Having good mental health means generally feeling good and being able to cope with everyday life at home and at work. Positive mental health means finding that balance in all parts of your life: social, physical, spiritual, emotional, and psychological.

Mental illnesses are conditions that can cause changes in your thinking and behaviour. They can cause distress and make it hard to enjoy everyday life. Mental illnesses are complicated conditions that develop from a combination of genetics, biology, environment, and life experiences.

Mental illnesses can be treated and most people who have them can recover and lead happy and productive lives.

There are many different mental illnesses. Mood disorders like depression and anxiety affect the way you feel and think. People with psychotic disorders like schizophrenia might hear voices or have visions. Traumatic events can cause post-traumatic stress disorder. These are just some examples of the many types of mental illness.

Feeling good, feeling bad—and everything in between

You can have a mental illness and feel great. If you don’t have a mental illness, there will probably still be times when you feel bad. Mental health and mental illness exist on a continuum.

Mood fluctuations, stress and worry, and feeling down at a difficult time are all common human experiences. On their own, they are not signs of mental illness.

But there are differences between feeling sad and finding yourself avoiding social situations because of your sadness, being frequently irritable and withdrawn, and having so little energy you are unable to get out of bed. If symptoms become severe and disrupt your life, that may be a sign that you should seek help.

What are stigma and discrimination?

Stigma and discrimination are two of the biggest problems facing people with mental health challenges. Stigma means seeing people with mental illness negatively because of their health condition. That might mean assuming that they are violent, that they just lack self-control or are weak, or that they’re not intelligent. People fear what they don’t understand. Because of stigma, people with mental illness often face discrimination in the workplace and elsewhere. 

Our culture is filled with negative attitudes about mental illness.

  • What if you learned that someone you work closely with has bipolar disorder?
  • Would that affect how you see them?
  • Would you find yourself treating them differently?
  • Would you be scared of them?
  • Would you stop wanting to socialize with them?

If you have a mental illness, stigma can cause you to fear being labelled or judged. Because of the fear of being stigmatized, some people don’t seek treatment or they don’t talk to people close to them about their symptoms.

6 things you can do to fight stigma

  1. Talk openly about mental health.
  2. Educate yourself and others i—learn more about mental illnesses and their effects.
  3. Be conscious of your language – don’t say demeaning things about people with mental illness in conversation – and challenge others who do.
  4. Don’t avoid people with mental illness.
  5. Be open and supportive if someone talks to you about their mental health.
  6. Make discussions and information about mental health visible in your union and workplace

Social conditions and our mental health

We take a social and political approach to mental health and mental illness. Mental illnesses can be influenced or made worse by stress, insecurity, social exclusion, lack of housing, and other factors.

Health is about more than health care. Of course, access to quality health care is important. But the overall health of populations depends a lot more on social factors. The more money people have, the healthier they are. The more access to healthy and affordable food, the more likely people are to be healthy. Stable employment, good working conditions, education and affordable housing all contribute to physical and mental health. These are called the “social determinants of health.”

We support and promote a social and political model of mental health. Everyone can help contribute to better mental health by working on improving social conditions.