Mental health: Self-help or Seek help?

1 in 3 Canadians will experience mental illness during their lifetime. This is a huge figure. Even if we’re not talking about it a lot, it’s clear that mental health issues are common. Yet, mental illness is not quite as simple as a lot of physical problems. We know that if we have a cold, we can generally manage at home. We know that if we have an odd lump we should probably go to the doctor to get it checked. So where is the line for mental illness? There are loads of self-help materials out there, as well as lots of different options for professional help. It’s all useful, but the important thing is the right help at the right time for you or your child. This article will go through questions that you can ask yourself to determine what kind of help is right for you, and give you some options of help available to get you started.

Who can help you get what you need?

Whether you know what you want or are unsure, you might want someone to walk you through the process of getting the right help. This might mean a friend or family member coming with you to the doctors. Or it might mean chatting through the options with someone over a coffee. Remember, mental health issues are common. This is nothing to be ashamed of. Often when we are brave enough to ask others for help they are happy to be asked. So be brave.

What do you want?

Getting the right help isn’t just about how badly our mental health issues are affecting us or our ability to cope alone. It’s also about our preferences. If you want someone to walk this with you then seek help from someone else. This is your choice, so consider what you want. Think about the type of help that you’re looking for. Are you looking for support from family or friends? Are you looking for professional help? Do you want a space to talk? Do you want practical strategies? Do you have a specific goal? Are you looking for medication? What do you want to be different? All these questions will help you work out what you’re looking for. And this will help you find the service that is right for you. And if you’re not sure, don’t worry! Just keep reading.

Are there concerns about safety?

One reason you may need professional help is if there are any concerns about safety, to yourself or someone around you. If you are experiencing suicidal thoughts or are self-harming then seek professional help. If you have concerns about suicide or self-harm for your child, then seek professional help. These issues are very common with mental illness, and nothing to be ashamed of. A professional will be able to assess and support you to get the help you need.

What is your gut telling you?

You have been managing your own mental health for your whole life! This is true whether you are 4 or 94. What may have changed is whether you are experiencing a mental illness, how this is affecting you, and how severe it is. There are lots of options for help, and these questions will help you navigate these. But questions aside, trust your gut. If you feel you can manage this alone, and you want to, then try some self-help strategies first. If you don’t feel able to mange alone or don’t want to, find some support.

Are you able to use self-help strategies?

If now feels like the right time for change, and you feel safe to try working on your mental health yourself, consider your current ability. Mental health problems can cause issues such as low motivation, low self-esteem, fear and difficulty concentrating. These can get in the way of accessing self-help strategies. This does not mean you’re not trying hard enough, or that you can’t get better, but it might be an indication that you need more help to do so. On the other hand, you might find yourself fully able to access self-help strategies. Remember, everyone’s experience of mental health problems is different. A good test is to try out self-help strategies first. If you’re getting on well with these, then great – keep going! If you’re struggling, find some extra help.

Is now the right time?

Some people seek help for mental health problems immediately. Some people live with mental illness for a long time before seeking help. Others never seek help but find they are able to use self-help strategies to manage or get better. If you’re reading this you are probably considering seeking help for a mental health problem. Or you are a parent concerned about your child. Considering if now is the right time is important. What has led you to this point? What does the problem look like? How long have you been struggling? Are you wanting things to change? You might decide that it’s reached a point that you can’t cope with it anymore, or you might feel inspired to make some positive changes. You might have tried things before, or this might be new. There’s no right or wrong reason for seeking help. But consider what makes now the right time for you.

What are the practical considerations?

If you are seeking professional help them you need to consider cost and time. If you are seeking private therapy, check what is covered by your insurance. If you do not have insurance, consider if you are prepared to pay out of pocket. If you are only covered by insurance for a certain number of sessions, or if you can only afford a certain number, speak to the therapist before starting treatment. At Imagine we will consider your preferences when planning treatment, so there always options for adapting treatment plans.

For these who cannot afford to pay for therapy there are free options. Provincial services are provided for children and adults. There is more information on these here.

Time is another consideration. If you want to be seen sooner, ask about wait times. There may be a longer wait for provincial services, but it is always worth checking with private therapists too.

Problems unseen

For parents sometimes it can be challenge to answer some of these questions and therefore to know what the right kind of help looks like. You might know that something is wrong, but might not know the full details. It’s very normal for teens not to want to confide in their parents when they’re struggling. So how do you help? First, as above, consider safety. If you’re concerned then don’t wait to seek help.

If safety is not a concern, then talk openly to your child. Maybe they don’t want to tell you everything, but could they help you work out the kind of help they might need? Do a bit of research and give them some options. Make sure they know that you’re here to support them. Therapy doesn’t work when people are dragged to it! So try to support your teen to access help, rather than making them go.

For some teens, accessing help is difficult. Parents may be very supportive and give lots of options, but mental health can make people feel stuck. If you’re a parent and you notice that your teen is clearly very unhappy and there has been a significant change in behaviour, then seek help. These teens might not be ready for therapy, but it’s important to get some support in place.

Once you know what kind of help you are looking for, the next step is knowing what is out there. There are loads of resources available. Here are some ideas to get you started:


There are loads of apps out there, some free, some you pay for. Here are three that I really like:

SAM (Self-help App for the Mind) is a great free app that uses evidence-based self-help strategies for mental health. You can track your mood, record triggers, learn more about mental health issues, challenge thoughts, do relaxation… loads! Its a great way to get started with self-help.

Mindfulness is great for many different mental health issues. Mindfulness is a pretty simple concept but really takes practice to do effectively. Apps are a great way to learn how to practice mindfulness and to get into the habit of doing it regularly. The two apps I would recommend looking at are Headspace and MyLife.

Online CBT workbooks

For these who want a structured self-help programme, the Centre for Clinical Interventions offers free self-help modules for lots of different mental health issues. These are in depth and are likely to be suited to adults or older teens who are highly motivated to work in this way.

Guided self-help

Self-help resources can be hugely helpful. Some people feel confident in accessing and using these resources, but want the support of a professional to do this. This might mean occasional sessions to check-in, or to problem-solving a specific issue. This is called guided self-help. Its not quite formal therapy and not quite self-help. We’re happy to work with you in this way at Imagine.

Talking therapy

There are different professionals that provide talking therapy. There are also different styles of talking therapy. If you find a professional, do your research. Find out what they are offering and consider if it is what you are looking for. If you are unsure, speak to them to get. At Imagine we offer a free 30 minute consult so you can get to know your therapist and ask any questions you might have before committing.

Free professional support

You can access free support through the provincial services. We have their information here as well as links to free resources that are available to you.


Medication is an option which a lot of people find helpful. If you want to consider if medication is right for you, speak to your family doctor. A combination approach of medication plus talking therapy can often be effective.

Working out your own self-help

Ultimately self-help is about taking charge of your own mental health and doing things that make you happier and healthier. I think of it as the equivalent to eating well and going to the gym every week for your physical health. So come up with your own plan. Consider all aspects of your life: sleep, daily routines, work or school, leisure, relationships. What helps? Do more of this. What makes you feel worse? Do less of this.

They say that taking that first step to getting help is the hardest, and this is probably true. It can be hard to seek help, let alone to know what kind of help and where to get it. Hopefully this article has given you a few ideas to get started. So whether you choose self-help or professional help, take that first step. Click the link, download the app, pick up the phone. Get the hardest part done and start your journey.

If you want to learn more about what we offer at Imagine, please visit our website. We have lots of information on there on mental health, our ethos and the services that we offer. Alternatively get in touch for more information.

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