“Mental health is defined as a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to her or his community1.”
—World Health Organization
Mental health and mental illness are two different things
Mental health involves finding a balance in all aspects of our lives—physical, mental, emotional, psychological and social2,3. It’s the ability to enjoy life and deal with everyday challenges, like making choices and decisions, adapting to and coping with difficult situations, or talking about our needs and desires3.
On the other hand, mental illnesses change the way a person thinks, feels, and behaves. They might experience a lot of distress and have trouble managing their social, work, or family activities4. There are many different mental illnesses, such as depression, anxiety, schizophrenia, bipolar, and eating disorders.
While mental health and mental illness are not the same thing, it’s possible to have both at the same time. Mental health can range from high to low. Similarly, mental illness can range from high to low, or no mental illness at all5.
The image below illustrates how this works. For example, a person with a mental illness—with the right supports in place—can have high mental health, and someone without a mental illness can have low mental health5.
A person’s experience of mental health or mental illness can change over time, depending on different individual or social factors.
So we can all—including those of us with mental illness—strive for good mental health!
What influences my mental health?
There are a broad range of individual and social factors that can protect or harm our mental health. These factors interact with each other in complex ways and can affect us at any stage of life6.
It’s important to keep these influences in mind as you do your Mental Health Self Check and as you explore your mental health.
Individual factors that affect our mental health include our capacity to deal with thoughts and feelings, and manage challenging situations. This is something that we’re both born with and learn. There are also biological and genetic factors that can influence a person’s mental health, including, for example, whether they have a chronic illness or disability, a substance use problem, or a chemical imbalance in the brain6.
Social factors that affect our mental health are the conditions that we’re born and raised in, and where we live, work, and learn7,8. These include our gender, income and social status, education level, employment status and working conditions, social and physical environments, and culture9. Our capacity to flourish is also influenced by the connections we have with our colleagues, friends, and family members, and the support we get from them10.
In addition, our unique circumstances and life experiences influence our mental health. For example11:
- Juggling a job and family responsibilities.
- Dealing with financial hardships.
- Living in inadequate or unsafe housing.
- Dealing with racism or other forms of discrimination.
- Experiencing violence or abuse.
The flip side is that social factors can also have a positive impact and may protect our mental health. For example11:
- Living in a safe and supportive community.
- Experiencing healthy relationships.
- Living in decent, appropriate housing.
- Having educational opportunities.
- Having a steady income.
- hold multiple jobs
- be single parents
- experience family violence, or harassment
- live on a low income
- be family caregivers
- live alone as seniors.
Some stress is a normal part of life. But long periods of stress can affect our mental health and may lead to mental illnesses such as anxiety and depression13.
There are important differences between women and men in their rates of some mental illnesses, and how they affect their lives14,15,16,17. For example, in 2012, 6% of women had depression and 3% had anxiety, compared to 4% of men who experienced depression and 2% who had anxiety18.
Because certain groups of women (such as low-income, Aboriginal, racialized or bisexual women) are more likely to be exposed to negative social and economic conditions, they are at higher risk of mental illnesses19,20,21.
What you can do
Just like being physically active can help you have good physical health, there are things you can do to strengthen your mental health. For example:
- Be active, which is good for your physical and mental health.
- Connect with others.
- Be aware of the present moment.
- Continue to learn.
- Give to others as well as to yourself.
See the Tips page page for more information on how you can improve your mental health and to find mental health resources in your province or territory.
Taking care of your mental health can also mean seeking professional support and treatment when you need it.
Although taking care of your mental health isn’t always easy to do, there can be many benefits, such as22:
- More physical and emotional energy to deal with challenges.
- Better overall health.
- More balance in your relationships and interactions with others.
- Ability to handle stress.
- Ability to make decisions.
- Ability to give support to others who may need it.
- More overall enjoyment of life.
Make your mental health a priority. Start today or continue to take positive steps to take care of your mental health.
To learn more about mental health, visit CAMH.ca.
- Sources and citations
- 1. World Health Organization. (2014). Mental health: a state of well-being.
- 2. Keyes, C. L. M. (2010). The next steps in the promotion and protection of positive mental health. Canadian Journal of Nursing Research, 42(3), 17−28.
- 3. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2003). About mental health and mental health problems.
- 4. National Institutes of Health (US). (2007). Information about Mental Illness and the Brain. Biological Sciences Curriculum Study. NIH Curriculum Supplement Series [Internet]. Bethesda (MD): National Institutes of Health (US).
- 5. Keyes, C. L. M. (2002). The mental health continuum: From languishing to flourishing in life. Journal of Health and Behavior Research, 43 (2), 207−222.
- 6. World Health Organization. (2012). Risks to mental health: An overview of vulnerabilities and risk factors. WHO Discussion Paper. Geneva, Switzerland: World Health Organization.
- 7. National Collaborating Centre on the Determinants of Health. (n.d.) About the Social Determinants of Health.
- 8. World Health Organization and Calouste Gulbenkian Foundation. (2014). Social Determinants of Mental Health. Geneva, Switzerland: Author.
- 9. Public Health Agency of Canada. (n.d.). Social Determinants of Health.
- 10. Health Canada. (2016). Measuring positive mental health in Canada.
- 11. Government of Canada. (2015). Protective and risk factors for mental health.
- 12. Statistics Canada. (2011). Women in Canada: A Gender-based statistical report. Ottawa, ON: Author.
- 13. Centre for Addiction and Mental Health. (2010). Stress.
- 14. Mental Health Commission of Canada. (2012). Changing directions, changing lives: The mental health strategy for Canada. Calgary, AB: Author.
- 15. World Health Organization, Department of Mental Health and Substance Dependence. (n.d.). Gender disparities in mental health. Geneva, Switzerland: Author.
- 16. World Health Organization, Department of Mental Health and Substance Dependence. (2000). Women’s mental health: An evidence based review. Switzerland: Author.
- 17. Public Health Agency of Canada. (2012). The Chief Public Health Officer’s report on the state of public health in Canada, 2012: Influencing health –the importance of sex and gender. Ottawa, ON.
- 18. Pearson, C., Janz, T., & Ali, J. (2015). Health at a Glance. Mental and substance use disorders in Canada. Ottawa, ON: Statistics Canada.
- 19. Arriagada, P. (2016). First Nations, Métis and Inuit women. Ottawa, ON: Statistics Canada.
- 20. Hudon, T. (2016). Visible minority women. Ottawa, ON: Statistics Canada.
- 21. Steele, L. S., Ross, L. E., Dobinson, C., Veldhuisen, S., Tinmouth, J. M. (2018). Women and Health - Women’s Sexual Orientation and Health: Results from a Canadian Population-Based Survey. Toronto, ON: University of Toronto, Dalla Lana School of Public Health.
- 22. Government of Canada. (2016). Promoting Positive Mental Health.
Check in on your mental health. The Mental Health Self Check takes less than 15 minutes to complete!Start Self Check Licensed by