What is Mental Illness?

stats about mental illness

Mental Health Facts: Mental Illness is one of Canada’s leading public health problems; Anyone can develop a mental illness; 1 in 4 Canadians will experience some form of mental illness; 1 in 8 Canadians will develop a mental illness requiring professional care.

What Is Mental Health?

Mental Health is a state of being. It refers to how one is able to cope with the demands and stress of day to day living. We all have times when we feel depressed, get unreasonably angry or over excited; we even have periods when we think that everything and everybody is out to get us and we can’t cope. These are normal reactions to particular situations; if one has good mental health, one is able to assess the circumstances and move on.

What Is Mental Illness?

Mental Illness includes a broad range of psychological or behavioural symptoms that reduce an individual’s capacity to cope with daily life; a person may lose contact with himself, his emotions may be uncontrolled, behaviour might be inappropriate, or a person might lose the ability to communicate effectively with other people. There is no particular way to develop a mental illness. For some people it develops due to a chemical imbalance in the brain while, other causes may relate to the amount of stress in their lives, the patterns of communication they develop within their families, poverty and poor housing, the number of close friends and family they have to support them through difficulty and the degree to which each of them views their self-esteem. While it is difficult to determine why some people develop mental illness, research and education has enabled many to lead full and productive lives.

Specific mental illnesses include:

Mood Disorders (Depression and/or Manic Depression):

People may experience feelings of hopelessness, changes in eating patterns, disturbed sleep, constant tiredness, an inability to have fun and thoughts of death or suicide. If an individual experiences these feelings for more than 2 weeks they should see a doctor.

Anxiety Disorders:

People may develop Phobias (unreasonable fear of objects, animals, or situations), Panic Disorders (episodes of intense, sudden fear, and physical symptoms, like difficulty breathing), or Obsessive-Compulsive Disorder (unable to control the repetition of unwanted thoughts or actions). Anxiety Disorders can develop over a period of time, if they interfere with an individual’s daily routine professional help should be sought.


Schizophrenia tends to appear when the body is undergoing the hormonal and physical changes of adolescence. People who have schizophrenia may have mixed-up thoughts, delusions (false or irrational beliefs), hallucinations (seeing or hearing things which do not exist), and exhibit bizarre behaviour.

Eating Disorders:

They are most common in young girls. Anorexia Nervosa (drastic weight loss due to fasting and excessive exercise), Bulimia (binge eating followed by self-induced vomiting and the abuse of laxatives). Eating Disorders can develop over a period of time. If an individual starts to be secretive about their consumption of food, they might have a problem and counselling should be sought.

Personality Disorders:

There are various disorders each with their own particular name. ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder) is a disorder that affects both adults and children. In general, people with personality disorders have a lot of difficulty understanding themselves and others; as a result, they may be irritable, demanding, hostile, fearful, or manipulative. If an individual is consistently distracted or has trouble concentrating, then a doctor should be sought so they can make a proper diagnosis.

Organic Brain Disorders:

It is usually the result of physical disease or brain injury. People with Alzheimer Disease, AIDS Dementia Complex, and damage to the brain from strokes or accidents experience memory loss and confusion.

How Does Mental Illness Affect You?

People feel uncomfortable about mental illness due to the distorted view presented by the media. Many people are afraid to admit that they might have a mental illness for fear of rejection and isolation due to the stigma that accompanies the illness. People have been led to believe that an individual with a mental illness has a weak character or is potentially dangerous, however, that is untrue. Mental illness only becomes visible when someone is in a crisis, the majority of the public are unaware of how many mentally ill people they know and encounter every day.

No matter how a person develops a mental illness, there is usually some form of treatment that will help them get better. For more information contact your family physician or the Canadian Mental Health Association.