What to do if you or someone else is struggling with mental illness

TORONTO — Every year, approximately one in five Canadians experience a mental health challenge, but only half of them receive the support they need.

According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), by the time Canadians reach 40 years of age, one in two have a mental illness or have had one in the past.

Despite these startling statistics, many Canadians don’t know how to recognize they’re struggling with a mental health problem and what they should do to treat it.

“Depression is a very common illness that goes beyond us just being stressed out and it’s also an eminently treatable condition,” Dr. David Gratzer told CTV’s Your Morning on Wednesday. “People can get better, they can get back to work, they can get back to life.”

To reach that point, the CAMH physician and psychiatrist offered advice on how Canadians can identify if they or someone they know is experiencing a mental health problem and what to do next.

Is it really a problem?

While everyone experiences bad days and low moods from time to time, Gratzer said people should be concerned if those feelings persist for a prolonged period.

“Things become more problematic when it stays with us,” he explained. “When it’s more than a few hours, when it’s days, when functionality changes.”

Gratzer said, even if someone appears to be thriving at work, they may be having trouble getting out of bed in the mornings, which could be indicative of a more serious problem.

For those who are concerned about someone else, Gratzer said they should watch for warning signs in that person’s behaviour.

“Something is different,” he said. “It goes beyond he’s just having a bad day, but here’s the person who loved to come to family dinners and talk about curling who doesn’t show up to the family dinners anymore, who looks really like he’s having a tough time.”

Lastly, Gratzer stressed that if someone is having suicidal thoughts they should seek professional help immediately because it’s a medical emergency and it should be treated as such.

Can you treat it on your own?

In cases where someone is feeling stressed, Gratzer said there are certain lifestyle changes that can lift their mood and help them feel better.

“When you’re feeling very stressed out, less coffee, avoid alcohol and cannabis – yes, avoid cannabis – exercise, really does make a difference,” he said.

However, the doctor said sometimes stress can “take on a life of its own” and people should get help if they’re not feeling better after making those changes.

How do I get help?

For anyone who suspects they might be experiencing a mental illness, such as depression or anxiety, Gratzer advised them to first speak with their family doctor or nurse practitioner.

“Talk about how you’ve been doing and why you’ve been trying to empower yourself and it’s not working,” he said.

If they don’t have access to a family doctor or nurse practitioner, Gratzer said they can visit walk-in clinics or even the emergency department if it’s an emergency.

There are also plenty of supplementary resources available online that can provide people with more information on mental illness and treatment options, he added.

In addition to online resources, Gratzer said there are many mood disorder associations across the country which can provide information and support to people who are experiencing mental health challenges.

How can I help others?

If you suspect someone is experiencing a mental illness, Gratzer suggested you do the obvious thing and talk to them.

“Talk about what you see,” he said. “Ask them how you can help. Sometimes that can save lives.”

For anyone who might feel trepidation in bringing up the subject, Gratzer advised approaching it with “honesty and good will.”

“The most important part, I think, is to listen,” he said. “Help them access resources, yes, but just start by listening.”

Gratzer said he hopes people will understand that there are treatment options available, such as therapy and medication, which can help.

“This is a very hopeful message,” he said. “For years we didn’t like to talk about mental illness, now we are, but let’s get our game up and help people as well.”

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