In this newsletter, I would like to address issues relating to the stigmatized and taboo subject of mental health. About one in three Canadians will have a mental health issue at some point in their life. It is important to remember that Mental Health issues are not a weakness but are legitimate, recognized and treatable conditions.
Mental health concerns can be more prevalent than physical health problems. In fact in a 2013 report Caroline Cassels states, “mental and substance use disorders are the leading cause of nonfatal illness worldwide” and in 2010 Professor Harvey Whiteford found that, “Mental and substance use disorders were the fifth leading contributor to death and disease worldwide”. Yet those suffering with mental health issues are often destined to suffer in silence. I encourage you to open your awareness, step forward and help. You may ask, how can I do that, I am not trained for that kind of thing.
The World Health Organization (WHO) tells us, “Mental health is more than the absence of mental disorders” it is a measure of total wellbeing. The WHO goes on to state worldwide, “More than 450 million people suffer from mental disorders. Many more have mental problems”. First, we are not here to split hairs and decide what is a disorder and what is a problem, it is not our job to diagnose but to simply observe and become aware that our friend or family member is suffering and in need of help.
Many people don’t understand that mental health (MH) issues can be greatly reduced, or eliminated completely with support in a variety of areas. First, how do we spot the problem in our scope or awareness? Consider how you would react to a friend who displays one of the following behaviours:
Recently they have been missing time from work and are increasingly dropping out of their social circles.
You notice that your friend has strong reactions to what are small events.
Your friend seems very distant and withdrawn. They don’t see the point of things and are not interested in becoming engaged in their life anymore.
Your friend is becoming more and more angry at work and in social settings and they have uncharacteristic outbursts of emotion.
Again, let’s clarify, we are not in the position to diagnose anything but that is not really the point. We are, however, able to observe that our friend’s behaviour has changed and they are in need of help. The change may have been noticeable over time or it may have coincidentally started shortly after a challenging or stressful experience. We are not looking for a label to define our friend’s condition but we do want to help them find support and healing.
Experience is subjective. Stressful experiences for one person just flow off the back of the next person. We are all unique individuals and in the same way that we may be more susceptible to the flu if our immune system is over taxed, we can also be more susceptible to the fallout from challenging situations if our mental immune system is overloaded.
Overload may come from a variety of events that permeate our lives. Physical traumas resulting from operations, accidents, illness, or physical abuse are common events or situations that overload an individual. We may also suffer job loss, death of friends or relatives, marital breakup, transitions into or out of school, poor grades, or emotional and psychological abuse. The point is this, we are all triggered by different events in different ways and our capacity to respond is directly related to our personal resilience.
It is important that we are not judgmental with our friend. Remember they are not displaying a weakness but a legitimate, recognized and treatable condition. Your friend is showing some kind of unusual behaviour and you want to help. The last thing you would want to do is tell them to “get over it” or “ the car accident was 2 months ago … it’s time to move on”. They would if they could so another strategy is necessary and … yes, you can help them.
We would not hesitate to suggest that our friend visit the local chiropractor, naturopath, osteopath, medical doctor, or nutritionist and we would likely offer to drive them or help in some way to ensure they received appropriate support. Mental Health is no different, you can support your friend by first acknowledging that you see a change and that you are willing to listen to their story and help in some way. Remember, there are trained professionals who work with mental health issues every day and they include psychotherapists, mental health practitioners, social workers, life coaches, grief counsellors, and employee assistance providers (EAP) to name a few. Help your friend or family member to see appropriate support and then follow up to see how they are doing.
To get a listing of other community support numbers, web pages and contacts click here