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Evaluating Mental Health and Substance Use Information

With all of the information coming at us these days, it can be hard to filter out what is good information and what information isn’t so good. This is especially true when it comes to information about mental health and substance use.

On this page:

If you’ve been looking online or in the media for information to help yourself or a loved one, you may be frustrated by some the conflicting information you’ve found. With all of the information out there, how do you know what information you can trust?

Mental health and substance use information online

We use the Internet to look up almost everything these days, and health information is no different. The problem with the Internet, though, is that anyone can post anything they like. This means that the posting about depression you just read might be by someone who isn’t qualified to talk about depression at all. There is also conflicting information available on the web. One website might say one thing about a substance use treatment and the next site you look at might say the opposite. When you or someone you love is living with a mental disorder or substance use problem, the last thing you want to do is sort through bad information or worry that the information you do get is wrong.


Personal experiences online

Many people living with mental disorders or substance use problems share their stories online through websites, blogs, web forums or other social media. Our own site, HeretoHelp, provides them on our home page. These stories can help inspire hope and connect you to others going through similar experiences. They are an incredibly powerful tool to help you feel less alone and see how others navigated the system and what their recovery journey was like. When you read these stories, it’s important to remember that it’s one person’s experience—not everyone’s experience. For example, a blogger may write that a particular treatment didn’t work for them, but that doesn’t mean the same treatment won’t work for others.

Anyone can post almost anything online, so it’s up to you to decide if a website, blog or post is good for you. Here are some key questions to ask:


Mental health and substance use information in the media

You can find news media online as well as in print and on TV and radio. But they’re worth singling out to say a few things.

TV shows that include substance use like drinking or news stories about substance use may be full of mixed messages. For instance, you often see people using substances on TV or in movies, but then a news story might tell you that any substance use is harmful and dangerous. Or you might hear about an instant “miracle cure” for substance use problems, and then hear that no treatment ever works.

The problem is that a brief news story often can’t explain the full story when it comes to mental disorders, substance use problems or recovery options. Space or airtime in the news is limited and very expensive, and major news stories are not always balanced and might be sensational and exciting. So a story may be entertaining, but it may not apply to all people in all cases. Major news stories may lead you to believe that harmful things are happening to a lot of people, when in reality they might be very rare.

News media can help you understand very complicated issues. But information around mental health or substance use that’s too simple can also be misleading. For example, if new research finds a link between depression and bone loss, it’s not unusual to see a headline that says, “Depression causes bone loss,” even though that may not actually describe the link. Headline writers aren’t as cautious as researchers when they state conclusions.

It’s all in the numbers

Numbers, such as the number of people affected by a disorder or the number of people who experience side effects of a particular medication, can help you understand more about the story and about the risks and benefits. But some people use numbers and statistics to overemphasize information, underemphasize information, or just plain confuse you!Keep in mind that:10% is the same as 1 in 10, 10 in 100, or 100,000 in 1 million. A credible source will tell you what guidelines they used—for example,  whether it’s 10% of people in a study of 1,000 people or 10% of people in a study of 10 peopleThe reverse is also true: if 1% of people are affected, it also means that 99% of people aren’t affectedWhen it comes to health, everyone has different risk factors because everyone’s body and lifestyle is different. So some people may be more likely to experience a particular health problem than others. Numbers and statistics can give you a general idea of how big or small the problem is, but they can’t tell you how the problem will affect you personallySource: Dr. Kimberly M. Thompson, Harvard School of Public Health


What should I look for when I’m looking for mental health or substance use information?

Here are some general things to look online and in the media:


What can I do about it?

If you’re concerned about something you’ve heard, talk to your doctor or mental health care professional. If it’s about medication, definitely talk to your doctor first. It may be dangerous to suddenly stop taking medication.

You can also:


Where do I go from here?

In addition to talking with your doctor or mental health professional, here are a few good places to learn more:

BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information

You can find fact sheets on medications and different mental illnesses, workbooks, personal stories and resources at Learn more about who’s behind the site on our About Us page.


Call 811 or visit to access free, non-emergency health information for anyone in your family, including mental health information. Through 811, you can also speak to a registered nurse about symptoms you’re worried about, or a pharmacist about medication questions.

Health Canada

Health Canada provides a lot of information on health, medications, news and research. Visit the Health Canada website at or call 1-800-O-CANADA (1-800-622-6232; available Monday–Friday from 8 am–8pm). Health Canada operates a program called MedEffect Canada. Through MedEffect Canada, you can find up-to-date information on medication recalls and advisories, and report harmful side effects you’ve experienced. Visit MedEffect Canada at To access MedEffect Canada in French (MedEffet Canada), visit

Centre for Addiction and Mental Health: Understanding Psychiatric Medications

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s Understanding Psychiatric Medications is a series of booklets that discuss antidepressants, mood stabilizers, antipsychotics and benzodiazepines. They’re available for free at

Public Health Agency of Canada

Visit for reliable information on mental illnesses and other chronic or infectious diseases.

Media Awareness

Visit the Media Awareness Network at for resources and tips on media literacy.

Media Smarts

Visit Media Smarts at for resources and tips on digital and media literacy.

Health on the Net Foundation

Health on the Net Foundation is an organization that is dedicated to the sharing of reliable health information and the proper use of health information. Visit for more.

© 2010

This info sheet was prepared by CMHA BC Division on behalf of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information and HeretoHelp. Funding was provided by BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, an agency of the Provincial Health Services Authority. For more resources visit

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