The World Health Organisation (WHO) defines mental health as being ‘a state of wellbeing in which the individual realises his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community’. According to this definition, being in good mental health does not solely mean not having an illness.
Mental illness is characterised by changes that affect a person’s thinking, mood and behaviour, and which cause distress or suffering. Mental illness is manifested through:
For instance, close relations may notice that the person affected isolates themselves. For their part, the person affected may have difficulty concentrating, or feel sad or anxious.
Health professionals and doctors take into account all signs and symptoms to evaluate the person’s condition and to render a diagnosis.
Most people in Quebec will at one point or another be affected by mental illness, be it personally or through a parent, friend or colleague. Like physical illness, mental illness can strike anyone, regardless of age, sex, social status, education, nationality or ethnic origin.
About 20% of the Quebec population, or 1 in 5 people, will experience a mental illness during their lifetime. Yet less than half of those who suffer from mental illness seek professional help. The WHO estimates that by 2020, depression will be the second leading cause of illness and disability after cardiovascular diseases.
The most common mental illnesses are the following:
There are other types of mental illnesses, including Psychotic Disorders, personality disorders and eating disorders.
Signs and symptoms of mental illness vary in severity. The degree of severity ranges according to the following:
Here are a few signs of behavioural change that people in the entourage of the person with a mental illness may observe:
The first signs of mental illness often occur early: 50% of mental illnesses occur in children aged less than 14 years. To learn how to recognise these signs in your child, read Recognising Signs of Mental Illness in Children.
Do not wait until you are unable to perform your usual activities in order to consult resources and information for help. Do not hesitate in doing so, even if you are uncertain about the need. Unfortunately, many people wait until the situation is dire before seeking help. Here are some clues to help you see that you should consult:
Keep in mind that psychological suffering is often accompanied by physical symptoms. These symptoms will often reduce your ability to deal with day-to-day situations. Pay attention to these symptoms and do not hesitate seeking help. Read the Help and Resources section to find resources available to you.
There are known treatments to cure or relieve symptoms of mental illness. Treatments allow people affected to regain control of their lives and daily activities. The earlier an affected person consults with a doctor, the faster he or she will recover.
In most cases, mental illness is treated effectively through psychotherapy, medicine, or a combination of both.
If your doctor prescribes you medication, it is important that you carefully follow the instructions for taking them.
Even if you feel better, continue the treatments as prescribed in order to avoid having the symptoms occurring again.
If you experience undesirable side effects due to medication, discuss the matter with your doctor as soon as possible. Another medication will perhaps be recommended.
People with a mental illness sometimes develop problems with alcohol or drugs or addiction to these substances.
People who have both a mental illness and an addiction are more likely to:
If you show symptoms of mental illness or if you simply wish to prevent the occurrence of mental illness, follow the following advice:
The support of a close relation, friend or colleague can make all the difference in preventing or getting over a mental illness. As such, do not hesitate to confide in someone if you are experiencing difficulties. Health professionals can also help and support you. Avoid isolating yourself if you have symptoms of mental illness. See the Help and Resources section to find resources available to you.
Do not hesitate to change your habits by following advice for maintaining good mental health. These changes will not cure you, but they will help you eliminate factors that worsen or maintain your condition.
Sometimes people can hesitate to consult a health professional given their own prejudices, or that of others, towards mental illness. As such, some people do not consult either because they fear being judged by others, or because they believe it is impossible that they have a mental illness. Mental illnesses are not a personality weakness but conditions that can be cured.
The exact causes of every mental illness are unknown. Mental illnesses are the result of a combination of many factors that can trigger their development. These include:
Further research is still needed in order to better understand the causes of mental illness.
Certain people have a higher risk of having a mental illness. These include:
Children that have or have had a mental illness are more at risk of having another mental illness, social problems or other health issues in adulthood.
Resources are available for getting help or further information on mental health:
If you wish to be of help to a close relation with a mental illness, read the Living with a Person Suffering from a Mental Illness page to learn how to help them while respecting your own limits.
To receive care or services, or to find a psychotherapist with whom you feel comfortable, contact one of the following resources:
To find contact information for your family medicine clinic, your CISSS or your CIUSSS, go to Finding a Resource.
Last update: June 11, 2015 2:53 PM
The information on this website by no means replaces the advice of a health professional. If you have questions regarding your health, contact Info-Santé 8-1-1 or see a health professional.