About mental disorders


The World Health Organization defines mental health as an essential component of health. It is a “state of wellbeing in which the individual realises his or her abilities, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully and is able to make a contribution to his or her community”. According to this definition, being in good mental health does not solely mean not having a mental illness.

Mental illness is a state of health defined by changes that affect a person’s thinking, mood and behaviour, thereby interfering with a person’s functioning and causing distress.

These changes may be observed by the person with a mental illness or the person’s family or immediate circle. For instance, close relations may notice that the person affected has become withdrawn or has stopped engaging in certain activities. For their part, the person affected may have difficulty concentrating, or feel sad or anxious about engaging in daily activities.

Health professionals and doctors take into account all signs and symptoms to evaluate the person’s condition and to render a diagnosis.

Most people in Québec will at one point or another be affected by mental illness, be it personally or through a loved one. Like physical illness, mental illness can strike anyone, regardless of age, sex, social status, education, nationality or ethnic origin.

About 20% of the Québec population, or 1 in 5 people, will experience a mental illness during their lifetime. According to the Institut national de santé publique du Québec, less than half of the people who experience mental illness consult a professional.

The most common mental disorders

The most common mental disorders are:

Signs and symptoms

Signs and symptoms of mental illness may be more or less intense. Here are a few signs that may be observed by the family and social circle of a person with a mental illness:

  • A tendency to seclusion;
  • An increase in drug or alcohol use or abuse;
  • Stopping medication;
  • Disorganization, meaning a marked difficulty in organizing oneself and functioning normally;
  • Expressing his- or herself differently; the person might make comments that are strange or unusual or don’t make sense.
  • Memory loss;
  • Difficulty with maintaining his or her family, professional and social obligations.

The person might experience the following symptoms:

  • Loss of appetite;
  • Significant fatigue or exhaustion;
  • Insomnia or hypersomnia (sleeps too much);
  • Nausea;
  • Dizziness;
  • Sadness;
  • Euphoria (a feeling of great elation);
  • Difficulty concentrating.

The first signs of mental illness may present in childhood or adolescence. To learn how to recognize these signs in your child, read Recognizing signs of mental disorder in children.

When to consult

Do not wait until you are unable to perform your usual activities to consult help or information resources. Do not hesitate, even if you are uncertain about the need. The sooner a person seeks help, the better his or her prospects for recovery. Unfortunately, many people wait until the situation is dire before seeking help. Here are some indications that you should consult:

  • You have been having symptoms for some time;
  • You have repeated anxiety attacks;
  • You feel distressed;
  • You feel that the encouragement from your loved ones is not enough;
  • You start to having difficulty with accomplishing your daily tasks;
  • Your loved ones see that you need help and have told you so.

Remember that psychological suffering is often accompanied by physical symptoms. These symptoms will often reduce your ability to deal with day-to-day situations. Pay attention to these symptoms and do not hesitate to seek help. Read the Get help section to learn about the resources available to you.

Treatment and services

There are known treatments to effectively support people with mental illness. They allow people to reduce their symptoms and regain control over their lives and daily activities. The sooner treatment begins, the better the prospects for recovery.

There are many types of mental health care and services available. The Quebec Program for Mental Disorders (PQPTM): from self-care to psychotherapy is part of an integrated vision of access to mental health services, including a stepped-care model of organization of care. It allows anyone in need of support to access specific mental health services offered by a multidisciplinary team.

It offers the following services:

  • Self-care, directed or otherwise;
  • Group intervention;
  • Support meetings;
  • Support interventions;
  • Couple and family interventions;
  • Psychoeducation;
  • Individual intervention using techniques from cognitive behavioural therapy;
  • Psychotherapy;
  • Rehabilitation;
  • Clinical follow-up;
  • Coaching;
  • Taking medication;
  • Treatments offered in hospital.

To access services, you can:

  • Go to the reception at your neighbourhood Local Community Services Centre (CLSC);
  • Call Info-Social 811;
  • Go to your family medicine group (FMG) or see your doctor;
  • See a care provider at a community organization, such as a crisis centre;
  • Contact a care provider you have seen before, where applicable;
  • Contact a health worker at your school or educational establishment if you are a student;
  • Go to a hospital emergency room if the situation requires immediate intervention.

Recommendations regarding taking medication

If a doctor prescribes medication for you, it is important that you take it and follow the instructions carefully.

Even if you are feeling better, you must continue the treatment as prescribed to prevent symptoms from recurring. Stopping medication without the support of a health professional could negatively impact your health.

If you experience any adverse side effects from the medication, talk to your pharmacist or doctor about it at soon as possible. If necessary, your doctor might adjust your medication or recommend a different medication.

Protection and prevention

If you want tools to prevent the onset of a mental disorder or you present symptoms of a mental disorder, you can:

Consult reliable sources of information

It is not unusual to hear or read erroneous information about mental illness or people who have a mental illness. Although it is being discussed more frequently, in particular, by well-known people in the population, ignorance and prejudice remain. Learning about mental health and mental disorders is a good way to equip yourself with the best ways to maintain good mental health, prevent mental disorders, recover and support a loved one. To learn more about the different information sources, read the Get help section.

Take action to maintain good mental health

Don’t hesitate to change your habits by following the tips for maintaining good mental health. These changes will help you to reduce certain risk factors and adopt lifestyle habits that promote good mental health.

Seek support

The support of a loved one (family, friend, colleague, etc.) can make all the difference in preventing the mental disorder or recovering from it. Do not hesitate to confide in someone you trust if you are having difficulty.

Health and social services professionals and community resources can also help and support you. Avoid staying alone if you have symptoms. Read the Get help section to find the resources available to you.

Risk factors

We don’t know the exact causes of mental disorders. They result from a combination of several factors, including:

  • Heredity, meaning other people in the family present or have presented a mental disorder;
  • Biological factors that change the chemical balance in the brain (prolonged state of stress, substance use, etc.);
  • Characteristics associated with the person’s temperament, for example, low self-esteem, difficulty adapting to different situations in life;
  • Illnesses or chronic physical health problems, such as cancer, diseases affecting the thyroid gland, cardiovascular or respiratory diseases;
  • The presence of stress factors in the person’s life, which may be related to:
    • The person’s family environment (for example: death of a loved one, childhood marked by abuse, spousal abuse, frequent exposure to conflicts);
    • The person’s social environment (for example: homelessness, isolation);
    • The person’s professional or financial environment (for example: job loss, low income);
  • Addiction to alcohol, drugs or gambling and money.

Even though mental illness can strike anyone at any given time, some people are more at risk. For example:

  • Children and adolescents who have had difficult family experiences or were exposed to violence at school;
  • People who have sole responsibility for their family;
  • People who have experienced sexual assault or spousal abuse;
  • Adults who do not work or have lost their job;
  • People with a low income;
  • Elderly people, single people or those coping with a loss of autonomy.

Associated problems

People with mental illness and their loved ones may be faced with prejudices leading to stigmatizing behaviours or discrimination.

People with mental illness might also develop alcohol or drug abuse or an addiction to these substances. Having a mental illness and an addiction at the same time increases the risks:

  • Of not benefiting from the positive effects of treatment;
  • Of hospitalization;
  • Of experiencing social problems, such as homelessness, violence or problems with the law;
  • Of having suicidal ideation or behaviours.

Get help

To find information and support resources, or to obtain treatment or services, see the page Finding help and support for mental health.

Last update: December 13, 2021


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