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Mental Health: The Basics

We all experience mental health problems from time to time. Feelings like sadness, worry, anger, fear and grief are understandable reactions to negative events in our lives, and don't typically last very long. But if these feelings continue for long periods of time, become overwhelming, and 'get in the way' of daily life, then something more serious may be happening.

Mental health difficulties cover a whole range of negative feelings you have that just won’t go away. You could have unpredictable moods, anxiety, trouble sleeping, eating problems, or just feel really, really sad all the time.

The good news is, mental health issues can be managed and overcome. The sooner you get help, the quicker these feelings will go away.

On this page you will find out more about mental health and what you can do if you’re worried about you or a friend.

Mental Health Basics:

  • 1 in 5 kids struggles with their mental health.
  • If you are feeling depressed or angry or anxious, you are not alone.
  • Mental health problems can happen to any young person, regardless of age or circumstance.
  • They can affect a child or youth as easily as cancer or a physical disability.
  • There’s no one to blame for it and there should be no shame in it.

Mental health is part of your overall health. It's about:

  • how you feel, think, and behave;
  • how you cope with the ups and downs of everyday life;
  • how you feel about yourself and your life;
  • how you see yourself and your future;
  • how stress affects you;
  • how you deal with negative things that happen in your life;
  • your self-esteem or confidence.

Contributing factors:

There is combination of factors that are believed to cause mental health problems, including:

  • biological factors – for example genetics, whether someone in your family has a mental health issue
  • negative early life experiences – for example abuse, neglect, death of a family member or close friend
  • individual factors – for example self-esteem or way of thinking about yourself and others
  • current social circumstances – for example school, work, relationship or family stress, or negative life events

Types of mental health disorders:

We invite you to explore the sections below.  Learning about mental health disorders can lead to greater understanding and compassion, and ultimately can improve your quality of life.

Anxiety Disorders

We all experience a certain amount of anxiety in our lives. It’s part of being human. People become anxious in stressful situations like taking a test, going for a job interview or moving away from home for the first time. When we are anxious or under stress, our body reacts; our hands may become clammy, our heart beats a little faster, or we may even feel lightheaded or dizzy.

It is perfectly normal to have an anxious response to danger (e.g. when a dog is chasing you), but this is different than having an anxiety disorder.  A person with an anxiety disorder feels tense, on edge, or worried even in the absence of any real danger. Some people experience these intense feelings of fear and worry on a regular basis. If this is happening to you or someone you know, it may be the sign of an anxiety disorder.

Excessive worry and anxiety cause emotional distress and can make it difficult to enjoy life.  It may lead to problems with friends, family, and school (or work). It may also lead to physical symptoms for which there is no other explanation (such as headaches, a lump in your throat, sighing, aches and pains, nausea, etc.). 

For more information about Anxiety Disorders visit: Offord Centre Pamphlets

Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder (AD/HD)

Attention deficit/hyperactive disorder—also known as ADHD or ADD—is not just a problem with paying attention.  ADHD makes it hard to manage the tasks of daily life, especially difficult tasks that require organization, planning, and focusing on one thing for a long time.  ADHD is present in all environments, including with friends, at home, and at school. Impulsivity and hyperactivity often lead to disruptive behaviour, which is noticed in the classroom.

The characteristics of ADHD can include:

  • Inattention – difficulty concentrating, forgetting instructions, moving from one task to another without completing anything;
  • Impulsivity – talking over the top of others, having a ‘short fuse’,
  • being accident-prone; and,
  • over activity – constant restlessness and fidgeting.

ADHD usually first appears before the age of seven, and continues into the teenage years and at times into adulthood.  ADHD is challenging, but once the problem is understood, you can learn to make up for areas of weakness and take advantage of your many strengths and talents.

For more information about AD/HD visit: Offord Centre Pamphlets

Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD)

Autism is a group of developmental brain disorders, called autism spectrum disorder (ASD). The term "spectrum" refers to the wide range of symptoms, skills, and levels of disability that children with ASD can have. Some children are mildly impaired by their symptoms, but others are severely disabled.

Each child with an ASD will have his or her own pattern of autism.

In some children, a loss of language is the major impairment. In others, unusual behaviors (like spending hours lining up toys) seem to be the major factors. 

Every individual on the autism spectrum has problems to some degree with social skills, empathy, communication, and flexible behavior. But the level of disability and the combination of symptoms varies from person to person. In fact, two kids with the same diagnosis may look very different when it comes to their behaviors and abilities. Some children with ASD also have very special talents and are ahead of the other children their age (or even adults) in topics such as math, visual art, or music.

For more information about Autism Spectrum Disorder visit: Offord Centre Pamphlets

Behaviour Disorders

All young children can be naughty, defiant and impulsive from time to time. However, some children have extremely difficult and challenging behaviours that are outside the norm for their age.

 The most common disruptive behaviour disorders include oppositional defiant disorder (ODD), conduct disorder (CD), and attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD). These three behavioural disorders share some common symptoms, so diagnosis can be difficult and time consuming. A child or adolescent may have two disorders at the same time. Other factors that can make symptoms worse can include emotional problems, mood disorders, family difficulties, and substance abuse.

Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD) 

It's not unusual for children -especially those in their early teens - to defy (challenge) adults every now and then. They may express their defiance by arguing, disobeying, or talking back to their parents, teachers, or other adults. When this behavior lasts longer than six months and is excessive compared to what is usual, it may mean that the child has a type of behavior disorder called Oppositional Defiant Disorder (ODD).

ODD is a condition in which a child displays an ongoing pattern of uncooperative, rebellious, and aggressive behavior toward people in authority. The child's behavior often disrupts the child's normal daily activities, including activities within the family and at school.

Some of the typical behaviours of a child with ODD include:

      • being easily angered, annoyed or irritated;
      • having frequent temper tantrums;
      • arguing with adults including their parents;
      • refusing to obey rules;
      • deliberately trying to annoy or aggravate others; and,
      • having low self-esteem and a low frustration threshold.

Children with Conduct Disorder (CD)

Children with Conduct Disorder (CD) are often judged as ‘bad kids’ because of their behaviour and refusal to accept rules.

Some of the typical behaviours of a child with CD may include:

      • frequent refusal to obey parents or other authority figures;
      • repeated truancy (being absent);
      • tendency to use drugs, including cigarettes and alcohol, at a very early age;
      • lack of empathy for others;
      • being aggressive to animals and other people or showing sadistic behaviours including bullying and physical or sexual abuse;
      • keenness to start physical fights; using weapons in physical fights;
      • frequent lying;
      • criminal behaviour such as stealing, deliberately lighting fires, breaking into houses and vandalism; and,
      • a tendency to run away from home.

For more information about Behaviour Disorders visit: Offord Centre Pamphlets 

Mood Disorders

As a teenager you go through many changes that affect your moods, behaviours and feelings. It can be quite a roller coaster ride of emotions and it's normal to have ups and downs. Everyone experiences unhappiness at some time in his or her life, and many people may become depressed temporarily when things do not go as they would like. Depression is more than just feeling sad. When you have depression you feel hopeless and that you can't see your way out. If these feelings last longer than a few weeks without improving, then you may be experiencing depression. When a depressed mood persists and begins to interfere with everyday living, it may be the sign of a serious state of depression that requires professional help.

Bipolar Disorder

Bipolar disorder is characterized by opposing moods which accompany the illness. People with bipolar disorder experience great highs (manic stage) and great lows (depressive stage). They experience times of being extremely depressed and down in the dumps and on other occasions become uncontrollably "high" or hyper (sometimes with periods of being their old self in between). This can happen because of a medical condition called Bipolar Disorder (also called Manic Depression). Bipolar often happens for the first time during the teenage years or in the early 20s. It occurs because of a chemical mix up in the brain and can be triggered by too much stress. It's much bigger than common day to day changes in mood.

For more information about Mood Disorders visit: Offord Centre Pamphlets

Eating Disorders

An eating disorder is when someone thinks about food and weight so much, it starts to control their life. This can mean eating too much, not eating enough, or eating in an extremely unhealthy manner (such as binging (or ‘stuffing’) yourself over and over).  While eating disorders are common among young people, they are serious conditions that can have life-long consequences for a person’s health.

Anorexia Nervosa

People with anorexia lose a significant amount of weight through restricting the amount of food they eat. People suffering from anorexia usually have a distorted body image; they see themselves as “heavier” even though they are underweight for their age and height. They may have very strict rules around food and exercise, and no matter how thin they get or how much weight they lose, it never seems to be enough. While most people with anorexia are young women, young men can have anorexia, too.

Bulimia Nervosa

People with bulimia binge on large amounts of food and then purge, or get rid of it, through throwing up, exercising, or restricting food.

Binge Eating Disorder

People with binge eating disorder eat large amounts of food in a relatively short period of time, but unlike people with bulimia, they don’t purge it. People with binge eating disorder often feel out of control during a binge and feel ashamed and guilty afterwards.

For more information about Eating Disorders visit: Offord Centre Pamphlets


Psychosis describes the experience of being unable to tell what is real and what is just in your mind. . 

  • The most well-known type of psychosis is Schizophrenia, but there are other types too.
  • Out of every 100 people, 3 will experience psychosis in their lives.
  • Living with psychosis can be very difficult, especially because many people don’t understand it. People with psychosis should be treated with understanding and respect.
  • There are effective treatments for psychosis, including medication and therapy.
  • The sooner someone who has psychosis receives treatment, the more effective it is.

For more information about Psychosis click here:

Substance Abuse


If you haven’t already come into contact with drugs, alcohol and cigarettes, you probably will at some point during your teens. In general, a drug is defined as any substance, other than food, which is taken to change the way the body and/or mind function.

There are many things to consider before deciding to say “yes” or “no” to drugs or alcohol. Some of the issues you should think about while making this decision include:

If using drugs and alcohol has become a big part of your life you can get help.

Recognizing that you have a problem and getting help can be scary but it’s an important step toward getting your life back on track. You can get information and help for substance abuse by contacting:

  • Drug hotlines and addiction referral services
  • Drug abuse clinics and drug treatment programs
  • 12-step self help programs and support groups (e.g. Narcotics Anonymous, Alcoholics Anonymous)
  • Family doctors and other health professionals
  • Crisis centers
  • School counsellors
  • Kids Help Phone (1-800-668-6868)

For more information about Substance Abuse visit: Offord Centre pamphlets 

For Children and Youth