I would like to contribute to the tremendous conversation that is sweeping our nation and beyond on this special day. Bell Let’s Talk day. The purpose of today’s movement is to stimulate conversation on the topic of mental health while simultaneously raising funds for mental health initiatives. Founded by Clara Hughes and supported by countless big names such as Howie Mandel, today is growing in reach and impact. The past five years have produced incredible growth in the endeavour that is being pursued today, and there are more and more initiatives taking root each year. So many, in fact, that I sometimes find myself questioning the need for more topic stimulation. Are we not all talking already? We’ve been pushing this for years now. Does the stigma still exist?
When I stopped and looked around on a societal level, I was floored by how far we have come in normalizing topics such as depression, anxiety, eating disorders, bipolar disorder, mental health days of absence, counsellor appointments and psychiatrist visits. Less and less are people feeling shame when disclosing their struggles or diagnoses, judgement is being replaced by empathetic listening, and employers are improving their policies on sick days. While it is rewarding to look back and revel in our advancement, it is also important to recognize that there is still a long way to go. There are more conversations happening, but not everyone is talking. The goal of stigma elimination and topic normalization will only be realized when every single person feels comfortable not only confronting their mental health, but sharing it with someone else, and vice versa (are comfortable being that “listening ear” to those who need it).
When it comes to services and the devastating youth suicide epidemic, much less satisfaction can be found in recounting the work that has gone into these issues over the past few years. Despite the hard work and abundant funding that has gone into improving the mental health care system (specifically the crisis intake areas) in order to stop or even slow the alarming number of youth suicides, little progress has been made and even fewer lives have been saved. It’s a heavy topic, but it is one we need to consider in this time of raising awareness. If the severity of mental health related issues were placed on a scale, a mild case of the blues can be found on one end, and a life lost to suicide on the other. While it is much easier to start a conversation about your day to day emotions in the often mood-lowering winter months, asking those difficult questions of someone who you are legitimately worried about is where you can make the biggest difference. Sometimes, “Are you okay?”, isn’t enough. “What kind of thoughts are you having?”, or “Are you in a dark place?”, can open up the uncomfortable but necessary conversation that could lead to someone disclosing their suicidal thoughts, thus opening a door through which you can pull them from the ledge of despair. We must be brave in our support of others and move past the fear that comes with avoiding rejection or having someone get angry at us. If you yourself are reading this and know what dark thoughts I am talking about, message me. Or anyone. There is always someone willing to listen and you are so, so, so loved.
On a lighter note, I just thought I would address another topic that seems to be on everyone’s (or just my?) mind these days. Why are we all so mentally unwell? Are we just being weak? There were not this many cases of anxiety and depression 50 years ago, I’m sure. It seems like everyone has an issue nowadays. I don’t know the answer to these questions, but I do have an idea. Society today is one of extreme stimulation. Every year we are bombarded with more and more technologies that simultaneously stream-line our lives and clutter our minds. This advancement into our current technological state has occurred so rapidly that there is no way our human minds have had time to adjust to all the input. On a daily basis, most of us are intaking far more information than we are putting out or even taking the time to ruminate over. In my opinion, we are mentally sicker because we have not yet adapted to the world we live in. I like to think of it like a time when our physical well-being is under threat. Remember the swine flu? H1N1? It was rampant and no one was safe. We were all physically fragile in light of this powerful disease. We couldn’t hide from it or ultimately prevent it, but we could take precautionary measures. We washed our hands more. Carried hand sanitizer. Even avoided public places unless absolutely necessary. Today, we are mentally fragile. We cannot hide from all the the stimulation and input, nor can we totally prevent falling into a “lower” mental state. But we can take measures to protect ourselves. Mental hygiene is a popular term that refers to taking the time to “clean out” our minds and evaluate our thoughts. Watching less “mind polluting” TV, spending more time outside, or sitting in silence. Meditation, mindfulness, and physical activity are also extremely conducive to good mental health. While these practices were once viewed as “extra”, I believe that today they are mandatory to each and every one of us if we want to maintain a healthy mental state.
It’s hard beginning a new practice. It really is. I, a yoga instructor, lost my personal practice for almost a year. I went to classes once in a while and would do the odd practice at home, but I completely lost my consistency. I also stopped going to the gym regularly and was cheating on my vegan diet (only dairy! 😉 ). This past month has been a struggle to get back on my feet and feeling good about myself again. I keep trying to force myself into following a strict gym regimen like I used to, or cutting out carbs to lose some weight. All of these extreme endeavours failed because I didn’t tailor them to fit what I needed. So, I set more realistic goals like moving everyday, whether or not it be the gym. Personal practice a least 4 times a week, and meditation at least 2 times. So far, I’ve been able to stick to these goals and I know that I can increase my standards as time goes on. Choose something that works for you. Tailor it to fit you. Make it yours. Own it, and enjoy it.
I thought I had more on my mind but I’m coming up blank.
Here’s a summary of today’s thoughts:
- Yay for progress towards the goal of eliminating stigma around mental health topics!
- Be brave and ask difficult questions of those who you think are really struggling.
- If you are really struggling, tell someone. (Me! 😃 )
- Just like in times of physical disease, we must take precautions to maintain our mental health. Mental hygiene!
- Set realistic goals.
- Personalize a practice (anything! Walking, meditating, yoga, online exercise programs) and OWN IT.
- You are loved and you are here for a reason.
Thank you for reading and Happy Bell Let’s Talk Day!
Take care of yourself out there,