Understanding Mental Illness

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What do you think of when you hear that someone is experiencing a mental illness? Some people feel concern, fear, or confusion. Some even avoid those who experience mental illnesses. But mental illnesses are just like any other illness; everyone deserves care, help, and support.

Mental illnesses are health problems that affect the way we think about ourselves, relate to others, and interact with the world around us. They affect our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours. Mental illnesses can disrupt a person’s life or create challenges, but with the right supports, a person can get back on a path to recovery and wellness. It’s important to understand that there are many different types of mental illness that affect people in different ways.

Within each mental illness, people may have very different symptoms and challenges. However, symptoms are just one piece. Access to services, support from loved ones, and the ability to participate in communities play a big part in the way people experience mental illnesses. Culture, background, and personal beliefs also shape the way people understand mental illnesses. Some people don’t see the name of a diagnosis as an important part of their journey, while others prefer the medical terms to describe the illness. No matter how people talk about their experiences, they will likely need to use medical terms if they seek help in the health system. This is just how the system works right now—but it isn’t the only way to talk about wellness.

Health professionals divide mental illnesses into several different groups based on signs or symptoms. Common groups of mental illnesses include: anxiety disorders, mood disorders, eating disorders, psychotic disorders, personality disorders, child and youth mental disorders, dementia and suicide.

Mental illness affects everyone. People who experience a mental illness may face challenges in their communities. Capable workers may not find good employment. Housing may come with restrictions or may be limited by inadequate income. Many challenges around living with a mental illness have to do with unfair attitudes and discrimination. You can make a difference by advocating for people who experience mental illnesses. Let leaders and policy-makers know that your community includes everyone, and support organizations that work to give everyone a voice.

Reach out for help

Finding help early will get you on the road to recovery faster and may even reduce the risk of problems in the future. You can also contact the Canadian Mental Health Association – Calgary Region for more information at (403) 297-1700 or email: info@cmha.calgary.ab.ca.