One in five Canadians will be affected by a mental illness at some point in their lives (Canadian Mental Health Association). A mental illness is a disease of the mind that can affect how a person thinks or behaves. When mental illness strikes, it can have an effect on every part of your life. Having a mental illness is hard, but there are treatments available that can help you feel better.
It is often difficult for those with a mental illness to find jobs, friends and long-term relationships because of the stigma attached to mental illnesses. Understanding mental illness can help get rid of this stigma.
Just like there isn’t one type of mental disorder, there isn’t just one cause for them. Some of the causes behind mental health conditions are:
- Genetics (inherited and passed down through generations and generations of family members): this doesn’t mean that because a family member has a mental condition, you will too. Rather, it means that the gene is a part of you and if it’s combined with other factors, you have more of a chance of developing a mental illness;
- Biology: sometimes, the wrong amount of chemicals in your brain can send unclear messages your body and this can lead to symptoms of a mental illness;
- Psychological trauma: some mental illnesses are triggered by experiencing a stressful or disturbing event (as a child, adolescent or adult);
- Environmental stressors: a change in your surroundings can, but doesn’t necessarily, trigger the symptoms for mental illness.
Although symptoms may vary depending on the disorder, they tend to first appear in your teen years and young adulthood (Health Canada). A few symptoms to watch out for are:
- Change in sleeping habits
- A continually sad or irritable mood
- Change in eating habits or weight
- Difficulty concentrating
- Talking about death or suicide
- Not wanting to take part in activities that were previously enjoyed
- Continually feeling nervous or worried
- Aggressive or violent behaviour
- Withdrawal from friends and family
- Sudden personality changes
A doctor will be able to determine if a person has mental illness. The first step towards overcoming any mental health challenges is to seek help. There are many different kinds of treatment available to help those with mental illnesses and your doctor will be able to help you choose one that is best for you.
What you can do
Making sure you have good mental health is an important part of your life. Here are a few ways to ensure that you are doing so:
- Paying attention to the balance in your life. For most teenagers, this means finding equal time for school, work and your social life;
- Understanding the relationship between your mind and your body (for example, physical activity can make you feel better mentally);
- Having people in your life that you trust and can talk to and confide in;
- If a friend or family member is showing signs of mental illness, encourage him or her to see a doctor;
If you think you may be suffering from a mental health issue, talk to a doctor, nurse or your school counselor about how you are feeling. They will be able to lead you in the right direction.