Mental Wellness & Balance

Mental Health 101

What Is Mental Health?

Mental health includes your emotional and mental well-being. It affects how you think, feel, and act. It is an important part of living a balanced life and a big part of your overall health. Good mental health allows you to think, feel and act in ways that help you enjoy life and cope with its ups and downs. Good mental health also helps you handle stress, relate to others, and make effective choices.

Mental health is important at all ages and everyone has mental health! Being mentally well can:

Increase coping skills Improve self-esteem Improve resiliency
How you handle tough experiences and stress Feeling confident in your worth and abilities How you face difficult life events. Your resilience can change throughout your life

ncreasing coping skills, self-esteem and resiliency encourage you to:

  • Build effective relationships
  • Interact with your community in a meaningful way
  • Talk openly about how you are feeling, including your needs and wants

Mental health and physical health are connected. At times, it may feel like you can deal with your emotions and your physical health in a way that works for you. Other times, you might feel worn down, unwell or like you can’t manage. It can seem like your body and mind are closely related and this is true! It’s important to take care of your mental health the same way that you would take care of your physical health.

Here are some things to remember:

  • Life is full of ups and downs. We all face challenges in our lives and it can be helpful to practice accepting that sometimes, things are just hard!
  • Each person is different. We all have things that we are good at and things we are not so good at! It can be helpful to find things you like and are good at and try to do these things as often as possible.
  • Setting goals for things in your life can contribute to better mental health. Small goals like doing one load of laundry each week, or big goals like moving out, can help you stay motivated and feeling good about yourself.
  • Each of us is unique. It can be helpful to practice self-acceptance of what makes you, you (even though this can be difficult some days)! 
  • Emotions are normal! And allowed! Learning to recognize your own emotions, from happiness, anger, joy, disgust to curiosity and shame, can help you understand what is going on for you and help you decide what to do about it.
  • Create a sense of meaning in your life by learning and trying new activities.
  • Build healthy, trusting relationships with people who accept and support you.

Making friends and building relationships with others is one of the most important ways to be mentally well and strong. Making meaningful connections with your family, friends, co-workers, classmates, clubs, teams and other members of your community can help you feel like you belong. Feeling like you belong can give you a sense of safety and security and a place to express your thoughts and feelings.

You can help create a healthy and safe environment where you live, learn, work and play by:

  • Knowing and accepting that everyone has difficulties in their lives.
  • Taking part in local events and getting to know your neighbors.
  • Finding ways to get involved and giving back to your community.
  • Supporting and including people of different ages and backgrounds in your community.

A lot of things can impact your mental health. There are many physical and social aspects to a person, like your genetics or biology, your own behaviors, where you live, your culture, things that have happened to you, different parts of your identity and how you were educated, to name a few. All of these things can impact your mental health. If you experience mental health challenges, you are not alone.

Mental health challenges and feelings of distress are normal. You may feel emotions like sadness, heartache, anger, or shame as a normal part of a tough situation. A tough situation could be a death in the family, a breakup, failing a class in school, a bad thing happening to you, moving, or switching schools, or having thoughts about hurting yourself.

Mental health challenges do not mean you have a mental illness. Most of the time you will be able to get some balance back by learning about your own emotions, reaching out for help from others, and being kind to yourself! Regaining your mental health will look different for everyone and you will need to find what works best for you.

Read more about Kickstand’s information on stress here.

What is Mental Illness?

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a serious mental health struggle in any given year. Nearly 50% of the population of Canada will have (or have had) a mental illness by the age of 40.

Mental illness is defined as “the reduced ability for a person to function effectively over a period of time.” Someone with a mental illness may find that they sometimes have great difficulty with the tasks of everyday life. This is not a choice, laziness, or something that the person is able to control or “snap out” of. 

Mental illness can look like:

  • Feeling overwhelmingly upset and distressed
  • Noticeable changes in how you think, feel, or act
  • Feelings of isolation, loneliness, and sadness
  • The feeling of being disconnected from people and activities

Mental illness usually begins at a young age and it can be experienced by people of all ages, cultures, educational, and income levels.

Depression and anxiety are the most common mental illnesses.

But mental illness can take many forms, including:

Mood disorders

Impacts emotions and mood. Emotions usually last only minutes, while a mood is a feeling that lasts hours, days, or weeks.

Includes Depression or Bipolar Disorder.

Mood Disorders – An Overview | mindyourmind.ca

Anxiety disorders

Causes intense and long-lasting fear without any obvious threat/danger in your environment. 

There are many types of anxiety disorders including Generalized Anxiety Disorder, Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder, Social Anxiety.

Mental Health – Anxiety Disorders – Canada.ca

Psychotic Disorders

Leads to very mixed up or unusual thoughts and perceptions of the world

Can include experiencing delusions, which are firmly held beliefs that are not shared by others (e.g., someone might think that the television or radio is sending them secret messages).

Can include experiencing hallucinations, which are when you can hear, smell, see or touch things that other people around you cannot hear, smell, see or touch (e.g., someone might hear voices that others can’t or feel things on their skin that don’t seem to be there).

Includes Brief Psychotic Disorder or Schizophrenia.

About Schizophrenia | Early Psychosis Intervention Portal

Personality Disorders

A type of mental illness that affects a person’s:

  • thoughts (like how someone sees themselves and others),
  • emotions (like struggling with extreme emotion reactions),
  • how they get along with others,
  • how they control their own behavior or their impulses to act a certain way.

These disorders cause lots of upset and difficulties in a person’s life and relationships.

Eating Disorders

These mental illnesses can cause a person to change or tightly control their eating behaviors and can cause intense and interfering thoughts about body shape and weight.

Read more about Eating Disorders here.

Although suicide is not considered a mental illness on its own, it can be the result of emotional distress, feeling mentally unwell or due to an underlying mental illness. Suicide is the 2nd leading cause of death in young people aged 10-29 years in Canada. But there is hope and suicide can be prevented.

If you are experiencing thoughts about suicide or hurting yourself, you can get immediate support from:

Mental illness can affect anyone. However, experiences of mental illness are not the same for everyone. Sometimes people may have symptoms that have a big impact on their life while others may have symptoms that have a smaller impact. Mental illnesses do change over time and can feel different from day to day. 

Talking to your doctor about signs and symptoms that something is going wrong with your mental health is as important as it is for physical illnesses because mental and physical health are connected. It is okay to reach out for help if you need it and the earlier you get help the better your recovery will be. It can also be helpful to know that many people live with mental illness their whole life and still have happy and fulfilling lives!

Most mental illnesses can be supported with the help of health professionals and community services. Although some people will need hospitalization to help them to sort out their symptoms, it is usually quite a short time with lots of experts to help you get on the right track.

If you experience signs of mental illness, it is important that you get help and support as soon as possible. Asking for help or telling someone what you are feeling will be hard but it will make a big difference for your future. If you see someone close to you behaving differently than normal, you can talk to them about what they are going through and help them to get help.

You can talk about your concerns to a licensed health professional, such as a:

  • Family doctor
  • Psychologist
  • Occupational therapist
  • Mental health nurse
  • Social worker

You may also want to talk to another trusted adult, like a spiritual leader, school counselor, or teacher.

The Difference Between Mental Health and Mental Illness

Mental health is on a spectrum, no one is ever always mentally well or always mentally unwell. This is why it is important to learn how to take care of your own mental health. It is normal to face stress and struggle from time to time. Learning coping tools that work for you and setting up a support plan can help you face these struggles. And it is OK if, at times, it feels like your tools and support plan aren’t quite doing the job; this is when you might want to reach out for extra help.

You can have a mental health diagnosis and still feel like you have good mental health and well-being. Just like someone with no diagnosis might feel like they are overwhelmed and not able to cope. There is nothing wrong with having a mental illness, or with feeling like you just can’t cope. What matters is learning about yourself and what you need to be well, asking for help when you need it, and accepting and supporting yourself and others when we struggle.



Things That Impact Our Mental Well-Being

There are many things that can impact our mental health and well-being, beyond just our inner experiences and behaviors. Things such as: level of education, housing situation, gender identity, and country of birth can all impact our health and well-being. These things are called the social determinants of health because they refer to social and economic factors that influence our health and mental health.

The social determinants of health include:

  • Your job and working conditions
  • Income and access to wealth
  • Education
  • Gender identity
  • Childhood experiences
  • Housing and your community environment
  • Access to health care and experiences with health providers
  • Social inclusion and non-discrimination (including race and racism)

You can read more about the social determinants of health from the World Health Organization/WHO and from the National Alliance on Mental Illness.

A person might think something is wrong with them or that they are broken when they are experiencing struggles with their mental health. This is just not true! Our mental health can be impacted by our biology/genetics and by the wider environment – including our neighborhood, access to good health care, and economic situation. It can also be impacted by the culture around mental health. This refers to how mental health is thought about and talked about by ourselves, the people around us, and the media.

Mental health can be impacted by our society and the systems around us. Which means that it’s not a personal failing or our fault when we struggle with our mental health. It also means that there is a lot we can do to improve our own mental health and the mental health of our communities!

Are you interested in talking to someone who has tried out mental health services before? Book a free, virtual appointment with our Peer Support Worker

Check out this page for more information on free youth mental health services that you or a loved one can access through our virtual clinic, Kickstand Connect.


Mental Health 101 (jack.org)

Mental Health Commission of Canada (2013). Making the case for investing in mental health in Canada.

WHO Social Determinants of Health

Fast Facts about Mental Illness

What’s the difference between mental health and mental illness? | Here to Help

If you or someone you know is in crisis, contact emergency services (9-1-1) now.