Canadian Federation of
Medical Students

Mental Wellness

Mental Wellness 2019

Download our PDF guide here If you want to consult last year's version, please click here here.

What is Mental Health?

Jordana Waserman (Queen’s University)

Our mental health affects our thoughts, feelings, and behaviours, and is informed by a combination of biological, psychological and social factors. Mental health is not just the absence of mental illness; rather, it is a spectrum of wellness on which we all exist at any given time.

What is Mental Illness?

  1. In Canada, mental illness is typically defined according to diagnostic criteria outlined in the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th edition, produced by the American Psychiatric Association).
  2. Mental illness is generally diagnosed when the symptoms impact a person’s functioning, and/or cause them distress.
  3. Mental and substance use disorders are extremely common; the lifetime rate of experiencing one of these disorders among Canadians ≥15 years old is 33.1% (Statistics Canada, Canadian Community Health Survey – Mental Health, 2012).

The Mental Health/Illness Continuum

Mental health and mental illness are two different but related concepts. The two do not necessarily always parallel each other. For instance, someone with schizophrenia (i.e. mental illness) could be currently experiencing good mental health, whereas someone else who does not have a diagnosed mental illness could be currently experiencing poor mental health due to loss, trauma, grief, or another situational stressor.

Student Burnout

Kevin Karivelil (McMaster)

Medical school is undoubtedly challenging and stressful at times. While medical schools select for individuals who would be best suited to undergo this rigorous training, sometimes we lose insight into whether we are thriving or merely surviving. It’s important to be able to recognize the signs of burnout to then be able to seek help or otherwise do something to address it.

Check out this validated medical student wellbeing self-assessment here; it only takes 2 minutes to complete! Check out this validated medical student wellbeing self-assessment here; it only takes 2 minutes to complete! One particular strategy we’d like to emphasize is mindfulness meditation, which has a plethora of evidence supporting its use to combat burnout. Check out these apps as one possible place to start, available for free on both the App Store and Play Store.



If you're interested in reading a bit more about medical student burnout and strategies how to address it, please refer to any of the links below.

Managing Fatigue

As mentioned prior, excessive fatigue is one of the signs of burnout. We’ve shared several strategies/resources here to help address this. We hope you find them useful, and please share with peers!

Information about Sleep Hygeine

Sleep Meditations

Self-Assessment Tools

Student Burnout

Brandon (uOttawa), Neraj (uOttawa)
  1. Headspace

    As mentioned above, meditation is one of the best ways to relax and to take care of your mind, body, and soul. Headspace is one of the best meditation apps that will lead you through different types of meditations with vary time durations to suit your busy needs!

  2. MindMeister

    Medical students usually have a lot of things on their mind such as research, studying, extra-curricular activities, exercise, cooking, etc. MindMeister allows you to visually organize all the tasks you need to get done in a fun way.

  3. Breathe2Relax Focusing on breathing from your diaphragm has been associated to reduce anxiety and stress. Since medical students are pretty much anxious and stressed all the time this is a great way to unwind from a busy day! This app will guide you through the breathing techniques.
  4. ThinkUp

    Want to improve your mindset to overcome challenges, build healthy habits and achieve your goals? If so, use ThinkUp to improve or develop positive self talk and affirmations.

  5. Daylio

    Want to start a journal but limited in time? Daylio might be just right for you. Entries take seconds to minutes but can pay off in huge ways overtime. The app can help you see trends in your mood and develop positive habits over time.

  6. Strides Are you trying to create better habits? Are you trying to exercise more, eat healthier, reduce social media time and sleep better? Strides may be the app to help you along in your journey. This app is great for goal setting and daily planning with its excellent charts and reminders.
  7. Fitness apps We all know how important exercise is for our health, wellness and longevity. There are a lot of good fitness apps out there that can assist or educate us in a way to help us achieve our goals. Here are just a few of my favourites:
    • JEFIT- Detailed workouts with videos and instructions. This app also has a free workout routines and planners built in.
    • Nike Training Club- Similar to above, this app has 185 + free workouts ranging from strength and endurance to yoga and mobility.
    • C25K- If your a couch potato right now and want to get into better shape through running, C25K might be the right app for you. I used this app to go from out of shape from simple basketball to running 10 K easily. The simple linear progression makes this app fun and enjoyable. Give it a shot, you might just get hooked on running!
  8. Tips and Tricks

    Brandon (uOttawa), Neraj (uOttawa), Ryan (Dalhousie)

    For post-call days:

    Try and do 1 activity that you enjoy and will make you relaxed and make that routine! For example, after my surgical post-call days I would go to a specific diner in the morning for breakfast. They always have delicious food and delicious food makes me happy!

    For sleep post call days, I like to use a light blocking sleep mask to block out all light. I picked up a highly rated mask from amazon which has changed the game for post call sleep. I like to aim for 4-5 hours sleep personally the morning after a 24-26 hour shift so that I can fall asleep at an appropriate time later in the night.

    Post call days can also be great for studying sometimes. Depending on if/how much sleep I got the night before, I may be able to study and be productive. However, some nights are especially gruelling and you may find yourself unable to study well the next day. In this case, I find it useful to focus on non cognitive tasks and errands like laundry, groceries, cleaning and tidying my apartment. Whether its studying or errands, try to take advantage of the post call day before the netflix binges inevitably start.

    Find your thing:

    Find what brings you joy and comfort in life and make sure to schedule time in a day/week/month to do it! If you don't know what your thing is, just ask your family and friends what you're doing when they notice you're at your happiest!

    Box Breathing:

    It's very easy, and I like the 4x4 method. Picture a box in your head, and as you breathe in and out, you move along the sides of the box. Take 4 full seconds for a breath in going up the side of the box, hold y ur breath for 4 seconds going across the top of the box, breath out for 4 seconds going down the other side of the box, and hold your breath for 4 seconds going across the bottom of the box, then repeat! This has helped ground me and bring down my heart rate in stressful situations, and has also been helpful when trying to get to sleep after a crazy day! For other breathing and meditation tips, I like the free app Oak.


    Eating healthy does wonders for your mental health, however, don't restrict yourself too much, otherwise it may have the opposite effect! Give yourself some treats that you enjoy every once in a while :)


    Just like healthy eating, exercise is also great for your mental health! It doesn't have to be marathon training or powerlifting, it could be little things like taking the stairs, biking instead of driving, or periodically going for walks throughout the day.

    Screen time:

    Try put your screens away at least 30-minutes before heading to bed. It helps your brain start to slow down and will make it easier and faster for you to fall asleep; and we all know how important a good night's sleep is!