try to make time for doing things you like as often as you can, it can help relieve stress.
- My friend is going through a hard time, but doesn’t want to talk about it. How can I help them?
- Sometimes people are going through something, but don’t feel ready to talk. You can’t force someone to talk about something they don’t want to talk about, but you can let them know you are worried about them and are always there for them when/if they feel ready. Remember, when trying to talk with them to stay non-judgemental. When people feel judged they are less likely to talk. Staying non-judgmental lets them know you can be a safe person to come to when they do feel ready. You can also share resources with them. Sometimes people don’t feel ready to talk with someone they know, but will reach out to a phone or chat-line.
If you are worried about your friend hurting themselves, then it’s important to bring an adult into the conversation. This could be a teacher you trust, a counsellor or family member. If your friend doesn’t want you to let an adult know, tell them that what’s going on feels bigger then the both of you and then offer to let them choose who you talk with or to go talk with someone together.
- What if you tell someone you trust that you are thinking about suicide and they don’t believe you or treat it like a joke?
Reaching out to someone for help is never easy, and unfortunately not everyone we go to for support ends up being helpful. Your feelings are real and valid, and don’t let anyone tell you otherwise. If the someone doesn’t believe you, judges you, or just doesn’t feel good talking to then try someone else. You can also always call a phone line or visit a counsellor.
The Manitoba Suicide Prevention and Support Line is open 24/7 and is always free to call. It’s number is 1-877-435-7170. You can also reach out to the Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 or use their online chat.
Within Winnipeg free drop-in counselling is available through Klinic at 167 Sherbrook Street. Teen Clinics also offer mental health services.
- My partner threatens they will attempt suicide when I try to break up with them. What should I do?
This is a difficult situation. Whenever someone talks about suicide, we need to take them seriously, even if we’ve heard them speak about it several times before. This being said, you still have a right to end a relationship, even if the person is threatening suicide. If someone is threatening to hurt themselves in order to keep you in a relationship, this is manipulation (trying to get you to stay in the relationship when you don’t want to stay) and not a good reason to stay.
If someone is having thoughts of suicide, encourage them to talk someone about their feelings. However, it doesn’t have to be you. They can talk the Manitoba Suicide Prevention and Support Line (1-877-435-7170), Klinic Crisis Line (204-786-8686 or 1-888-322-3019), the Kids Help Phone, or try talking to a friend, family member, or school guidance counsellor. Providing some resources where they can get support and access more information can be helpful. Whether they decide to reach out to other supports is up to them. It can be difficult, but staying in a relationship because you’re afraid they will harm themselves isn’t good for either of you.
It can be overwhelming and very stressful when someone we care about is thinking about suicide. You don’t have to deal with the situation all alone. You can ask for help and get support, try talking to a trusted adult, friend, or using the phone lines above. Talking about a stressful situation can help you sort out your feelings and make the situation seem more manageable.
- How common are mental illnesses?
It depends on the illness, but about 1 in 5 people in Canada will live with a mental illness at some point during their life. Some mental illness, such as schizophrenia, are lifelong but can be managed with medication allowing someone to live a relatively healthy and full life. Other illnesses, such as depression or anxiety, may be lifelong for some people or they may be only happen at a specific time in someone’s life. Sometimes these are managed with medication, while at other times people find other ways to cope.
If you aren’t feeling good or are worried about yours or someone else’s mental health, then it’s important to talk with someone you trust. If you know someone living with a mental illness, remember you do not have to be afraid of them, nor should you ever treat them with judgement. When we treat someone badly or judge someone this is called stigma. When someone feels stigmatized they may feel isolated and be less likely to seek out support or help.
- Are people with mental illnesses dangerous?
Someone living with a mental illness is no more dangerous or violent than anyone else. In fact, because of stigma (negative judgements or fear) someone living with a mental illness can be at a higher risk of being the victim of violence. This is because some people who stigmatize mental illness react with fear first.
To help reduce stigma around mental illness, it’s important to learn accurate information about mental health and to create a society where we can openly talk about how we are feeling and access support when we need it.
- How do you cure mental illnesses?
- Treatment for mental illness is usually a personal program created in partnership with a health care provider and the individual. It may be based on what someone lives with, what works for their body and their mind, personal support systems and interests. Some more common treatments may include medication (although not always), stress reduction activities, specific nutritional programs, physical activities, and counselling.
- What is an anxiety/panic attack?
Anxiety (or panic) attacks can happen when someone gets a rush of adrenaline from feeling especially anxious; it can sometimes feel like a heart attack. Symptoms of an anxiety attack can be a racing or pounding heart, sweating, shaking, nausea or upset stomach, dizziness, or feeling short of breath. Because anxiety attacks take up a lot of energy in the body, they don’t usually last very long, usually about 5-10 minutes. Anxiety attacks are treatable and talking to someone like a school guidance counsellor or health care provider can be a first step in getting help. Many people are able to find way of making anxiety attacks less common and easier to manage. For more information or to get treatment call Mental Health Services for Children, Youth, and Families in Winnipeg 204.958.9660.
- I’ve been smoking lots of weed to get through a rough patch. Is this okay?
Using a substance, including weed, as a way of coping or to numb difficult feelings is called self-medicating. We can’t tell you if this is okay or not, only you can decide what is best for your health and wellbeing. It’s important to recognise that for some people, in the short-term, this may be what gets them through a hard time in life. However, it’s also important to recognise that anytime we use a substance there is risk, including with weed. Check out our section on Substance Use to learn more about how to reduce the risks.
It can be helpful to also work on finding other ways to cope though hard times. Weed might be working right now, but it also has some long term health risks including numbing the good feelings, increasing feelings of anxiety and lung damage. Try out different activities to see what helps. If you’re using weed because it makes you feel relaxed, then look for something that also gives you this feeling. Think of things you can do in winter vs summer. Things that are quick and things that take longer, as well as things that cost money and things that are free. Having a mix of things we like to do when we aren’t feeling great gives us more options for working though life’s rough patches.
It may also be helpful to talk with someone you trust about what’s going on. This could be a family member, teacher, school counsellor or a phone line. Check out our resources section for a list of helpful places to call or visit.
- How do you deal with stuff when life sucks?
Life is full of ups and downs. We all go through good times, and we also all have times that suck. When going through a hard time it can be helpful to find things that help us cope.
Try and come up with a list of things that work for you. Think of what sort of stuff makes you feel good, is fun, and lets out some stress. It’s important to have a mix of things that help distract you and things that help you reflect on what’s going on. If you only distract yourself then you won’t process or work though what’s going on. On the flip side, if you are only reflecting on what’s going on you may feel exhausted and hurt. Check out our coping section above for some examples.
It may also be helpful to talk with someone you trust about what’s going on. This could be a family member, teacher, school counsellor or a phone line. Check out our resources section for a list of helpful places to call or visit.