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Learn about Mental Health

What is Mental Health?

This is an important question because a lot of people don’t know what mental health means to them. There are a lot of different definitions out there because mental health is such a subjective and personal experience, but we define mental health as such:

How a person thinks, feels, and acts when faced with life’s situations. How people look at themselves, their lives, and the other people in their lives; evaluate their challenges and problems; and explore choices.

We have come to understand that physical health can be managed or improved, even when you have a physical illness.  For example, people with a continuing condition such as diabetes may be able manage the symptoms and risks by taking care of their physical health.

The same is true for mental health. Just like physical health is more than the absence of physical illness, mental health is more than just the absence of mental illness. This means that mental health can be managed and improved, even when a mental illness is present. This image shows how mental health and mental illness can be independent of one another.

Mental Health Two-Continuum Model

We may be living without any diagnosable mental illness and yet live with poor mental health (that is, with behaviours, thoughts and emotions that make us feel miserable). In the figure above, this would place us as occupying Quadrant 2. Or, we may be living with a mental illness (for example, a diagnosed anxiety disorder), and manage the symptoms very well (that is, with behaviours, thoughts and emotions that we understand and have under control), which would place us in Quadrant 4 of the diagram.

Since health is a dynamic state, things can change. At different times in our lives, we could plot ourselves at different locations within the four quadrants in this diagram.

Addiction to substances such as alcohol and drugs or to distractions like gambling, shopping and gaming can be understood as risky and often ineffective attempts to manage the behaviours, thoughts and emotions that make us feel miserable.

— Mental Health Commission of Canada, Changing Directions, Changing Lives: The Mental Health Strategy for Canada, 2013.

Stressors Unique to Youth

  • academic pressure and career decisions

  • pressure to wear certain types of clothing or hairstyles

  • pressure to try drugs, alcohol or sex

  • pressure to fit in with peer groups and measure up to others

  • adaptation to bodily changes

  • family and peer conflicts

  • taking on too many activities at one time


Tips for Good Mental Health

  • Healthy eating habits – how you feel physically, is very much linked to how you feel mentally. Keeping your body healthy can contribute to a more positive outlook.

  • Regular exercise – physical activity is an excellent mood stabilizer. Only 20 minutes of cardio activity can have the same effect as one anti-depressant. Making time for exercise whether it is solo, team oriented or just jogging with a buddy, can have a great impact on your mental health.

  • Close friends and family – Surround yourself with people you love and trust, let yourself laugh and have a good time being with them.

  • Hobbies and creative activities – Find what you love and make time for it on a regular basis.

  • Get lots of sleep! – Adolescents require 9 hours and 45 minutes of sleep every night. This is difficult to accomplish with the demands of school, work, and family. Never underestimate the value of a good night’s sleep, or a brief nap in the afternoon.

  • Having a sense of purpose and validation – Always remember that you are a human being, with as much right to be happy and healthy as anyone else. You deserve to make time for yourself, you deserve the time and effort it takes to feel happy.


If you are looking for more information on specific mental illnesses such as: depression, schizophrenia, anxiety or bipolar disorder, take a look at the resources from the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington

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