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Mental Illness Awareness Week

October 1st to 7th is Mental Illness Awareness Week, an opportunity to raise awareness and combat the stigma associated with mental illness. About 1 in 5 Canadians experience mental illness each year, yet there remains a significant gap in understanding mental illness and its impact on individuals’ lives.  

What is the difference between mental health and mental illness? 

Understanding Mental Health 

Mental health describes a person’s emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It relates to an individual’s ability to manage stress, build healthy relationships, make choices, and adapt to life’s challenges.  

Key characteristics of mental health include: 

  • Emotional Resilience: Individuals with good mental health can effectively manage their emotions, from joy and contentment to sadness and frustration. They can bounce back from setbacks and adapt to changes. 
  • Positive Relationships: Healthy mental well-being is closely tied to the ability to form and maintain fulfilling relationships with friends, family, and colleagues. 
  • Coping Skills: A mentally healthy person possesses effective coping strategies to handle stressors and life’s ups and downs. 
  • Self-acceptance: Accepting oneself, flaws and all, is an essential aspect of mental health. Self-esteem and self-worth contribute to overall well-being.

Understanding Mental Illness 

On the other hand, mental illness refers to a range of diagnosable conditions that affect an individual’s thoughts, emotions, behavior, or mood. Mental illnesses can disrupt one’s ability to function in daily life and may require professional treatment. These conditions vary in severity and can include depression, anxiety disorders, schizophrenia, bipolar disorder, and many others. 

Key characteristics of mental illness include: 

  • Diagnostic Criteria: Mental illnesses are typically diagnosed based on specific criteria outlined in diagnostic manuals like the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM-5). 
  • Impairment: Mental illnesses can lead to significant impairment in various aspects of life, such as work, relationships, and personal well-being. 
  • Professional Intervention: Many individuals with mental illness benefit from treatment, which may involve therapy, medication, or a combination of both. Programs such as CMHA’s Clinical Therapy program and Ontario Structured Psychotherapy program are here for you.  

How do Mental Health and Mental Illness relate to each other?  

Mental health isn’t simply the absence of mental illness and living with a mental illness doesn’t mean you can’t have good mental health. Just like someone with diabetes, for example, can live a healthy life, so can somebody with a mental illness. And even if you don’t have a mental illness, that doesn’t mean you’ll feel great all the time. You might experience stress, a difficult life event, or burnout. Just like anyone can catch a cold or flu, everyone can experience the ebbs and flow of well-being. 

Promoting Mental Well-being 

During Mental Illness Awareness week, it is important to highlight the need for improving mental well-being. This involves not only addressing mental illness but also nurturing mental health. It requires creating environments that foster emotional resilience, providing access to mental health services, and erasing the stigma surrounding mental illness. 

Gaining a better understanding of mental illness can promote empathy, reduce stigma, and encourage individuals to seek help when needed.  


Remember, it’s okay not to be okay sometimes, and seeking help is a sign of strength, not weakness. We’re here for you. Click here for a list of our 30+ free programs. 

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