If you are in crisis:
If you are in crisis go immediately to your local emergency room.
If you or a family member experience distress, call one of the networks below for support or guidance on seeking help in your area and for your condition.
For Children: Kids Help Phone, 1-800-668-6868,
For Adults: Canadian Mental Health Association
If the situation gets worse or is urgent:
Call a suicide prevention hotline or your local distress or crisis phone line service located in many urban centres and regions. This information is available in local phone books or by calling local police. Or go immediately to the nearest hospital emergency department, where you will be seen by a specialist if required. Many provincial health ministries now also provide 24/7 telephone access to a health care provider (usually a nurse), who can offer basic front line advice and can often help you find local services.
Getting a diagnosis
Reaching out for help when experiencing a mental illness is difficult – for a number of reasons. Some people are afraid to reveal their problems in case they will be judged and blamed. Others, deep in their symptoms, deny that they are ill and resist all efforts to get them help. Still others struggle alone until they are so ill that they place themselves in danger either through neglecting themselves, hurting another person or a suicide attempt – and then help comes in a form that is forced upon them – never the best situation.
Once people get help, there can be confusion over what their diagnosis should be. Diagnosing mental illness takes time – to listen to the person and his or her loved ones, to observe behaviour and to try different medications to see what is most helpful. In the chaos of this time, people may leave treatment, either disgruntled with the lack of progress or because of a recurrence of symptoms that lead them, again, to deny their illness. It can be a process that is frustrating and worrying for everyone. Sometimes, it is dangerous.
Getting a correct diagnosis requires persistence, a willingness to try different treatments, support from loved ones but, above all, hope. With time, you will get an answer.
Finding the right treatment
It is only in recent years that people have access to high quality information about what might be wrong with them (the diagnosis) and what might help (treatment). Granted, some information is not reliable but credible sources are numerous.
Usually, but not always, help for mental illness involves medication.
All medications have two names; a generic name (a complicated chemical designation) and a brand name. An online search using either name will take you to reliable sites that tell you what the medication is supposed to do, who should and shouldn’t take it, and the expected side effects. Mostly, this information is offered by the manufacturer and some are suspicious of the obvious motivation to sell the drug. With effort, you can find online sources that discuss psychiatric medication from more objective perspectives. For instance, the CMHA and Health Canada have resources that discuss medications.
Researching medication requires real effort and you may need a dictionary by your side – but getting the right medication at the right dosage level can be critical to recovery from mental illness. Take your research to your doctor (or your loved one’s doctor) and discuss what you have discovered and what his or her views are. Competent and caring mental health professionals welcome consumers and families as full partners in the recovery journey.
There are many other components in treatment and recovery from mental illness; interpersonal and/or cognitive therapy, vocational support, supportive housing (if required), case management, alternative treatments and therapies – and other ingredients particular to the individual. See below for a discussion on self-help and peer support.
Self-help and peer support
People with mental illness and their families often say that the help they receive from one another is invaluable. There is no substitute for talking with someone who has “been there.” People who participate in self-help (sometimes called mutual aid) and peer support organizations say that the greatest benefit is knowing that you are not alone.
Self-help groups depend on volunteers. There is a culture of mutuality. No one is more important or more knowledgeable than another. Everyone has something to give. Exchanging experiences, tips and advice – just being together – goes a long way in promoting recovery.
Peer support refers to one-on-one exchanges where people who have a mental illness (or who are a family member or friend) meet with the newly diagnosed, those in hospital or in community settings and provide help and advice. Again, mutuality is key. The peer is a guide but it is always clear that those receiving guidance are not “patients” or “clients.” They are fellow travelers. Peers may be volunteer or paid – most have received some form of training.
The following organizations offer peer support or guidance on finding help.
- Alzheimer Society of Canada
- Alliance for the Mentally Ill Inc / Alliance pour les Malades Mentaux
- Autism Society of Canada
- Canadian Mental Health Association
- Early Psychosis
- Here To Help
- Mood Disorders Society of Canada
- National Eating Disorder Information Centre
- National Network for Mental Health
- Schizophrenia Society of Canada
- Youth Net
* Some content developed by Dr. Barbara Everett, Ph. D.