Why everyone needs to take care of their mental health

This is part of a Globe & Mail series examining the mental health experience in Canada’s workplaces.

The term mental health problem or illness can be confused with the concept of mental health; however, they are different. About one in five Canadians will experience a diagnosable mental health problem or illness in any given year, whereas everyone has a responsibility to look after their mental health. Good mental health is an important tool to deal with life’s daily stresses.

The Public Health Agency of Canada defines positive mental health as “the capacity of each and all of us to feel, think, act in ways that enhance our ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face.”

Awareness

Given that two-thirds of Canadian adults spend 60 per cent of their time at work, workplaces can have an impact on our mental health. The way you experience your job can either damage, or enrich, your mental health.

Consider that a person living with anxiety might be receiving appropriate treatments, have a support network and a fulfilling job, at which she excels. Though she lives with a mental illness, her life circumstances, including her work, enrich her mental health. On the other hand, someone who doesn’t have a diagnosable mental health problem may be experiencing a range of challenges, from coping with aging parents, to financial stress, or undue workplace pressures. Even without a mental illness, this individual may still report poor mental health.

It is helpful to think about positive mental health and mental health problems or illnesses as interconnected, as shown in the diagram below.

One axis shows positive mental health as a resource. It is something everyone can work to strengthen. Taking care of your mental health requires the same kind of effort you expend to look after your physical well-being. On the other hand, if you are vulnerable to a mental health problem or illness, you can draw on positive mental health resources and supports to achieve well-being.

Given the central role of workplaces, it’s not surprising everyone performs better in psychologically healthy settings, free of harassment and bullying, where management is supportive, workloads are reasonable and expectations are clear.

Accountability

While public discussion about mental health is increasing, too often people under stress believe they should be able to cope better. This is often true whether you are living with a diagnosable mental health problem or simply experiencing poor mental health. This kind of thinking can stand in the way of taking positive steps to build up mental health, like seeking appropriate support. Staying in the stress cycle increases the risk of becoming more ill or further depleting mental health resources.

When you find yourself feeling overwhelmed, or when your coping skills seem inadequate, reach out to someone you trust.

Action

One way to take charge of your mental health is to tune-in to changes in your behaviour, feelings and thoughts. If your personal care, sleeping or eating patterns are changing, or you are being troubled by unwanted feelings and thoughts, these can be warning signals that your mental health needs attention.

1. Make a commitment to learn.

Explore what positive mental health means, and what kinds of things can build up your mental health resource kit. The wrong time to prepare for crisis is when you’re in it. Find out more about early warning signs and symptoms of mental health problems, and the kinds of help available. Like preventing a heart attack, it’s helpful to understand not only the signs and symptoms but also how to engage in prevention, and when and where to reach out when things are getting out of hand. A Mental Health First Aid course could be a good way to start. Consider inquiring if your employer would host one.

2. Get your baseline

If you’re questioning how well you’re coping at work, your current stress level, overall health and workplace experiences, complete the Your Life at Work survey. This behaviour-based tool will help you explore the relationship between stress and health and the role of coping skills. The Working Mind is an excellent tool to help employees learn to address mental health problems with a common language. Many employers in Canada are beginning to offer this training to their workers.

3. Devote a little of each day to improving your mental health

Maintaining your mental health is a lot like staying physically fit. A little effort every day goes a long way. The Canadian Mental Health Association is a good place to start for ideas.

4. Reach out.

Many people with mental health problems or illnesses endure in silence. There are resources in your community to help, including your family doctor and your company’s employee and family assistance program representative. A new report, released recently by the Mental Health Commission of Canada, Strengthening the Case for Investing in Mental Health: Economic Considerations, highlights Canadian research that indicates a person on short-term disability for a mental health concern will return to work 16 days earlier if they have access to collaborative care – which is when experts from different specialties, disciplines, or sectors work together to offer cohesive client services. This is one of many effective tools, interventions and that are available. Taking action will benefit your health, career and relationships.

Have you dealt with or are you dealing with a mental health issue? Please take a moment to complete our survey: The Mental Health Experience in Canada’s Workplaces: What’s Your Experience?

Bill Howatt is the Chief Research and Development Officer of Workforce Productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto.

Louise Bradley is CEO and President of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Carrie Fisher; Mental Health Hero

Source: Huffington Post.

She spoke out against stigma for years.

Carrie Fisher was a total badass.

The actress, who died Tuesday at the age of 60 after suffering a heart attack, spoke out on mental illness many times ― something almost unheard of in Hollywood at the time she began sharing publicly.

She gave honest testimonies of the trials and triumphs of battling addiction and bipolar disorder, displaying a no-holds-barred attitude when it comes to discussing the realities of mental health conditions.

As we mourn her death, we also want to salute the original Princess Leia for her groundbreaking stance on mental health in the public eye. Below are few times Fisher stood up against stigma:

When she owned what was happening with her mental health.

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I have a chemical imbalance that, in its most extreme state, will lead me to a mental hospital … I am mentally ill. I can say that. I am not ashamed of that. I survived that, I’m still surviving it, but bring it on.”

The time she had this great response to being called the “poster child” of bipolar disorder.

Well, I am hoping to get the centerfold in Psychology Today.  … Now, it seems every show I watch there’s always someone bipolar in it! It’s going through the vernacular like ‘May the force be with you’ did. But I define it, rather than it defining me.”

When she offered sound advice on pursuing dreams despite mental illness.

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Stay afraid, but do it anyway. What’s important is the action. You don’t have to wait to be confident. Just do it and eventually the confidence will follow.”

The time she got real about how it feels to go through manic episodes.

You can’t stop. It’s very painful. It’s raw. You know, it’s rough … your bones burn … when you’re not busy talking and trying to drown it out.”

When she explained the only real way to manage a mental health condition.

“The only lesson for me, or for anybody, is that you have to get help. It’s not a neat illness. It doesn’t go away.”

And finally, when she shut down the shamers by explaining just how strong you have to be to deal with a mental health condition.

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”One of the things that baffles me (and there are quite a few) is how there can be so much lingering stigma with regards to mental illness, specifically bipolar disorder. In my opinion, living with manic depression takes a tremendous amount of balls. … At times, being bipolar can be an all-consuming challenge, requiring a lot of stamina and even more courage, so if you’re living with this illness and functioning at all, it’s something to be proud of, not ashamed of.”

Nailed it.