Mental Health – how can an OT help?

Mental Health – how can an OT help?

When you experience changes in your mental health, it can impact how you take care of yourself, take care of others, your job performance, your sleep quality or ability to participate in the things you enjoy (to name a few!)

An occupational therapist (OT) can’t diagnose mental health conditions, but they can work with you to better manager your symptoms so you can get back to doing the things you need to do, want to do, and enjoy doing! When you first meet with an occupational therapist, they will work with you to help identify the things you find meaningful that your mental health might be keeping you from doing. This might look like:

  • Showering more regularly
  • Driving a car after being in a car accident
  • Being more social with friends and family
  • Having a better night’s sleep
  • Going on a date
  • Setting boundaries at home, work, school or with loved ones
  • Starting a new role in life; maybe you are newly retired, just had a baby, started a new job, or moved out for the first time
  • Practicing selfcare
  • Eating regularly
  • Presenting in a meeting at work or school
  • Spending more time outdoors
  • Going to the grocery store
  • Riding the bus

Maybe you can relate to one of these activities, or know someone who can. People living with symptoms of anxiety, depression, stress, and burnout can often experience barriers like this which can further impact their mental health – like a positive feedback cycle. For example; living with depression may make it difficult to find the motivation to get out of bed in the morning and go about your day, so you end up staying in bed. This reinforces the feelings of depression including low mood, low motivation or negative self-talk; making it even harder to get out of bed than it was in the first place.

Occupational therapy can help break that cycle by using the activities you find meaningful as therapy. This is hard work and takes practice. An occupational therapist will support you in adapting your goals into small step-by-step pieces to help make things seem less overwhelming. Achieving these goals helps build confidence in your ability to take the lead and move toward your vision of what it looks like to feel better.

Working with an occupational therapist can be less about talking, and more about doing. Where a psychologist may work with you to understand how your thoughts are influencing your feelings, an occupational therapist will work with you to understand how what you do influences how you feel.  

Often times when I start working with someone in managing their mental health one of the first questions I ask is, “If you woke up tomorrow and you felt good and your mental health wasn’t impacting your life, what would you do? How would that look?” and then we work together to set achievable goals and develop strategies to move in that direction.

Mental Health Crisis Resources:
If you are experiencing thoughts of suicide or self-harm these resources are available in the community to support you 24 hours/day, 7 days/week, 365 days/year.

  • Nova Scotia Mental Health Crisis Line:

  • Chimo Helpline (New Brunswick); bilingual services available:


  • Crisis Services Canada; bilingual services available:

  • First Nations and Inuit Hope for Wellness Help Line:
    (Service is available in Cree, Ojibway, Inuktitut, English and French. Callers may ask about the availability of services in the language of their choice)

  • Kid’s Help Phone:

  • Call 911

-Amelia Fletcher, OT