Let's end the stigma around mental illness

The World Health Organization estimates that by 2020, depression will be the the leading cause of disability across all age groups.  It is 2016 and yet there is still much stigma around mental illness even though it touches so many, directly or through someone we know.  Stigma stifles conversation that can lead to understanding, connection, and healing.  Together, we can end the stigma, and here are some great ideas from the  Bell Let's Talk Day campaign:


Emotional First Aid

Image courtesy of  samarttiw

Image courtesy of samarttiw

The concept of first aid for physical wounds and injuries is a simple one that is often learned early on.  When there is a minor cut on your finger, most of us have learned how to clean it, disinfect it, and bandage it.  For more serious wounds or injuries, we generally know to seek medical attention.  When we fall ill with the flu, we know to stay home, drink lots of fluids, and get plenty of rest.  It amazes me that even my three year old niece knows the protocol for basic first aid.  When she spotted a cut on my hand, she asked, empathetically, with a furrowed brow, "Are you hurt? Do you need a Band-Aid?"

But what about emotional hurts and injuries? What do we know about emotional first aid?  What have we been taught?  What has been modelled by significant others with respect to how to express and address their own or others' emotional pain?

Emotional first aid is an area that is less intuitive and straight forward as putting on a bandage or seeing a doctor.  Not uncommonly, people disclose to me that they have few or no helpful strategies to address their own emotional wounds and injuries, often relying on strategies that are less helpful in the long run, such as self-criticism, avoidance/procrastination, or overindulging in various vices (e.g., videogames, shopping, work, food, alcohol, sex, substances).  What are the potential costs to the individual, family, or even society when people do not learn how to adaptively regulate their own emotions and empathetically address their own emotional wounds?

If you are interested in learning more, Psychologist Guy Winch describes 7 ways to practice emotional first aid: http://ideas.ted.com/7-ways-to-practice-emotional-first-aid/

What I would love to see happen is a perspective shift where emotional education and emotional first aid is prioritized and prized as much as academic achievement is, where it is taught at an early age, at home and as part of the standard school curriculum.         

Supporting a Loved One with Depression

The Globe and Mail's "Have Your Say" Column recently featured a piece on how family and friends can help support a loved one suffering from depression.

I was invited to contribute to the piece and my brief comments are published here: http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/giving/have-your-say-how-can-we-help-friends-and-loved-ones-with-depression/article22236817/

Depression, the Black Dog

By 2020, depression is predicted to become the second leading cause of disability globally.  It is twice as common in women as compared to men.  It is also underdiagnosed and undertreated (1).

This video by the World Health Organization does a good job explaining what depression looks like and offers some ideas on how to manage it:

Physical Activity Levels and Mood: Another Reason to Get Moving

Photo by:  Orapan Jampa

Photo by: Orapan Jampa

Modern life sets the stage, unfortunately, for a sedentary lifestyle.  Many of us have occupations where we spend the majority of our time sitting at a desk, hunched over a computer.  In fact, research suggests that more than 80% of modern jobs are classified as requiring just light intensity physical activity, whereas in the 1960's, more than 50% of jobs in private industry required at least moderate intensity physical activity (1). 

Not only is this downward shift in our activity levels believed to be one of the reason why we are getting heavier, which inherently can affect how we feel, our activity levels can influence our mood states.  Studies suggest there is a positive link between physical activity levels and our mood, in that engaging in physical activity is associated with improved energy levels and greater positive feelings.  The good news is that forty percent of Canadians report already using exercise as a stress coping strategy (2).  There is also an exciting body of research looking at the effectiveness of physical activity as a treatment for depression, with research showing that exercise is as effective as antidepressant therapy and these effects are maintained if exercise is continued (3). 

So how much physical activity do we really need to enjoy its benefits on mood? The answer may surprise you.  Researchers maintain that people can enjoy the mood-enhancing benefits by integrating just short bouts of physical activity, 10 minutes or less, into their daily routines (4).  The best thing about this recommendation is that it counters the "no time" barrier that many of us come up with when it comes to exercise.