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What you need to know about mental health and mental disorders

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Are you a caregiver for someone with a mental disorder?

Here is information on mental health and mental disorders, tips on how to apply to the Adult Mental Health Access Portal (GASMA) and resources to help you get involved.

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What should I know about mental health and mental disorders?

Mental health is an essential component of health; it must be promoted and protected. The Government of Quebec speaks of the need to maintain “good” mental health.

Mental health is a continuum from psychological well-being (optimal mental health) to psychological distress. When we talk about “mental health issues” we are referring to symptoms that are the same as those of “mental disorders,” but with a shorter duration and less intensity.

A mental disorder is a diagnosed illness in which the person has symptoms characterized by alterations in thinking, mood or behaviour. The symptoms cause distress or suffering and interfere with the person’s ability to function. Mental disorders also vary along a continuum.

Forms of mental disorders



Lack of energy or restlessness, difficulty sleeping, changes in appetite affecting weight, decreased sexual desire, headaches, back or stomach pain, intense sadness, suicidal thoughts

Loss of interest in work, family and social activities, feelings of failure and low self-esteem, difficulty concentrating and making decisions


Delusions, hallucinations, disorganized speech, disorganized or catatonic behaviour, impairment in daily functioning

Diogenes Syndrome

Hoarding of objects, unusual relationship to objects, difficulty decluttering, excessive neglect of personal hygiene, social isolation

Adjustment disorder

Feelings of being overwhelmed by events, distress, anxiety, emotional outbursts or inability to adapt to a new situation, unusual behaviour

Anxiety disorders

Heart palpitations and chest pain, high blood pressure, tremors, feelings of choking, excessive sweating, hot flashes or chills, dizziness, numbness or tingling

Bipolar disorder

Manic phase: excessive self-esteem, delusions of grandeur, reduced need for sleep, tendency to talk more than usual, racing thoughts, easily distracted, hyperactivity, risky behaviour.

Depressive episode (see “Depression” above)

Obsessive-compulsive disorder (OCD)

Obsessions with cleanliness, obsessions with symmetry and numbers: counting, or repeating a gesture a specific number of times, constant checking, perfectionism

Panic attacks

Heart palpitations, chest pain, excessive sweating, nausea, muscle twitching, numbness, tingling, hot flashes, chills

Sensations of suffocation, tightness or lack of air

Feeling that the situation is not real, fear of losing control, of dying, of “going crazy,” agoraphobia

Borderline personality disorder (BPD)

Exaggerated efforts to avoid abandonment, unstable and intense interpersonal relationships, alternating self-worth and worthlessness, unstable self-image, impulsiveness

Marked reactivity of mood, chronic feelings of emptiness, intense and inappropriate anger. In stressful situations, tendency to feel persecuted or to show symptoms of disturbance

Psychotic disorders

Mood changes, sleep disturbances, changes in appetite, lack of energy and motivation, isolation, difficulty concentrating, memory loss, lack of interest

Perceptual disturbances and hallucinations: hearing voices that no one else hears, seeing things that no one else sees, experiencing unusual physical sensations, disorganized thoughts

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD)

Flashbacks, avoidance and emotional numbness, extreme alertness and hyper-arousal

In children, the symptoms may differ. Here are some guidelines for spotting changes and signs.

Diagnosis and treatment

If the person you are caring for is experiencing distress and is having difficulty functioning normally at work, at home and socially, it is important to seek professional help. Mental disorders and mental health problems can be treated effectively with psychotherapy and/or medication.

All requests must begin with the Adult Mental Health Access Portal (GASMA) of your CIUSSS:

  • you may be asked to provide a referral form. The application process may vary by CIUSSS;
  • the CIUSSS generally offer treatment and services (psychosocial or psychiatric assessment, meetings with the family, group interventions) in conjunction with community organizations, clinics or crisis centres;
  • to access GASMA, find a crisis centre, a clinic specializing in the treatment of first episodes of psychosis or adapted resources in your area, consult the practical tools to support the person you are caring for who has a mental disorder.


Recovery is the goal, regardless of age. Recovery can mean cure, adaptation and/or stabilization of symptoms, allowing for a satisfying life.

Recovery also involves fighting the stigma surrounding mental illness and paying attention to the vocabulary used. The socio-economic and environmental conditions in which the person finds themself must also be taken into account in the process of recovery.

For the caregiver, patience is required. As René Cloutier, Executive Director of the Réseau Avant de Craquer, says:

What is unique about mental health is that the illness is not stable and necessarily progressive, compared to other problems. Usually, it varies in duration and intensity. The person who has a mental illness can experience periods of crisis, but also recover. They can continue to function in their family, social and professional life despite the illness. (…) recovery is not necessarily a continuous process, there are ups and downs. That’s where caregivers find themselves: it can be a roller coaster of emotions. Especially at the beginning, because you are facing the unknown. Very often, caregivers are not familiar with the disease, so it’s all new to them. They experience a diverse range of feelings when faced with this new reality.
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Need to talk?

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