What is mental health?

Published on
Updated on
Use a read speaker Print a document

Does mental health feel like a confusing concept? Although it’s discussed now more than ever, it’s OK if you’re still unsure of what it means. Mental health is different for everyone, and communicating about it can bring up strong emotions. In this story, Kids Help Phone shares a structure for understanding mental health and mental disorders to help you feel more empowered to connect with others about them.

You can tap on the video below to view an interpretation of this story in American Sign Language (ASL).

What is mental health?

Mental health is a range of thoughts, feelings and experiences that make up your overall mental, emotional and spiritual well-being. Your mental health can be impacted by a number of different things that are unique to you, so no one person’s experience is the same.

Some factors that can influence your mental health include:

  • your physical health
  • school / work
  • your community / social supports
  • your family, friends and other relationships
  • spirituality
  • experiences of prejudice / discrimination (e.g. colonialism, racism, ableism, sexism, homophobia, etc.)
  • past trauma / ongoing traumatic experiences
  • gender
  • age
  • race
  • abilities
  • ethnicity
  • access to services and support (e.g. income, food insecurity, housing, job security, etc.)
  • tools you’ve learned for coping with tough emotions
  • stigma / barriers that impact your ability to get support
  • and more

What are mental health challenges?

Because so many things can impact your mental health, it’s common to experience challenges from time to time. Things in your life such as school, family / community, work and physical health may all seem separate, but are actually all connected. When one thing changes, it can affect other areas of your life and as a result, impact your mental health. For example, if you’re not feeling well and can’t visit your friends or participate in activities you enjoy, you may feel sad, lonely, stressed, worried, etc. No matter how you’re feeling, your experience is valid and you can connect for support when you need it.

What are mental disorders?

Sometimes, when people experience mental health challenges, they can develop a mental disorder. Mental disorders are common. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada, in any given year, one in five people in Canada will experience mental health challenges or a mental disorder.

Mental disorders can affect anyone. You may experience them personally or know someone who experiences them such as a family / community member, friend or classmate. A mental disorder is a clinical diagnosis (e.g. depressionanxietyeating disorders, etc.) that can only be made by a doctor, psychologist or psychiatrist.

Try to remember that it’s not your fault if you develop or experience a mental disorder. They’re usually caused by a combination of things happening in your body as well as in your environment (i.e. in your own life and in the world around you).

It’s possible to live with a mental disorder and be mentally healthy. For example, you may have a diagnosis of depression, and with the management options (e.g. counselling, medication, etc.) and / or coping strategies that work for you, you can attend school / work, maintain relationships and live an enjoyable and fulfilling life. Even if two people have the same mental disorder, it may be and feel different because everyone’s options and coping strategies are different.

Mental health is a spectrum

Experiencing moments where you feel mentally unhealthy doesn’t automatically mean you have a mental disorder. It may be a signal to you to practise more self-care, learn new ways to manage challenges and / or connect for help from others. It may be helpful to take a minute right now to think about the support and tools available to you and reflect on what helps you to feel better when you’re going through difficult times. If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health challenges, there are options available for support. Wherever you fall on the spectrum of mental health, you’re not alone.

Resources to support your well-being

When you start to experience mental health challenges and difficult feelings, it can be helpful to try activities you enjoy, practise self-care and / or use coping strategies that work for you. Your coping strategies might include breathing exercisespractising mindfulnesscommunicating with a safe adult or friend, connecting with your community, journaling, being creative, communicating with a counsellor, etc.

Learning about mental health can empower you with language to communicate how you’re feeling and take care of your well-being. If you ever need support for your mental health, you can communicate with a friend, Elder, counsellor, teacher, parent / caregiver or someone else you trust. For free, private, 24/7 support with anything on your mind, you can contact Kids Help Phone.

Resource Feedback
Was this page helpful to you?
Did you learn anything from this page that you can use in your life?
Did you get the support you were looking for today from Kids Help Phone?