Mental health

Just like your physical health, mental health is an essential part of your overall wellbeing, and giving it the attention it needs has the power to affect every aspect of your daily life.  Just as we have to work at maintaining our physical health, we also have to work at maintaining mental health. On this page we've compiled a list of resources, tips and tricks that we hope will help you do just that.

McGill also promotes mental health by offering the Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP), a confidential information, counselling and referral service available to employees, their spouses, and their dependent children.

If you feel you may be struggling with a mental health issue, or would just like someone to talk to, we encourage you to take advantage of EFAPIf you or anyone you know is suffering, please do not do so silently - there is help available to you.

Spin Bike Gardens are YOUR tool to mental wellness!   They are for everyone - staff too!

Take a 10 to 20 minute 'spin' to refresh your energy and improve your mood! Look for spin bike stations at the Redpath Library, and the McIntyre, Trottier, and Brown buildings. To find out more, check out Spin Bike Gardens

Guidelines: Only street clothes are required! Adjust the seat to your hip joint height, and hop on. There's no wrong way to spin!

Don't worry about getting a bit sweaty: Spin Bike Gardens are located near washrooms and water fountains, and are equipped with personal wipes and paper towels to keep you feeling comfortable!

This project is being led by Nurse Louise Lockhart and is sponsored by the McGill Sustainability Project Fund and the Student Services Innovation Fund.

Understanding mental illness

Mental illness can be difficult to understand sometimes. Part of its difficulty lies in its invisibility. Unlike a broken foot, you can't see mental illness. In this way, it is even more important to educate ourselves on what mental illness is, how it affects us and those around us, and when and where to seek help. 

What is mental illness?

Mental illnesses are health problems that affect the way we think about ourselves, relate to others, and interact with the world around us. They affect our thoughts, feelings, abilities and behaviours. Depression and anxiety disorders are the most common. The good news is that mental illnesses can be treated.

Those diagnosed with a mental health problem are frequently stigmatized and often become segregated. In fact, many with a mental health problem or illness will not seek help for fear of being labeled (eg.lazy, unproductive, crazy) or losing their job.

Stigma is a negative stereotype but is a reality for many people with a mental illness.  How others judge them is one of their greatest barriers to a complete and satisfying life. We can put an end to the fear and misunderstanding by learning more about mental illness.

To further your understanding about mental illness, go to the Canadian Mental Health Association's page on Understanding Mental Illness.

Mental Illness Awareness Week (MIAW), an initiative of the Canadian Alliance of Mental Illness and Mental Health, is an annual national public education campaign designed to help open the eyes of Canadians to the reality of mental illness and decrease stigmatization. 

According to medical experts, one in five of us will experience some form of mental illness during their lifetime, and almost all of us will be affected by it through family, friends or colleagues. Yet, there is a reluctance to talk about mental health issues.  Start the conversation.

Common myths about mental illness

Some common myths include (courtesy of the Canadian Mental Health Association):

Myth #1: Mental illnesses aren’t real illnesses.

Fact: The words we use to describe mental illnesses have changed greatly over time. What hasn’t changed is the fact that mental illnesses are not the regular ups and downs of life. Mental illnesses create distress, don’t go away on their own, and are real health problems with effective treatments. When someone breaks their arm, we wouldn’t expect them to just “get over it.” Nor would we blame them if they needed a cast, sling, or other help in their daily life while they recovered.

Myth #2: Mental illnesses will never affect me.

Fact: All of us will be affected by mental illnesses. Researchers estimate that as many as one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness at some point in their life. You may not experience a mental illness yourself, but it’s very likely that a family member, friend, or co-worker will experience challenges.

Myth #3: Mental illnesses are just an excuse for poor behaviour.

Fact: It’s true that some people who experience mental illnesses may act in ways that are unexpected or seem strange to others. We need to remember that the illness, not the person, is behind these behaviours. No one chooses to experience a mental illness. People who experience a change in their behaviour due to a mental illness may feel extremely embarrassed or ashamed around others. It’s also true that people with a history of a mental illness are like anyone else: they may make poor choices or do something unexpected for reasons unrelated to symptoms of their illness.

Mental health issues affect Canadians of all ages, genders, cultures, educational and income levels. It is time to clear up some of the misconceptions around mental illness and separate fact from fiction.

For more common myths about mental illness, go to the Canadian Mental Health Association.

Fast facts

Did you know? 

  • 2 out of 3 people suffer in silence, fearing judgement and rejection? (Canadian Medical Association)
  • On any given week, more than 500,000 Canadians will not go to work because of mental illness. (Mental Health Commission of Canada)
  • Can you imagine leaving your home every day knowing that this is what people are thinking about you?
  • Only 49% of Canadians said they would socialize with a friend who has a serious mental illness. (Canadian Medical Association)
  • Once depression is recognized, help can make a difference for 80% of people who are affected, allowing them to get back to their regular activities. (Canadian Mental Health Association)
  • One in five Canadians experiences a mental health problem or illness in any given year? (Canadian Mental Health Association).This means that every single family in Canada will in some way be affected through a family member, friend or colleague.

Mental wellbeing resources

  • Ami-Québec provides information on mental illness and treatment, programs and support groups, resources and publications (newsletters).
  • The Douglas Mental Health University Institute
  • The Canadian Mental Health Association provides tips related to a wide variety of topics including stress, children’s mental health and aging.
  • Manulife Financial's website provides lots of information about mental health in the workplace. Watch this video to learn more.
  • Check Up From The Neck Up: This simple, online, private, mental health check-up can identify some symptoms of common mood disorders so you can get help if you need it. You can also learn more about mood disorders on this site and find resources to help yourself, your family members, or friends.

Stop the stigma

For many people, the stigma surrounding mental illness makes it difficult, and sometimes impossible, to seek, as well as receive, the treatment they need: Attitudes and perceptions must change. 

How do you or others around you view someone with mental illness? Healthy Minds-Anti-Stigma (video) What does mental illness look like? Personal stories (video)
Those diagnosed with a mental health problem are frequently stigmatized and often become segregated. In fact, many with a mental health problem or illness will not seek help for fear of being labeled (eg. lazy, unproductive, crazy) or losing their job. Mental illness can be difficult to understand sometimes. Unlike a broken arm you may not necessarily see mental illness.

For more information, check out the Mental Illness Stigma Project video

5 ways to stop the stigma

1. Language matters:
Words can help…but they can also hurt. Pay attention to the words you use.  A comment like “Just relax” or “You’ll get over it” can come across as judgmental.

2. Educate yourself:
Myths exist about mental illness that contribute to stigma. Learn the facts.

3. Be Kind:
Small acts of kindness speak volumes. Treat a person who has a mental illness with the kindness and care you give to people with other illnesses through a friendly smile, a helping hand, a phone call or visit. Even if they don't want to talk, knowing that you care can help them feel less alone.

4. Listen and ask:
Sometimes it’s best to just listen. Offer support. Be compassionate. Don't trivialize someone's illness. Instead, say: "I’m sorry to hear that, it must be a difficult time. Is there anything I can do to help?".

5. Talk about it:
Start a dialogue, not a debate. Break the silence. Talk about how mental illness touches us all in some way directly or through a friend, family member or colleague. Have the kinds of conversations you usually have with a friend, family member or colleague. People don’t want to feel judged for understandable signs of distress. Nor do they want to be defined by a mental health problem if this is what they are experiencing.

How’s your mental health?

Allow yourself a moment to assess your own mental wellbeing.

"Mental health is more than the absence of mental illness. It’s a state of overall mental and physical health and wellbeing. But maintaining good mental health in today’s hectic and stress-filled society is a challenge." -Peter Coleridge, National CEO, CMHA

Although it can be a challenge amidst our busy lives, it is very important to allow yourself a moment or two everyday to take a deep breath and emotionally check-in with yourself.

Self-assessment quizzes

Check-up on your mental wellbeing with the help of the Canadian Mental Health Association. These quizzes will help you to reflect on your strengths and identify areas where your level of mental fitness could be improved.

Mental-fitness tips

Maintaining your mental health is a lot like staying physically fit: it requires a little bit of energy every day. Check out these everyday tips for keeping mentally healthy. Small, concerted actions can add up to a significant overall effect.

Just as physical fitness helps our bodies to stay strong, mental fitness helps us to achieve and sustain a state of good mental health. Assess your emotional health regularly. Consider the particular demands or stresses you are facing and how they are affecting you. Give yourself permission to take a break and you will reap significant benefits in terms of feeling rejuvenated and more confident. Check out these simple ideas on how to practice mental fitness.

Life balance

Mental health means striking a balance in all aspects of your life: social, physical, spiritual, economic and mental. At times, you may tip the balance too much in one direction and have to find your footing again. Your personal balance will be unique, and your challenge will be to stay mentally healthy by keeping that balance. To learn more, watch this video by the Canadian Mental Health Association.

We all may experience a time when our mental health coping strategies are strained by stress, burnout, health problems, conflict or life events. Some of us may find ourselves:

  • Struggling to perform tasks that used to be easy.
  • Experiencing conflict when we used to resolve differences easily.
  • Overwhelmed by repetitive thoughts about what was said or done when we used to let it go.
  • Having feelings of apprehension or anxiety that won't easily go away.

The following are ways to maintain your balance or help you regain your footing if it has been tipped too much in one direction: Balancing your life.

Mindfulness & stress

This section contains resources to help you combat the daily stresses of life with mindfulness and mediation. 

Managing stress

Meditation for mindfulness

There are many different forms of meditation that can help you become calmer, energized and relaxed, and that can be done at your desk.

The following videos provide techniques to help reduce tension and stress (courtesy of the University Health Network Toronto) .

  1. Introduction: Learn how these techniques can assist in helping to cope with stress.
  2. Relaxation Response: A simple Mindfulness breath and body meditation exercise for stress reduction and deep relaxation.
  3. Stress Management: A three-minute breathing exercise which can be used before, during and after a stressful experience to help diffuse its impact on the mind and body.
  4. Deep Relaxation: A 15-minute practice to help reduce stress and sleep disorders, and to cultivate awareness and a meditative state.

Learning to quiet the mind will help us tune in to our values, help with our decision-making — which can hopefully help us learn to make better choices. And the beauty of the whole thing is that it can be done virtually anywhere, by anyone, at anytime. All you need is 15 quiet minutes, and a 'time out' space. Read more at MindSpace.

Learn about mindfulness with Dr. Heath

View the presentation Mindfulness-learning to live in the moment by Dr. Nancy Heath (PhD, Department of Educational and Counseling Psychology, McGill University). 

From Dr. Zacchia, Douglas Mental Health University Institute

Dr. Camillo Zacchia is a Clinical Psychologist and Senior Advisor at the Mental Health Education Office of the Douglas Institute. Dr. Zacchia writes a blog Psychospeak with Dr. Z., and publishes a column in the Métro newspaper every second Tuesday.

Be sure to check out the presentations below, as well as Dr. Zacchia's website.

Mental health & wellbeing: finding nirvana

In the presentation Mental Health and Wellbeing: Finding Nirvana in a Cup of Coffee, Dr. Zacchia explains why some people always appear so happy and well adjusted. Learn how our feelings of happiness can come from the perspective we bring to our world, from the way in which we balance our professional, social, and personal lives, and from our ability to learn not only from our mistakes but also from our successes.

Learn about depression & burnout

To learn about the symptoms and cause of burnout, view Dr. Zacchia's presentation "At the end of my rope".

Also read Dr. Zacchia's blog post on burnout for more.