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Getting Help for Mental Illnesses

IMAGINE THIS: One day, you develop a nagging cough, or get sharp back pain. Most of us wait a few days to see if things get worse or improve, then we might do some research on things we can do at home. We go to friends and family for advice. If the problem still doesn’t go away on its own, we usually go to the doctor to get it checked out to find out what it is and what to do about it.

NOW IMAGINE THIS: One day, you wake up and realize that emotionally, you’ve been feeling different lately. You’re not sure what it is, but you (or others) notice that you’re acting differently, feeling unlike yourself and having thoughts that bother you. Two months later, you’re feeling even getting worse, but you still haven’t asked for help. You think it will go away on its own, that it’s not serious, that it’s all in your head. You reason that maybe it’s just your personality or your age or stress. Things you might try on your own don’t seem to help. Or maybe you suspect what it could be and you’re scared of what family, friends and coworkers would say. So you keep it to yourself and just try to get by day-to-day, hoping it will change.

Why do we treat our mental health so differently from our physical health?

On this page:

How do I know if I need help?

There are many kinds of mental illnesses. Although mental illnesses have a lot in common with each other, each type is quite different. Symptoms of mental illness can look different from person to person. Just like physical illness, symptoms can be mild, moderate or severe and you don’t have to show every possible symptom to have the illness. Probably the best way to know if you might have a mental illness is if you’re not feeling, thinking or acting like yourself—or if people you care about notice changes in you like some of the following:


Why should I get help?

In a Canadian mental health survey, only a third of us who had feelings and symptoms of a mental illness went to a professional for help. That means that most people (two-thirds) who had symptoms of mental illness didn’t ask for help. There are a number of myths that prevent people from getting the help they need:

As with so many other illnesses, early treatment is the key to recovering from mental illnesses. Early treatment can prevent a problem from getting worse. The sooner you do something about it, the sooner you’ll be back to yourself. The national survey found that those who did get help for a mental illness were happy with the help they received.


How to talk to your doctor?

P.R.E.P.A.R.E.Plan: Make a list of the main points you want to tell or learn from your doctor or health care provider.Report: During your visit, tell your doctor what you want to talk about.Exchange Information: Make sure you tell the doctor about what’s wrong. Printing out an online screening tool, or bringing a diary you may have been keeping can help. Make sure to describe the impact your symptoms or side effects are having on your day-to-day life. Sometimes it can help to bring someone along for support and to help describe your behaviour and symptoms if you’re unable to.Participate: Discuss with your doctor the different ways of handling your health problems. Make sure you understand the positive and negative features about each choice. Ask lots of questions.Agree: Be sure you and your doctor agree on a treatment plan you can live with.Repeat: Tell your doctor what you think you will need to take care of the problem.Source: Institute for Healthcare Communication

Who can provide professional help?

Other sources of counselling:

Mental health teams—are another resource. Most communities in BC have both an adult mental health team (or centre) as well as one for children and youth under 19. Mental health centres use teams of different kinds of professionals including social workers, nurses, mental health workers, peer support workers, occupational therapists, and others. Physicians often consult, as well. Mental health teams provide assessment and an ongoing connection for people with long-term mental illnesses. They can also provide life skills support and connection to other community assistance, such as income or housing. You can refer yourself, but centres appreciate a referral from a family doctor (and busier centres will require a referral). They are covered by MSP.


How do I get the help I need?

If you are experiencing some of the symptoms in the “How do I know if I need help?” section then the next step is to look at your options.

Other resources, available in English only, are:

BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information
Visit for info sheets and personal stories about mental health problems and mental illnesses. You’ll also find more information, tips and self-tests to help you understand many different problems, and resources located around the province.

Canadian Mental Health Association, BC Division
Visit or call 1-800-555-8222 (toll-free in BC) or 604-688-3234 (in Greater Vancouver) for information and community resources on mental health or any mental illness.

Kelty Mental Health
Contact Kelty Mental Health at or 1-800-665-1822 (toll-free in BC) or 604-875-2084 (in Greater Vancouver) for information, referrals and support for children, youth and their families in all areas of mental health and addictions.

Crisis lines aren’t only for people in crisis. You can call for information on local services or if you just need someone to talk to. If you are in distress, call 310-6789 (do not add 604, 778 or 250 before the number) 24 hours a day to connect to a BC crisis line, without a wait or busy signal. The crisis lines linked in through 310-6789 have received advanced training in mental health issues and services by members of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions Information.

© 2013

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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