You’ve made a conscious decision to take care of your physical health by following a fitness plan, but you can’t forget about your mental health. The two are linked.

The Canadian Mental Health Association estimates that one in five Canadians will experience a mental health problem or illness in their lifetime. However, this is based on people who disclose their concerns and it’s believed that the actual number is closer to one in three.

There are tools you can use to find out if you’re experiencing a problem and strategies for coping or accessing treatment.

Self-awareness

Being aware of changes in your own thoughts, feelings and behaviours are important. People will typically find that at some point they’re feeling distressed in their day-to-day lives and can’t function as well. Self-awareness begins with asking yourself these types of questions:

  • How am I feeling?
  • How have things changed?
  • Am I sadder?
  • Do I carry more anger and tension?
  • Do I have less energy?
  • Am I concentrating less?
  • Do I no longer enjoy the things I used to enjoy?

Look at your behaviours and ask yourself what you’re doing differently:

  • Am I sleeping more or less?
  • Am I isolating myself from social activities?
  • Am I drinking more or doing recreational drugs?
  • Am I eating less or more?
  • Am I exercising less?

The answers you discover might be signs you should investigate things further.

Identify what’s going on

There are self-assessment tools you can access to find out more about what you’re experiencing.

One tool often used by psychologists is the DASS (Depression Anxiety Stress Scales), is a downloadable, 42-item self-reporting tool that measures emotional states.

If you're struggling with your own mental health, the first point of contact should be your doctor. Get a physical to make sure your body is working fine and be very open with your doctor about what you’re feeling.

If the doctor can’t provide a diagnosis, you could be referred to a psychologist. The key is to determine whether you’re experiencing a temporary period of distress, whether you might be developing a mental health problem or whether there’s a diagnosable mental illness.

3 key actions

There are 3 important elements to creating a sense of control if you’re experiencing mental health problems or have an illness: educate yourself, develop self-care strategies and create a support network.

  1. Educate yourself
    The more people learn about their illness, the more in control they tend to be and the less alone they feel. It’s important that people understand they have an illness, but they are not their illness. You also shouldn’t compare your illness to somebody else’s because everyone is going to experience it differently.

    Some Canadian websites offering credible information include www.cmha.ca, www.cpa.ca and www.anxietycanada.ca.

  2. Develop self-care strategies
    These are things a person can engage in to help reduce the negative impact of their illness in their day-to-day life.

    It could be using mindfulness apps such as SAM (Self-help Anxiety Management), Headspace, BellyBio or Breathe2Relax.  

    It may be ensuring you continue to exercise; which people tend to do less of when they don’t feel in control. Even a walk can help. 

    Aromatherapy, keeping a journal, trying to improve sleep habits and focusing on good hygiene can also be beneficial.

  3. Create a support network
    Asking for help is not a sign of weakness. You might be surprised how open people are to helping if given the opportunity.

    Your support network could include people through work, friends or family. Not everyone can help every time and people have different strengths, so find a number of people you can reach out to.