Mental Health Awareness

What comes to mind when you think of mental health?

This is the first question I ask each time I stand in front of a grade 6 class. Over the past couple of months I have been making presentations in schools with our provincial police service to raise awareness.

There is always a bit of a pause as they consider what they can and cannot say. And then inevitably the answers I get are about mental illness and they are undoubtedly negative.

Students call out illnesses they are aware of or they describe symptoms. They talk about people in their lives that live with mental illness or they use words commonly associated with all things ‘mental’, like ‘crazy’ or ‘depressed’ or ‘obsessive’.

It would seem to me that the term ‘mental health’ has become synonymous with ‘mental illness’ in our society. And I’m willing to bet as you read this you are wondering, “yah, so?”

Since May is a month where many organizations focus on Mental Health Awareness, I thought I would break it down for you.

‘Mental health’ and ‘mental illness’ are two distinct concepts that mean two very different things.

We all have mental health just as we have physical health. Our mental health is much more than just an absence of mental illness. It refers to an overall state of wellbeing. When we are mentally healthy we have positive relationships with the people in our lives, we contribute to our work or school community, we are able to manage daily stress and we generally feel good about ourselves.

Whereas when we say ‘mental illness’ we are referring to a clinically diagnosed condition like Bipolar Disorder, or Depression, or Schizophrenia, or Attention Deficit and Hyperactivity Disorder.

Although it may not seem obvious, someone can actually live with a mental illness and be mentally healthy. I’m a good example of that. I live with a major mood disorder, yet most days my mental health is good!

It’s important to distinguish between the two. Not only do we need to be aware of what mental illnesses are and how they affect people, but we also need to know what to do to stay mentally healthy – regardless of whether we have a mental illness or not.

I’m sure most of you can recite easily the things you should do to stay physically fit or healthy. We love to put lots of emphasis on that in our society. But you may be less aware of how to maintain good mental health.

I encourage you to check out the links below to learn how to keep mentally fit!

Canadian Mental Health Association
Why is your mental health so important?

Canadian Mental Health Association
Mental Health Meter

Mental Health Foundation
10 Ways to Look After Your Mental Health


6 responses to “Mental Health Awareness

    • Thanks Dyane! It’s really fun to do the workshops. There is always a really great discussion. Kids know a lot more about mental illness than we might think. So many of them are affected in one way or another. Thanks for reading!

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