Mental Illness

Mental Illness

Many people and their families are affected by mental health issues. Mental illness can make it hard to think normally, deal with how you feel, and deal with everyday life. Mental illnesses are illnesses that affect your mind, your emotions and how you feel physically.

  • Mental illness indirectly affects all Canadians at some time in their lives through a family member, friend or fellow worker.
  • 20% of Canadians will personally experience a mental illness in their lifetime.
  • Mental illness affects people of all ages, educational and income levels, and cultures.
  • Approximately 8% of adults will experience major depression at some time in their lives.
Mental illnesses can take many forms, just as physical illnesses do. Mental illnesses are still feared and misunderstood by many people, but the fear will disappear as people learn more about them. If you, or someone you know, has a mental illness, there is good news: all mental illnesses can be treated.
In this section, you will learn about some common mental illnesses – which can also be called psychiatric disorders – and their treatment.


Depression is different than just feeling sad. Someone experiencing depression is often dealing with feelings of deep sadness and hopelessness  over an extended period of time. Almost every aspect of their life can be affected, including their emotions, physical health, relationships and work. For people with depression, it often does not feel like there is a “light at the end of the tunnel” — there is just a long, dark tunnel.  Depression not only affects adults.  It can also affect children and teens. The pressures of school and growing up can be overwhelming and difficult for children to cope with successfully.  Depression in children can lead to loss of appetite, aches and pains, and lack of energy.  It's more intense than normal feelings of sadness, grief, or low energy. Depression can also cause people to feel hopeless about the future and even to think about suicide. Many people, and sometimes their families, feel embarrassed about having depression. Don't. Remember that depression is a common illness. It affects young and old, men and women, all ethnic groups, and all professions.

Bipolar disorder

Bipolar disorder is an illness that causes extreme mood changes. People with bipolar disorder can swing from “manic” episodes of very high energy and activity to extreme lows where they feel depressed and may not have an interest in anything. It is also known as “manic-depressive disorder.” This illness can be so serious that someone can’t function at work, or in their personal life.

About 1 out of 100 people have bipolar disorder. It's important to know that you're not alone. Talking with others who suffer from bipolar disorder may help you learn that there is hope for a better life. And treatment can help you get back in control.

Anxiety and Panic Disorders

Feeling worried or nervous is a normal part of life. Everyone’s anxious from time to time. Some low-level anxiety can even help you focus attention, energy, and motivation. But if anxiety is intense, you can have feelings of helplessness, confusion, and extreme worry that don’t match the situation as other see it. Overwhelming anxiety that interferes with daily life is not normal and can cause both physical and emotional symptoms.

Physical symptoms of "anxiety" include:

  • Trembling or shaking.
  • Feeling of fullness in the throat or chest.
  • Breathlessness or rapid heartbeat.
  • Light-headedness or dizziness.
  • Sweating or cold, clammy hands.
  • Feeling jumpy.
  • Muscle tension, aches, or soreness.
  • Extreme tiredness.
  • Sleep problems.

Anxiety affects the part of the brain that helps control how you communicate. This makes it harder to express yourself creatively or function in relationships. Emotional symptoms of anxiety include:

  • Restlessness, irritability, feeling on edge or keyed up.
  • Worrying too much.
  • Fearing that something bad is going to happen; feeling doomed.
  • Inability to concentrate; feeling like your mind goes blank.

A "Panic Attack" is a sudden, intense feeling of fear or anxiety that can leave you short of breath or dizzy or with a racing heart. Some people believe that they are having a heart attack or are about to die. An attack usually lasts 5 to 20 minutes. But it may last even longer, up to a few hours. You usually have the most anxiety about 10 minutes after the attack starts. If these attacks happen often, they are called a panic disorder.


Schizophrenia is an illness that often affects your ability to think clearly, interact with others and control your emotions. It affects each person differently.  The way other people react to your schizophrenia can make a difference in how schizophrenia affects you. Their reactions can make it easier or harder for you to cope.

Most people with schizophrenia:

  • Hear and sometimes see things that aren't there for other people.
  • Believe some things that others know are not true.
  • May think that some people are trying to harm them.

With treatment, they may understand that these experiences aren't real but are a problem with how their brain works. There are several types of schizophrenia. The most common is paranoid schizophrenia, which causes people to have frightening thoughts, believe that people or forces are trying to harm them, and hear voices.