You’ve probably heard the words “mental health before but might not know exactly what it means.

For example, you might be thinking: ‘Well, are we talking about the health of my BRAIN here? Or what’s going on in my MIND? Hmm, what IS a mind anyway?” All great questions!

Healthy Brain

What Is Mental Health?

To understand our mental health, let’s start by understanding our physical health.


What is Physical Health?

Physical health involves our body and how it functions.

Think about processes like your heart pumping blood to keep you moving, your digestive system using food for fuel, and your lungs using oxygen to power your muscles!

Having good or positive physical health isn’t just about not getting sick or experiencing problems with our body. It’s made up of things like: eating well, sleeping well, exercise, good hygiene, and more!


However, our body doesn’t always feel good, does it?

We can all have a negative physical health too, where we feel tired, or get sick, or maybe even injured.


Our physical health exists on a spectrum, where it moves from balanced to unbalanced.



Balance in our physical health is when our body is functioning well. In other words, where it is functioning “normally” for us (which is different for each individual).


Unbalanced is when it is not functioning properly and giving us some trouble. We can have good moments and bad moments in our physical health at any time and as we go through different phases of our lives.


How does all this relate to mental health?

Mental health is very similar to physical health, but it focuses more on our brain and how it functions!

Think of processes like your thoughts, emotions, and behaviours in reaction to certain things.


The way we think.

mental health cloud


The way we feel.

emoji emotions


The way we act.


Just like physical health, our mental health is on a spectrum too.

Our emotions, thoughts, and behaviours can change at any time, so we can have a positive mental health, a negative mental health, or just about anywhere in between!

mental spectrum
full mental spectrum

Positive Mental Health

In other words, when we are in the yellowish-green zone, we might feel like we are enjoying life, like we are connected to others, and like we can face problems that come our way.

Negative Mental Health

Some days we may feel happy and confident, and other times we may feel sad, anxious, or overwhelmed and may avoid others, have difficulty doing the things we regularly want and need to do, and need support.


The Wellness Spectrum

Together our physical health and mental health make up our overall health and wellness.

We are all going to experience ups and downs in our health, but when we are able to find that balance where not everything is perfect, but you may feel generally positive about the different areas of your life (like your relationships, achievements, and self-image), this is what we like to call a state of “well-being”.


ACTIVITY TIME: What Impacts our Well-being?

So, what kinds of things can contribute to a positive or negative mental health?

Everyone is different, but there a few common factors that tend to move us in one way or another across the spectrum.

  • It might be social situations (like getting in a fight with friends or talking to someone you trust after a bad day).
  • It might be physical concerns (like not sleeping well or getting over a cold).
  • It could even been unexpected problems and pressures (like failing a test or a family member passing away).

All of these factors can affect our mood, our thinking patterns and how we react to the world around us.


Instructions: Drag and drop the following factors to the left side of the spectrum based on what would help you feel more mentally BALANCED or POSITIVE. Drag and drop factors to the right side of the spectrum for things that would make your feel mentally UNBALANCED or NEGATIVE.


What is Mental Illness?

Now that we understand what mental health and wellness is, you might be wondering what mental illness is.

Mental health, even when we’re facing challenges or feeling unwell, is not the same thing as mental illness.


What is Mental Illness?

Mental illness (sometimes also called a “mental health disorder”) is when we have specific kinds of difficulty with the processes in our brain – affecting our thoughts, behaviours, and emotions. That means that mental illness can change someone’s ability to deal or cope with life’s everyday challenges.

There are many problems that we can experience in our mental health, and many types of mental illness that people can suffer from.

Some types of mental illness include:

  • Mood disorders
  • Anxiety disorders
  • Eating disorders
  • Psychosis related disorders
  • Addition and substance use disorders

Want to Learn More?

Check out the resources below for more facts about mental health, mental illness and different signs, symptoms and options for support.


1 in 5 (20%) of Canadians will experience mental illness at some point in their life.

Mental Health & Mental Illness

While we will all go through natural mental health challenges and move up and down along the wellness spectrum throughout our lives, it is important to know that mental illnesses are not experienced by everyone.

Even though you may be feeling down in the dumps at some points, it doesn’t mean you have a mental illness. Your mental health may just be feeling unbalanced.

Similarly, if you are living with a mental illness, that does not mean that you cannot be mentally healthy. You will also have good days and bad days. There are ways to manage and support your mental health, such as taking medication, seeing a therapist and various other coping strategies.


Learning Checkpoint!

As you can see, mental health is a complex topic, made up of many different pieces!

It’s important to learn about because the first people youth reach out to when they’re struggling with their mental health are actually… other young people! By learning about mental health and illness, you can better understand and support those around you who may be struggling.

The more we talk about it and show support, the more we can create a comfortable space for people to reach out for help.

Speaking of reaching out for help… In the next section, we will be learning about why reaching out for help for mental health can be harder than it is for physical health.

Are you ready?