About Mental Health
We all have mental health just as we all have physical health. Although people often think of mental health as the absence of an illness, it is much more than that. Mental health is a positive sense of well-being, or the capacity to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face. Mental health impacts every one of us.There are multiple dimensions of mental health. The two continuum model helps us to understand this. The axis includes one continuum (or line) to show that people may experience the presence to absence of symptoms of a mental health disability, and one continuum to reflect positive to poor mental health. This model shows that people living with a mental health disability can experience positive mental health and it is possible to experience poor mental health without a mental health disability.
Mental health is fluid. It is influenced by a range of factors, including our life experiences and the social and economic conditions that shape our lives.
About Mental Health Disabilities
Mental health conditions and addictions are recognized as disabilities under Ontario’s laws, including the Accessibility for Ontarians with Disabilities Act and the Ontario Human Rights Code. This means that people with mental health disabilities and/or addictions have legal protections from discrimination on the basis of disability, and employers and service providers must provide accommodation and promote accessibility for people with mental health disabilities and/or addictions. If they meet eligibility requirements, people with mental health disabilities and/or addictions may also be entitled to participate in provincial disability programs, such as the Ontario Disability Support Program, and supportive housing and employment programs. There is no single definition for “mental health disability”. Different people, programs and laws define disability using different criteria. Although provincial laws indicate that mental health conditions are included under the definition of disability, they do not provide a list of conditions that are included.
Think Outside the Box uses a “social model” of mental health disability based on the United Nations Convention on the Rights of Persons with Disabilities (CRPD). According to this model, a disability is the result of the interactions of an individual with a mental or physical impairment and attitudinal or environmental barriers in society that negatively impact on their full, effective and equal participation. From this perspective, disabilities are caused by social, economic and political factors, and are not the result of an individual’s own physical or mental health status. This approach to disability is consistent with provincial and Canadian legal decisions.
There is no way to know if someone has a mental health disability unless they tell you. As we learned via the two continuum model, it is possible for someone with a mental health disability to experience good mental health, and for someone without a mental health disability to experience poor mental health. We all have mental health, just as we all have physical health, and our mental health is fluid.
Experiences of mental health disabilities can vary significantly from person to person, and for the same person from day to day. Mental health disabilities can be temporary, permanent or episodic in nature. Visit the Toolbox to learn more.
What’s the right language to use?
When it comes to mental health and addictions, language can be tricky. Due to stigma, stereotypes and discrimination, there are many negative words that can be used to talk about mental health. The Think Outside the Box team uses the term “mental health or addictions disability” because we believe that it is important to raise awareness that mental health conditions and addictions are considered disabilities in Ontario. Another term that can be used to refer to mental health disabilities and addictions is “psychosocial disabilities”. People with mental health disabilities or addictions often use different words when speaking about their mental health or addiction. Some may not identify as having a disability. Always ask individuals about their preferred language when you are taking steps to promote accessibility and human rights. Remember that different individuals may prefer different terms or words.