Me-Time: Managing Stress and Finding Work-Life Balance

Me-Time: Managing Stress and Finding Work-Life Balance


Work-life balance is an individual measurement and may vary daily, monthly, and over extended periods of time. The right balance will differ as your lifestyle changes. Your needs and wants evolve throughout the various stages of life, from single life, to being married, to the possible addition of children or new career aspirations, and to nearing retirement. There is no perfect formula or ideal balance. The right equation differs because each individual has different priorities, goals and influences that shape our needs at home and at work.

A common and perhaps familiar narrative unfolds across the country week to week. Your work colleagues arrive early, stay late, they’re on the way to successful careers, or so it seems. To keep up, you do the same. You perform and extend your working day without notice of the cumulative toll being placed on you and your surroundings. Out of gas and out of time, you realize the impact on family, work, and yourself. If you feel you need a 36-hour day to do it all, then you might need to make better use of your day. In fact, it might be you need to integrate more hours of the kind at the end of your daily to-do list. Hours of Me-time.

When social worker Carroll Wilson welcomes an overworked, overstressed, overwhelmed patient at her office, she often shares one of her key metaphors: “On a plane, you’re instructed to put on your oxygen mask first, because if you don’t, you’ll run out of oxygen and won’t be able to help others around put on theirs. So it is with time management in the context of self-care”, she says. “Not giving oneself quality time is like running on empty. Ultimately, everyone needs Me-time.”

In this article, we’ll be looking at:

• why we need time for ourselves and what the cost is if we don’t find it;

• how to get additional free time for ourselves;

• time-management tips;

• environmental tips; and

• psychological tips.

Why do we need Me-time?

Without quality personal time, not only will you run out of energy, slow down and be less productive, but soon you’ll find yourself underachieving in every life department, personal and professional, and your anxiety may increase exponentially. Myths around human invincibility are hard to debunk. Perceived superwomen and supermen are still valued role models. But for most if not all, the model is unsustainable. Several studies have shown that working long hours for extended periods of time have led to occurrences of physical and mental ailments including cardiovascular disease, anxiety and depression.(1) As a result, fatigue, absenteeism, lower productivity and organizational turnover rates tend to increase. According to Statistics Canada, a lack of work-life balance cost Canadian businesses a combined 20 billion dollars a year in health claims, lost productivity and absenteeism.(2)

Are you at risk of job burnout?

You may be more likely to experience job burnout if:

  • you identify so strongly with work that you lack a reasonable balance between your work-life and your personal life;
  • you try to be everything to everyone;
  • you work in a helping profession, such as health care, counselling or teaching;
  • you feel you have little or no control over your work; and/or
  • you feel that some aspects of your job have become monotonous.

A national study on balancing work and care-giving in Canada reported one quarter of the population works 50 hours or more per week, a rise of 50% as compared to a decade prior. One third of Canadians feel they have more work to accomplish than time allows. That figure rises to 40% when family roles are taken into consideration. More than half of the survey’s respondents took work home with them, putting in an average of seven extra hours a week from home. Nearly two thirds spent more than an hour a day catching up on e-mails and one third spent more than an hour emailing on their days off.(3)

Preventing burnout:

Obviously when what you’re doing is no longer fueling your passion and/or commitment to your career, it’s time to seriously assess your situation. Evaluate how you can change your current situation to re-ignite your enthusiasm.

  • Discuss your options with your supervisor and HR. What are the options for professional development within your company? Is there a way to explore careers in other departments? Perhaps your supervisor can help in giving you new challenges or changing expectations?
  • What gives you joy outside the workplace? If you love to sing or play an instrument, join a choir or band. Pursue your interests by taking courses, getting involved in the community and meeting people with similar interests.
  • Volunteer. Helping others is a great way to get a better perspective on life. There are many ways to have your talents, interests and experience make a big difference in the lives of others.
  • Make a bucket list. Having and pursuing personal goals, no matter how trivial they may seem, can reignite your enthusiasm and that can spill over into all areas of your life.
  • Seek support. If you think you may be experiencing symptoms of poor work-life balance including but not limited to trouble concentrating, irritability, weakened coping skills, headaches and muscle stiffness, don’t ignore these potential warning signs. See your family doctor to rule out any underlying physical issues. Reach out to friends, loved ones or co-workers.

What about those days off? Only about one third of Canadians use their earned vacation days, and of those vacationers, 28% of them took less than one half of their allotted time?(4)

Learn to combat those assumed pressures, because, in the end, it’s also work that suffers. It has been proven that getting personal quality time and achieving work-life equilibrium reboots the brain, increases concentration, improves creativity allowing outside the box problem solving, and ultimately helps us to feel more engaged at work. Moreover, personal time is very effective for stress management, and provides room for reflection and self-growth, contributing to better relationships.(5)

How to get additional free time for ourselves

If you experience prolonged periods of time without work-life balance, it may have adverse effects on your mental and physical health. Several studies have shown that working long hours for extended periods of time have led to occurrences of physical and mental ailments including but not limited to fatigue and stress.

The good news is that you don’t have to find hours of daily Me-time to reap the benefits. Analysis showed that those who experienced high quality, rather than the most Me-time enjoyed better work-life balance, well-being and were more engaged at work.(6)

Time-management tips

  • Wake up 30 minutes before the rest of your household to exercise, meditate or do something you enjoy.
  • Make weekly or monthly dates with yourself: cinema night, driving golf balls, a couple of hours at the spa, etc.
  • This one is not easy. Track, prioritize and respect your personal time as if it were on par with the importance you give to time allotted to work or devoted to family and people close to you.

Environmental tips

  • Allow yourself to avoid the physical ‘to-do checklist’ environments of your life (home office, kitchen, shed, etc.). You don’t have to travel far away or wait for a special occasion. Seek outdoor activities, contemplate beautiful scenery nearby and breathe some fresh air.
  • Ditch technology! At least disconnect from email, social media, chat rooms, work-related communications and stressful news.
  • Delimit and protect your time and space.

On the topic of clearer boundaries, communicate your need for alone time to people around you. It is okay to go for a walk and to eat alone in a park close to the workplace, even if it means breaking the habit of the usual cafeteria/café gathering with colleagues. It is okay to have a room to yourself at home with a closed door, and without interruptions when you find time to read or pursue your hobby.

Psychological tips

Of course, the first person to negotiate with and convince is…yourself!

  • Learn to say yes to yourself and no to others.
  • Remove guilt! It helps to remember that taking care of yourself through some Me-time will increase your energy, availability and patience when you come back to either the workplace or family. It enables you to be the best partner, parent and colleague you can be.
  • Get rid of perfectionism! When you spend time on something you have to do but is not very important, go for good enough instead of seeking perfection.It will afford you time for things that matter to you.

It might also be useful to use some re-framing techniques to improve one’s perception of quality time. For example, Me-time doesn’t have to always mean alone-time. One study found that Me-time can attain the same benefits to yourself if it includes freely chosen activities involving people you love.(6) For a parent, it might mean to re-frame a common statement such as “I have to spend time with my kids” and turn it into “I get to play with my kids”. Some caretaking and nurturing activities like cooking, for example, can thus switch from ‘’task’’ to ‘’hobby” status in no time.

Achieving work-life balance takes effort. It is important to practice work-life balance regularly to keep yourself on track with what is important in your life at that moment. With continued practice, you can create a roadmap to a life with less stress and more focus on what’s important to you.


References:

  1. Editorial. “Another view: Worked to death.” TheRecord.com, TheRecord.com, 2 Nov. 2015, www.therecord.com/opinion-story/6077710-another-vi…
  2. Canada, E. A. (2017, February 16). Psychological Health in the Workplace. Source: https://www.canada.ca/en/employment-social-develop…
  3. O’Kane, Josh. “Canada’s work-Life balance more off-Kilter than ever.” The Globe and Mail, 26 Mar. 2017 (The article refers to a 2012 National Study on Balancing Work and Caregiving in Canada). Source: http://beta.theglobeandmail.com/report-on-business…
  4. Results of an APD Canada Study as cited in Jackman-Atkinson, K. (2018). It’s About Time: Canadians Not Taking Advantage of Full Paid Vacation. Neepawa Banner & Press. Retrieved on April 2, 2019 from https://www.chrisd.ca/2018/05/21/ vacation-time-canada-workers/#.XKQQGy3MylN
  5. Why ‘’me’’ time matters when it comes to your happiness. Source: https://my.happify. com/hd/why-me-time-is-important-for-happiness-infographic/
  6. British Psychological Society (BPS). “Good quality me-time vital for home and work well-being.” ScienceDaily. ScienceDaily, 7 January 2015. Source: www.sciencedaily. com/releases/2015/01/15010720455…


Healthy Habits: Positive Influences on Mental Health and Addiction

Healthy Habits: Positive Influences on Mental Health and Addiction


Being in recovery can sometimes feel like you have been placed into a remote location, amid unfamiliar surroundings, with the added complexity and challenge of finding your way back to civilization. Recovery can be lonely, scary and often confusing, with an array of mental and physical obstacles.

The path ahead of you doesn’t run in a straight line. It’s important to recognize and take inventory of the skills and tools you have acquired, and to know how and when to use these strategies to help you navigate your recovery journey. Acknowledging that factors like dedicated time, heartfelt commitment and focused attention are keys to recovery sustainability, you’ll need to keep your eyes open to spot all of the resources in your environment that will support you on your journey. As you look at your path each day, you’ll discover new self-care supports that may surprise you in their simplicity. No matter how insignificant they may seem, allowing yourself to see the good in every day, appreciating the beauty of natural surroundings, and reaching out for help, or helping others, can be powerful daily additions as you build strength and resilience.

It’s easy to rush through your days with blinders on. Sometimes, we’re so internally focussed that it can be exhausting, leaving us more susceptible to negative thinking. In many instances, we pay more attention to the “bad qualities in others rather than the good ones: the things that worry or annoy us, or make us critical.” (1)With a “negative bias” for the “bad, or at best, [looking at] neutral qualities in others and only a sprinkling of good ones you naturally feel less supported, less safe and less inclined to be generous or [to] pursue your dreams.”(1) Developing the ability to move outside of a cycle of negative thoughts and observe the positive in other people can do a lot of good. We learn a lot from other people, and this learning increases and broadens our mental and emotional perspectives, which, in turn, makes us more resilient.

Reflecting on positive moments observed during each day can help you change habits: you can see new ways to fix mistakes and solve problems. Throughout your lifetime, your brain catalogues all of your experiences. The science of neuroplasticity shows us that our brain structure can be changed and adapt to build resilience, form new connections and take control of reorganizing itself.(2)

So how do you start retraining your brain to see the good in every day? Start with small observations by, “seeing the good in others. It’s a simple but very powerful way to feel happier and more confident, and become more loving and more productive in the world.”(3) When you inevitably reflect on challenges within your day, don’t spend all of your time on negatives – be sure also to find at least one good thing. Remember, it doesn’t need to be something big. It could be as simple as a smile you offered while you held the door for someone.

It’s important to recognize that the good you see in others is also in you. You couldn’t see that good if you did not have an inkling of what it was. You, too have positive intentions, real abilities and virtues of mind and heart. Those qualities are a fact, as much as a fact as the chair you’re sitting on. Take a moment to let that sink in. You don’t need a halo to be a truly good person. You are a truly good person.(3)

Another essential tool for self-care is developing an appreciation for the beauty of natural surroundings. Research points to the benefits of spending time outside where you can get a boost of happiness and feel better connected to the world. “Well-being increases if people simply take time to notice the nature around them.”(4) The examples in the study showed that nature can be “anything not human-built: a houseplant, a dandelion growing in a crack in a sidewalk, wildlife, or sun through a window.”(4) Participants were asked to take a photo of the natural object they encountered and write a short note about it.

It’s important to note that “this wasn’t about spending hours outdoors or going for long walks in the wilderness, it was about the tree at a bus stop in the middle of a city and the positive effect that one tree can have.”(4)

Being in natural surroundings can allow you to be more open to multi-sensory experiences where you awake more of your brain through the sights, smells, tastes, touches, and sounds to create associations that form strong memories.(5)

Go ahead, exercise – go outside for a walk. Look around at your physical surroundings and forget for a moment or two about “your needs, worries, regrets or desires for the future.”(6) You’ll not only benefit your mental health but also your physical health by spending time in green space. In one study, “Forest bathing”, where people spend time sitting, lying down or just walking around in nature, lowered blood pressure, reduced heart rates and decreased stress. In addition, research suggested that people who spent time outdoors had a lower risk of developing Type II diabetes and cardiovascular disease than those who did not spend any time outside. Spending time outdoors also increased how long research participants slept.(7) Give it a try – take off your shoes and walk barefoot in the grass. You’ll feel more grounded as a result.

Not only can immersing yourself in nature bring significant benefits, but surrounding yourself with positive, supportive people can make a big difference in helping you to keep moving forward on a sustainable recovery pathway. Interestingly enough, this can go both ways. Reaching out and helping others who are just starting their journey through recovery can be a highly effective, positive therapy because it can, “take the attention off yourself… assist the other person in making progress and [you may] receive gratitude for your efforts” which, in turn, can give you perspective, boost your sense of purpose and make you feel happier.(8) Being able to recognize earlier challenges that you faced and overcame, and speaking with others about it, helps develop strength and gives you a chance to reflect upon how far you have come in your recovery.

Recreation therapy programs help in similar ways. People work to regain control over their lives and actions, relax their minds and bodies, and rebuild social skills, self-esteem and confidence through the connections they make to other people in their community. They can participate in, “exercise groups such as yoga, and other physical activities such as active games, creative arts, woodworking and crafts.”(9)

While these all help, it’s also important to remember some of the most important things that will help during recovery:

  1. Taking time to take a break when you need it.
  2. Remembering how important exercise and proper nutrition are to your strength.
  3. Staying connected to your social circle for support and encouragement.

Having a greater awareness of what it’s like to feel well from positive influences will mean that you can develop a sense of the symptoms you may experience if you are feeling unwell. Recognizing those symptoms and using these tools is a supportive way to help you stay on course as you recover, and help you learn when you may need to call for targeted, professional care.


References:

  1. Hanson, R., (2018, June 12). Seeing Good. Psychology Today. Retrieved on April 15, 2019 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/your-wise-…
  2. Shiel, W.C. Jr. MD, FACP, FACR, (n.d.) Medical Definition of Neuroplasticity. MedicineNet. Retrieved on April 15, 2019 from https://www.medicinenet.com/script/main/art.asp?ar…
  3. Hanson, R., (2018, June 12). Seeing Good. Psychology Today. Retrieved on April 15, 2019 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/your-wise-…
  4. University of British Columbia, (2017, November 2). Science confirms you should stop and smell the roses. UBC Okanagan News. Retrieved on April 15, 2019 from https://news.ok.ubc.ca/2017/11/02/science-confirms…
  5. Ackerman, D. (1990) A Natural History of the Senses. Random House of Canada Limited.
  6. LaBier, D. (2018, January 8). Why Connecting With Nature Elevates Your Mental Health. Psychology Today. Retrieved on April 15, 2019 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/us/blog/the-new-re…
  7. University of East Anglia. (2018, July 6). It’s official – spending time outside is good for you. Science Daily. Retrieved on April 15, 2019 from https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2018/07/1807…
  8. Narconon. (n.d.) Why Helping Others Can Be Best Cure for Addiction. Narconon Blog. Retrieved on April 15, 2019 from https://www.narconon.org/blog/narconon/why-helping…
  9. Hospital News (n.d.) Recreation Therapy and Mental Health: Helping people help themselves. Long Term Care Section. Retrieved on April 15, 2019 from https://hospitalnews.com/recreation-therapy-and-me…

 


Vacation: Relax, Refresh and Reconnect

Vacation: Relax, Refresh and Reconnect


Do you remember how you felt on your last vacation? Transport yourself back to the sights, the sounds, the smells and try to recall the physical and mental release. Recapture the moments where you felt these three R’s: relaxed, refreshed and reconnected.

Most of us would agree that we lead over-scheduled, and, in many instances, sleep deprived lives. Our occupations consume nearly 40% of our waking hours. Weekends and days off are typically scheduled with activities and chores to keep the home functioning and seem to pass by with the blink of an eye. There’s nothing quite like a change to routine and scenery when you need to recharge. Making time to disconnect from your everyday life will boost your mental health, leave you energized and have you returning to work restored and with renewed vigour.

Relax – it’s an essential part of self-care

Would you believe that only about 1/3 of Canadians use their earned vacation days, and of those vacationers, 28% of them took less than ½ of their allotted time?(1)

Allowing yourself to get away from everyday routines and responsibilities, including time to unwind and removing occupational stressors, can help you “increase your emotional agility, develop empathy and inspire creativity.”(2) But it can be the shared experiences with friends and family that provide some of the biggest benefits over the long run. Taking time to re-establish bonds in a relaxed environment helps create deep memories that can be recalled later. It’s these shared experiences that stay, fostering happiness that outlasts the fleeting experience of the vacation itself.

As Canadians, we seem to have a love/hate relationship with vacation time, which may be both surprising and a bit confusing. When asked whether they needed a vacation, 66% of those who work in the food and beverage industry, 62% of agricultural workers and 61% of retail workers responded that they do compared with 47% of those who work in financial services and the legal industries.(3)

In a survey commissioned by Expedia that looked at vacation habits of people around the world, including Canada, results showed that the average Canadian receives,“17 vacation days but only take[s] 15.”(4) At the same time, Canadians share a general sentiment that they don’t receive enough vacation time: “53% of full-time employees in British Columbia feel either ‘very’ or ‘somewhat” vacation deprived” with that number rising to 60% in Ontario.(5) Some reasons for this may point back to our inability to entirely disconnect from work.

Why aren’t we using our vacation days?

Employees who don’t take any vacation are often struggling with the belief that they need to be visible or present to be seen as valuable at work. They might be concerned about their job security or worry that, while they are away, they could miss the chance to get recognition or a promotion. Remember that when you don’t take your vacation, you’re leaving part of your compensation on the table.

Often, many of us have a hard time disconnecting. Nearly half of workers surveyed indicated that they would “check work email or reach out to the office while on vacation,” with another 13.8% saying they would be ready to jump back into to help solve a problem at work.(5) It’s important to turn off your work connections, even for a short time.

As employees, we view employers who offer more vacation time as most attractive, and almost half of us would be willing to change companies to receive more time off.(6) But, there’s also the real problem that nearly 75% of workers put in anywhere from 11 to 31 extra hours in the weeks before and after scheduled time off.(7) People are feeling challenged to find work/life balance and are “having trouble leaving work behind when they go on holiday. About 10 per cent said they feel guilty taking their vacation days because they felt they were leaving the work for their coworkers to complete.”(8)

It doesn’t matter when we’re trying to get away – be it seasonally or during the most popular vacation times of the year, all of the additional time spent at work preparing to be away on vacation typically affects our sleep routines. We’re exhausting ourselves before we even leave when we should be maximizing our sleep beforehand so that we start to feel relaxed and begin our time away feeling refreshed.

Adopting a pre-vacation sleep schedule

We’ve adopted the belief that when trying to prepare for vacations at both work and home, it’s okay to burn the candle at both ends – that is, lose sleep before vacation to catch up on it during those first few days off. While this kind of relief is needed, it’s not really positioned at the right time. To maximize your vacation experience, you should actually be getting more sleep beforehand, so you feel relaxed from the moment you’re away.

  • Aim to get between seven and nine hours of sleep each night
  • Try winding down before bedtime with a warm bath or calming activities like meditation, breathing exercises or listening to soothing music.
  • Create a predictable sleep schedule to condition your body and help it learn appropriate times for rest and wakefulness
  • Steer clear of caffeine and other stimulants. Coffee,tea, soft drinks and chocolate are all culprits whose effects can linger well into the evening and make it difficult to fall asleep

Having a template for work/life balance and a moderately adhered to sleep routine allows you to feel relaxed and refreshed as you begin your vacation.

Saving for vacation

Another reason many of us are not using vacation time is because of the belief that vacations are too expensive.

The reality is that vacations don’t need to be lavish. The wonderful psychological benefit, the refresh, actually begins while we’re planning what to do. Completing research and making arrangements stimulates our minds and we become excited at the prospect of what we’re going to do while on vacation. Once you determine where you want to go, you can plan your vacation expenditures in advance. Saving a little each week throughout the year to put into a “vacation fund” helps you set and commit to a budget. You’d be surprised how quickly giving up a few coffees each week can turn into found travel money! If you decide on a destination that you need to travel to by plane or train, book well in advance – up to 8 weeks – to take advantage of the best possible pricing. You should also find out if there are opportunities to save or special fares available.

Vacations can involve travel, adventure, learning new languages, making new friends, listening to music, trying new foods, and exploring other cultures. Studies have shown that people recharge more, retain the benefits of vacation more and remember the holiday more often when they are focused on experiences rather than souvenirs.

But, if you can’t afford to go far, or for a long time, don’t worry. Mini-vacations of 2-4 days can deliver the same benefits as an epic vacation, for much less cost. Doing something at low or no-cost, and close to home – typically called a stay-cation – can also provide you with the rest and relaxation of a destination vacation. Look for chances to extend a few days over weekends and take advantage of government-mandated vacations – such as statutory holidays.

How we vacation can also have a big effect on relaxation, refreshing and reconnecting

No matter how long you plan to be away, the destination can matter. Sticking to familiar places you’ve travelled to before can be great because you can get right to relaxing, knowing what to expect and where to go. But as one psychologist who studied the benefits of taking holidays explained, going somewhere new could be a bit better than returning to the same places because it, “get[s] [you] out of your comfort zone.”(10) He argues that uncertainty results in personal growth, deep thinking about personal interactions and learning about how to operate and interact in the world.

There is also increasing evidence suggesting that one of the best ways to reconnect and recharge is to spend time in natural surroundings. Activities like taking a 90-minute walk outside, barefoot, in a practice called “grounding,” helped people realize not just mental benefits, but also physical ones. “Ecotherapy” (a name given to a wide range of treatment programs which aim to improve your mental and physical well-being through outdoor activities in nature) has even been used to treat psychological problems. People can contribute to conservation projects, garden or work on organic farms.(11) Depending on where you are, you might even explore some balneotherapy – or natural hot springs – to reduce stress and relax. One clinical study documented the many benefits ranging from increased blood flow to improved brain function and reduction in anxiety and stress.(12) It’s even been proven that “simply watching nature films or listening to audio recordings of natural sounds can reduce stress.”(13) So, don’t worry if you experience some bad weather days, because you can cozy up in your hotel room watching nature videos or reading a book and recharge too.

These activities all have proven benefits and are low or no-cost ways to help recharge, even if just for a weekend.

Do you really need to take a vacation?

Over time, with everything we take on in our regular routines, we experience stress, and our brains become more cluttered an inefficient. As employees, we need to recharge. Taking a vacation is like helping your body reset its operating system.(14) But skipping vacations will “wreak havoc on your health and well-being.”(14)

  • Cardiovascular health (14)

A woman who hasn’t taken a vacation in six or more years is 8 times more likely to develop heart disease. Men who don’t take vacations have a 32% greater risk of suffering a serious heart attack.

  • Reaction Times (14)

Splitting attention spans between screens, conversations and also worrying about having enough time to get things done causes stress. “You lose the ability to pay attention

  • Stress (14)

Stress creates a physical response in that we hold a clenched stance and carry tension in our jaws because we are in a constant state of being ready to react. Vacations can take away the stressors, and your body can relax and return to a healthier state.

  • Loyalty, productivity, and job satisfaction (14)

People who use their vacation days are happier and less likely to leave their jobs. “For every 10 hours of vacation time taken, productivity improves 8%.”

So, what are you waiting for? Start planning your next vacation now and enjoy the shared experiences to come.


  1. Results of an APD Canada Study as cited in Jackman-Atkinson, K. (2018). It’s About Time: Canadians Not Taking Advantage of Full Paid Vacation. Neepawa Banner & Press. Retrieved on April 2, 2019 from https://www.chrisd.ca/2018/05/21/ vacation-time-canada-workers/#.XKQQGy3MylN
  2. Kashdan, T. (2018). The Mental Benefits of Vacationing Somewhere New.Harvard Business Review. Retrieved March 19, 2019 fromhttps://hbr.org/2018/01/the-mental-benefits-of-vacationing-somewhere-new
  3. Abedi, M. (2017). Here are the Canadian workers who are most vacation deprived— and why. Global News. Retrieved March 19, 2019 from https://globalnews.ca/ news/3835044/canadians-vacation-deprived-work-life-balance/
  4. ADP&Leger.(2019).Canadian workers stuck paying the Time Off Tax. [Infographic] Retrieved March 19, 2019 from https://www.adp.ca/-/media/Canada%202015/ press%20room/2018/TOT%20Dec2018/ADP_TimeOffTaskQ2_Infographic_EN_ FINAL.ashx?la=en-CA&hash=013A5C7B7397C8B561E26D28769B6FDFCB1E0361
  5. Li, W. (2018). Half of Canadians don’t get enough vacation, survey says. The Star Vancouver. Retrieved March 19, 2019 from https://www.thestar.com/ vancouver/2018/11/02/half-of-canadians-dont-get-enough-vacation-survey-says.html
  6. ADP&Leger.(2019).CanadianworkersstuckpayingtheTimeOff Tax. [Infographic] Retrieved March 19, 2019 from https://www.adp.ca/-/media/Canada%202015/ press%20room/2018/TOT%20Dec2018/ADP_TimeOffTaskQ2_Infographic_EN_ FINAL.ashx?la=en-CA&hash=013A5C7B7397C8B561E26D28769B6FDFCB1E0361
  7. Cision.(2018).MorethanHalfofWorkingCanadiansSufferingfromthe“TimeOff Tax”. Newswire. Retrieved March 19, 2019 from https://www.newswire.ca/news- releases/more-than-half-of-working-canadians-suffering-from-the-time-off-tax-703118721.html
  8. Li, W. (2018). Half of Canadians don’t get enough vacation, survey says. The Star Vancouver. Retrieved March 19, 2019 from https://www.thestar.com/ vancouver/2018/11/02/half-of-canadians-dont-get-enough-vacation-survey-says. html
  9. Weller, C. (2017). There’s a scientific reason why 2-week vacations are actually a waste. Business Insider. Retrieved on March 19, 2019 from https://www. businessinsider.com/how-long-should-i-travel-2017-7
  10. Kashdan, T. (2018). The Mental Benefits of Vacationing Somwhere New.Harvard Business Review. Retrieved on March 19, 2019 from https://hbr.org/2018/01/ the-mental-benefits-of-vacationing-somewhere-new
  11. Haas, S. (2018). Nature can help you have a better vacation, according to a travel psychologist.The Points Guy.Retrieved March 19, 2019 fromhttps://thepointsguy. com/guide/have-a-better-vacation-in-nature-travel-psychology/
  12. Rapoliené et al. (2015). The Reduction of Distress Using Therapeutic Geothermal WaterProceduresinaRandomizedControlledClinicalTrial.Hindawi:Advancesin Preventative Medicine. Retrieved on March 19, 2019 from https://www.hindawi. com/journals/apm/2015/749417/
  13. Haas, S. (2018). Nature can help you have a better vacation, according to a travel psychologist. The Points Guy. Retrieved March 19,2019 fromhttps://thepointsguy. com/guide/have-a-better-vacation-in-nature-travel-psychology/
  14. Degges-White, S. (2018). You Really Do “Need” a Vacation. Psychology Today. Retrieved on March 19, 2019 fromhttps://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/ lifetime-connections/201807/you-really-do-need-vacation


The Invisible Wounds of Mental Health Disorders

The Invisible Wounds of Mental Health Disorders


Mental health disorders often strike in two ways. On one hand there are the symptoms, the distress, and the disabilities caused by serious mental health disorders. On the other, are the impacts of stigma and the pain that people struggling with these disorders feel as a result of social disapproval. In both cases, the strikes leave invisible wounds.

Invisibility, at first, may be considered a magic power to those experiencing symptoms of mental health disorders. Because one can hide them, and nobody will notice, right? Like the monster under our childhood bed, it will just disappear, right?

Wrong. In fact, signs and symptoms will likely just grow even bigger until they can no longer be hidden.

In this article, we’ll be looking at:

  • Stigma and its detrimental effect on seeking help
  • Coping mechanisms and the negative outcomes of not seeking help
  • How to detect mental health distress in a colleague or employee
  • How to open up the conversation about mental health in the workplace
  • Strategies on how to fight stigma in the workplace

To help shed some light on those issues, we’ve asked the expert advice of Dr. Sandra Primiano, a psychologist who serves as Homewood Health’s Senior Director for the Homewood Clinics.

The Monster Under Bill’s Desk

Let’s bring in Bill as a fictional character for the illustrative purposes of today’s read. Bill has a mental health disorder. Other than that, who’s Bill? He could be your colleague, your employee, your friend. Bill could even be you. He could really be anybody as no one is immune from experiencing a mental health disorder and the corresponding challenges.

Mental health disorders arise from a complex interaction of genetic, biological, personal and environmental factors. Mental illnesses affect people of all cultures, ages, education and income levels. Yet, specific risk factors do exist. They include a family history of mental illness, age, sex, substance abuse, chronic diseases, workplace, and life event stresses (2). But then again, the vast majority of people have been subject to risk factors.

Nevertheless, the stigma factor brings in many reasons for Bill to hide his mood swings, energy loss, rising anxiety and the many other wounds that manifest themselves inside his mind and body. Within the workplace environment, where the pressures of performance are high, temptation to hide the wounds are equally high.

That means many, like Bill, will try to hide the monster under their desks. In 2015, the Financial Post headlined that more than half of employees who are living with a mental health disorder do not seek help (3). Similar results have been obtained in studies on white-collar workers and the utilization of an Employee Assistance Program (EAP). One study found that employees were worried that their managers would have a negative opinion of them if they were aware of their use of mental-health services (4). Moreover, employees were reluctant to use counseling services at work if they believed it would negatively affect their career opportunities (5).

Stigma can be defined as a mark of shame, disgrace or disapproval which results in an individual being rejected, discriminated against, and excluded from participating in a number of different areas of society.

Source:
World Health Organization

Who could blame them? Even psychiatrists are reluctant to divulge, as 50% of 567 psychiatrists surveyed by the Michigan Psychiatric Society admitted that they would treat themselves in secrecy rather than have mental illness recorded on their medical chart (6).

As Dr. Primiano says: “All that fear of judgement, and then the repercussions: could I lose my job, maybe my team will think I’m unfit. I think there are so many barriers linking to fear of judgement and then self-judgement. Why do I feel like this? None of my colleagues have these kinds of problems, I’m a bad professional, and I must be terrible. You add all of this judgement to whatever you may be feeling and it ends up being a very bad situation.”

Indeed. People living with mental health challenges and illnesses and those who care for them report that stigma and discrimination negatively impact almost every area of their lives and can frequently be more harmful than the illness itself (7).

The Coping Mechanisms

But what happens if Bill doesn’t seek help?

“Depends on what your issues are,” says Dr. Primiano. “Some people can have a natural recovery when they have stable personalities, no childhood adverse experiences, and good support as they may get through certain issues that have come up with family and friends. Without those protective factors,” she says “they’re at a high risk of experiencing numerous negative consequences to themselves.”

With the gradual impact of depression, for example, an employee might be coping and coping until they can’t cope anymore. Coping mechanisms might be positive, such as seeking a support network outside the workplace, but if the network is weak, the issues too severe, then coping mechanisms might include damaging behaviours, such as denial, rationalization, workaholism, or self-medication through alcohol and drug abuse. Different people will react in different ways to similar issues.

“For example, if you look at the veteran population,” says Dr. Primiano, “50% have alcohol use disorders, why? Because they’re self-medicating symptoms that they can’t get rid of. So there’s a high incidence of substance abuse disorders in people who suffer from PTSD and anxiety disorders as well.”

How to Detect Mental Health Distress in a Colleague or Employee

Let’s get back to Bill. He’s feeling increasing pain and suffering from the wounds of mental illness. But he doesn’t talk. No one seems to notice. You’re his colleague. How can you notice that’s something’s wrong?

“You might not notice symptoms but you may notice behaviours, says Dr. Primiano. If we focus on a workplace environment, we see a lot of absenteeism or people’s productivity can go down. There can be issues with concentration, memory and you’ve got to repeat things many times. Other things colleagues and managers can notice, but they don’t know what it’s related to, are changes in people’s personality, for example, shifting from someone who’s generally friendly and good-humored to having angry outbursts or appearing suddenly anxious.”

Some of these signs can be subtle, she mentions, such as leaving the room suddenly in a meeting.

Dr. Primiano adds that those are things to pay attention to as a colleague or as a manager as it gives an opportunity to start the conversation that will put an end to Bill’s isolation. But how to go about it?

How to Open up the Conversation About Mental Health in the Workplace

Dr. Primiano suggests starting that conversation openly, such as “I noticed those behaviours and I wanted to check in with you. We all have off days… How is it going?”

That can give them the opportunity to open up or share something in terms of their well-being, their mental health, which could allow you to guide them to resources such as an employer’s EFAP (Employee & Family Assistance Program). It lets them know it’s a safe place and that this person is open to me talking about this…

From a manager’s perspective, while starting the conversation doesn’t mean Bill is going to share, Dr. Primiano argues it’s more likely to occur than if you open by saying: “Why aren’t you performing well?… That needs to change, get your numbers up!”

Preparation for that talk is key, as linking an employee’s health to performance issues or behaviours in the workplace can be a very delicate matter to tackle. It’s essential to maintain an employee’s privacy. Managers cannot ask about one’s mental health, the conversation must focus on performance issues and/or concerns. Firstly, you should get informed about the resources, accommodations and processes your organization can offer an employee in distress. Then, when approaching a colleague or employee, make the best use of your interpersonal skills to help the person feel safe and comfortable and don’t forget to value the person’s strengths as a person and contributions as an employee. And of course, encourage the person to seek help (8).

There are some things to stay away from, such as delivering a pep talk; finger pointing; saying you’ve been there unless you really have in a way the person can relate to; labeling an issue as a specific diagnosis; invading someone’s privacy about the underlying causes of issues. The focus should be on listening and finding solutions (8).

“Of course, a person may not be ready to open up and may not acknowledge mental health challenges right away,” says Dr. Primiano. “The reaction might be strong and defensive. If this happens, just back off. At least, you will have planted a seed.” It’s essential to note these conversations are private and further action must be at the direction of the colleague, employee, friend or Bill, as illustrated in our discussion, unless there is an underlying risk of harm to the person and/or their immediate family members.

Kharoll Ann Fouffrant, a social worker specializing in gender and woman’s studies, knows a thing or two about stigma, being a black woman living with a mental health disorder. She says: “People perceive me as being strong even though I talk openly about having a mental illness. That being said, when I have a rough day and express it, people don’t seem to take it seriously. Or if they do, often I end up having to manage the person’s discomfort while I’m the one needing help.”

The open conversation about mental health is indeed important, and not only when the going gets tough.

Strategies on how to fight stigma in the workplace

Studies have shown that contact strategies (fostering positive interactions with people disclosing lived experiences of mental illness) yield the best results in fighting stigma, especially when it comes to changes in behaviour.

While education strategies, such as campaigns aimed at debunking myths about mental illness, might have some impact on attitude, their effect on behaviour is limited (9). Different conditions can improve the effectiveness of contact strategies (10), such as:

  • Treating the person as an equal;
  • Giving the individual the opportunity to interact and exchange ideas about mental health and recovery;
  • Sharing common goals.

Those conditions can be established in the workplace. One way is to encourage peer support by offering a safe place for employees having recovered from mental illness to share their stories. For Dr. Primiano, it makes sense because one is more likely to open up in such an environment. “They will trust and connect with people who understand them because they have been through similar things and are able to guide them.”

But in the end, good services and resources have to be in place for Bill, or anyone, to seek help.


References

  1. Corrigan, P. et R.K. Lundin (2014) Coming out proud to eliminate the stigma of mental illness. Illinois. USA. Link: http://comingoutproudprogram.org/files/COP%20Resou…
  2. Public Health Agency of Canada’s website. Link: https://www.canada.ca/en/public-health/services/ch…
  3. Link: https://business.financialpost.com/executive/caree…
  4. Walton L. Exploration of the attitudes of employees towards the provision of counselling within a profit-making organisation. Couns Psychother Res. 2003;3(1):65–71. Link: https://onlinelibrary.wiley.com/doi/abs/10.1080/14…
  5. Carroll M. Workplace counselling: a systematic approach to employee care. London: Sage; 1996. Link: https://books.google.ca/
  6. Myers, M. (2001). Presidential address to the Canadian Psychiatric Association. New century: Overcoming stigma, respecting differences. Source: Mood Disorders Society of Canada (2006) Stigma: The Hidden Killer. Link: http://www.troubleshumeur.ca/documents/Publication…
  7. Mental Health Commission of Canada (2015) Guidelines for Recovery-Oriented Practice. Link: https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/sites/defaul…
  8. Mental Health Works’ website. Link: http://www.mentalhealthworks.ca/how-can-i-approach…
  9. Corrigan, P. W. and A. K. Matthews. (2003) Stigma and disclosure: Implications for coming out of the closet ». Journal of Mental Health, 12(3), 235-248. Link : https://www.researchgate.net/publication/232073439…
  10. Groupe provincial sur la stigmatisation et la discrimination en santé mentale (GPS-SM). (2014) Cadre de référence : La lutte contre la stigmatisation et la discrimination associées aux problèmes de santé mentale au Québec. Link : https://aqrp-sm.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/04/cad…


Addiction and Recovery: Insights from Homewood Alumni

Addiction and Recovery: Insights from Homewood Alumni


When you’ve lived with addiction and had the courage to get treatment, by working through your obstacles, you usually end up facing life lessons and gaining life experience that is often relatable to persons in similar situations and useful for those who are unaware of the challenges that addiction brings.

Interestingly enough, two aspects that almost always surface are: 1) how someone’s family has played an important part in their recovery journey and 2) how redeeming it’s been to learn about the science of addiction.

In this article, we’ll hear from some Homewood Alumni who have generously agreed to share their insights and key learnings when facing their addictions. We’ll also hear from Dr. Michael Berry, Clinical Director at Homewood Health’s Ravensview treatment facility in Victoria B.C., an expert who guides individuals on the path to recovery and helps people write new chapters focused on their healing and attainment of sustained sobriety. When stories are shared with such honesty and transparency, they can radiate hope and help others who may be early in their recovery journeys or who are experiencing some setbacks along the way.

Family Ties

Like other diseases, addiction can have a profound effect on your own life, but equally so for family members and others that you care about. There is a certain measure of complexity with their involvement in securing a recovery path: family members often have significant influence in helping you find your way to treatment, and they also need to learn about addiction as a disease and be well supported to understand that recovery is a life-long process.

Research has shown that stress is a significant risk factor and catalyst for “activating” an addiction (1). Living with a family member who has an addiction can upset relationship dynamics, and this often stresses the family to the breaking point as the addiction takes a stronger hold on their lives (2). As much as the addicted person is often using an addictive substance like alcohol to cope, family members can unknowingly take on certain dysfunctional behaviour patterns to help them deal with what is happening to their loved one, and become part of the addiction ecosystem.

Dr. Michael Berry emphasizes the importance that Homewood’s inpatient programs place on exploring these types of stress-response roles within family systems and the interactions they precipitate as part of the recovery process. “There’s the addict, the enabler, the peacekeeper, and the black sheep to name a few,” he says. He went on to describe a popular and very practical model used to help patients, a social network diagram that places the addicted person in the middle, and then spreads out people they care about in concentric circles according to who they are closest to. It helps people visualize the relationships, the dynamics and the vulnerabilities that are all around them to help make peace and make choices.

James, a Homewood alumnus who in June celebrated four years of sobriety, spoke about how much he wanted to move away from his alcoholism but was fearful. A combination of help from his employer in the form of a “last chance,” his girlfriend at the time (now his wife), and his father brought him into the program:

I had shown up to work and shouldn’t have been there. My girlfriend was under so much stress, and she was also an enabler for my alcoholism. My employer told me that I needed to get treatment, starting immediately, because as a first responder, I couldn’t perform my job safely and while they had been patient with me, my job was now on the line. So, even though I was worried about being away for 30 days, I agreed to go to Homewood. My girlfriend reassured me that she would take care of everything at the house, and I should “just go!”. It was very hard. While she was relieved that I was going to be getting treatment, she cried every single night I was away. That day, I needed to tell my parents about my alcoholism because I needed their help to get to Homewood. I was terrified of their reaction. The people at Homewood spent two hours with my dad, talking to him about addiction and explaining about how it was a disease and how my recovery was going to start as long as I was willing to participate. That really opened up his eyes and helped him understand.

I was in treatment for 35 days and a lot of the work I did there set me up to see the value of experiences. I was able to bring my parents in for picnics, I immersed myself in all of the activities to get the most I could from my time there. For the first time in my life, I learned how to talk to the people I cared about and how to listen. Homewood had some of the best meetings I have ever been to. The videos they showed us of other first responders made me realize I wasn’t alone and that there was a way forward. In the end, all of the right people were in the right places at the right times for me. This time was a chance for me to reset my life, not pick up a drink, and not be stressed. It was the start of a lot of really hard work that helped me learn how to be accountable for who I was.

Dr. Berry believes that family conferences are critical during the entire course of someone attending an inpatient program. They help address the blame that people affected by addiction can feel. Meetings emphasize how recovery is about treating the whole person rather than just the disease, an important distinction that recognizes the biological and environmental influences inherent with addiction. Dr. Berry further indicated that alcoholism can be passed from one generation to the next and that children of alcoholics move through the stages of addiction more rapidly. Having information about the science of addiction can generally help everyone move forward in recovery.

Addiction is a Disease

It’s essential to recognize that addiction is a disease caused by a combination of behavioural, environmental and biological factors that actually change someone’s brain (3). And while Homewood’s Dr. Michael Berry agrees that research has shown there are genetic links – some studies report that genetic risk factors account for about half of the likelihood that an individual will develop addiction – he focusses on a model where someone’s genetic predisposition might be activated through stress (4) that ties to the neuro-biological elements of the brain that are on the lookout for rewards (through addictive substances) to get relief and feel satisfied.

Our Brain on Drugs

Different addictive substances – drugs or alcohol — affect the brain’s neurotransmitters within the body by mimicking chemicals that are naturally produced there. Unfortunately, they aren’t exact copies of natural brain chemicals. While these imposters work, they don’t actually send the same messages that the natural chemicals would. And each substance affects different parts of the brain in their own way. As a result, the body receives abnormal messages in a kind of broken telephone game, and sometimes too many messages create over-activated circuitry that causes disruptions in our thinking and makes it hard for the natural chemicals to regain control over the processes (5).

Substance abuse changes our brains over time because we learn that these substances feed the pleasure-seeking part of our brain and cause it to release dopamine as a reward. Our brains respond favourably, by learning that something important is happening and needs to be remembered. The brain makes it easier to achieve this feeling again without having to think about it because it changes neural connections, forming a habit. It’s these large surges of dopamine brought on by substance abuse that teach the brain to seek drugs at the expense of other healthier goals and activities.

Ridding the body of the addictive substances that are mimicking naturally produced brain chemicals is key to starting recovery, but is also very dangerous if not done correctly. Gillian, another Homewood alumnus, shared her lifelong struggle with substance abuse and how not having the right supports available to her early on affected her recovery journey.

I’ve struggled with my physical and emotional health for over 35 years. Early on, I was prescribed morphine for a painful health condition. I found I was staying in the hospital up to four days per month. I supplemented this with alcohol. I needed treatment and came to Homewood for help. It was scary. After two days, I called my husband because I wanted to go home. On the fourth day, I had a seizure. I completed five weeks of treatment and was done with the morphine. Unfortunately, I returned to alcohol within three months. I would start drinking in the morning and blackout by early evening. I wouldn’t eat all day, but I would wake up hungry and try and eat something.

I was fighting with my son and decided that I couldn’t keep this lifestyle, so I went back to Homewood after 3 or 4 months. This time, I opened up and maintained my sobriety for eight years. I got a new doctor who in the process of learning about my health, ordered a full medication review and took me off everything. I became very sick and actually spent 12 days in the hospital. I lost 30 pounds in 7 weeks and started to experience panic and anxiety. The only thing I could keep down was two meal replacements a day. I was actually detoxing.

Science continues to look for different ways to treat addiction, everything from new forms of aversion therapy where long-term doses of medication are implanted in a recovering patient’s skin that cause the person to vomit if they drink, to investigating medications that can prevent people from falling prey to unseen triggers (6). While this research is interesting and in some cases, promising, Dr. Berry states that the combination of pharmacological treatment; psychotherapy, such as CBT (Cognitive Behavioural Therapy); and alternative therapies such as art, horticultural, and music therapy have clinically proven to produce the best results for many people. This model is grounded in Homewood’s philosophy of treating the whole person and not just the disease. Gillian agrees that a more holistic approach is better in the long run, “Alcohol is so much more than drinking – a pill wouldn’t change things for me. Quick fixes are easy but not the most effective and they don’t help me clear the wreckage of my past”.

A Model for Sustainable Recovery

Recovery is a lifelong process and takes effort. While addiction is not a choice, recovery from addiction is. The path to recovery improves work, finances, family life and health and uses many different pathways … including professional treatment services, informal supports and support groups (7).

Both James and Gillian attest to how helpful a wide variety of supports are, especially peer support groups such as Alcoholics Anonymous (AA). Talking to people and sharing their stories continues to be a big part of their recovery journeys. Planning for and being aware of what may cause relapses allows James to be proactive and not hold stress about this. He embraced many tools learned from Homewood, AA and keeping connected with his sponsor such as journaling, time management, and maintaining a regular routine.

Dr. Berry agrees that an action plan should cover a broad range of supports that ultimately, puts the emphasis on experiencing an engaging and gratifying life filled with meaning, purpose and fulfillment. In the end, if those things are missing, and a person is disengaged with the activities of life because they are so focused on the addiction, the journey has no point.

The Basics for an Addiction Recovery Plan (8)

  1. Stay engaged with your recovery and treatment.
  2. Attend to basic responsibilities – these will help you stay on track
  3. Make a relapse checklist where you:
    a. List your triggers
    b. List tools that you have that can help you stay grounded when in stressful or encountering triggers
    c. List people in your support network who you should contact
  4. Prioritize self-care, healthy relationships and remember to celebrate all achievements, no matter how small.
    a. Avoid negativity and have honest conversations with yourself
    b. It may mean changing jobs
    c. Ask yourself if you are focused on what you want to be doing, and if you feel supported.
    d. Stay connected to formal programs.

Recovery may also have you confronting relationships that are not safe and leave you wrestling with some of the choices you have to make about whether connections and contacts you have need to be altered, adjusted or avoided. “It’s not easy, and it requires candid conversations. Sometimes we can manage these as part of therapy, but other times it’s going to happen outside of it,” says Dr. Berry.

Gillian recognizes how difficult that can be. She lives with her husband, who is a first responder, in a community where drinking is one of the main activities everyone does. “We have golf-carts where we drive around the condos, and everyone is always outside with a drink in their hands,” she said. Even her husband jokes that he needs to slow down – but he isn’t ready to do that himself yet. That’s one of the toughest things Gillian has to deal with since reminders and triggers are literally right on her doorstep. Through her work with Homewood, she recognizes those vulnerabilities, and also sees how different aspects of the programming she has benefited from over the years would help others she cares about too – from neighbours to her husband and her children”. She keeps on track by, “accepting the recovery rules, taking it a minute at a time and going with the flow.” She realizes that things won’t happen overnight and that continuing to attend daily recovery-focused meetings and practicing her faith helps her deal with the challenges she faces in the environment. She is also looking at getting back into volunteering and becoming more involved in service for others in recovery to help her find things she can be proud of accomplishing.

James, too, is working towards becoming a certified peer support to help other first responders confront their own situations and addictions courageously. He spoke about the pressures of being part of the culture within his profession – where there are a lot of people with big personalities who are controlling, and where socializing can be hard. “It’s a tough place to be sometimes, but I’m trying to be the better version of me that I know I have to,” he said. It’s for himself, but also his (now) wife, and their two young daughters. What he does differently now is talk with honesty and purpose, to everyone who will listen, and cultivate positive experiences and spaces at home, at AA, and at work.

Dr. Berry adds that kindness and self-compassion, understanding blame, and accepting accountability for all of your actions should be paramount in any recovery plan too because while you’re, “not solely responsible for all of the problems you face, you are ultimately responsible for the solutions.”


References

(1) Heshmat, Sharhram, Ph.D. (2017, May 10). Stress and Addiction, Psychology Today. Retrieved on June 19, 2019 from https://www.psychologytoday.com/ca/blog/science-ch…

(2) Alvernia University (n.d.), Coping With Addiction: 6 Dysfunctional Family Roles. Retrieved on June 19, 2019 from https://online.alvernia.edu/infographics/coping-wi…

(3) Centre on Addiction (n.d.) Addiction As A Disease: The Disease Model of Addiction. Centre on Addiction website. Retrieved on June 19, 2019 from https://www.centeronaddiction.org/what-addiction/a…

(4) Centre on Addiction (n.d.) Addiction As A Disease: The Disease Model of Addiction. Centre on Addiction website. Retrieved on June 19, 2019 from https://www.centeronaddiction.org/what-addiction/a…

(5) National Institute on Drug Abuse (n.d.) Drugs and the Brain. Drugs, Brains and Behaviour: The Science of Addiction. Retrieved on June 19, 2019 from https://www.drugabuse.gov/publications/drugs-brain…

(6) Smith, Fran. (2017) How Science Is Unlocking the Secrets of Addiction. National Geographic Magazine, Online. Retrieved June 19, 2019 from https://www.nationalgeographic.com/magazine/2017/0…

(7) Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction (CCSA).(2019) Life in Recovery from Addiction in Canada. Report at a Glance. Retrieved June 19, 2019 from https://www.ccsa.ca/sites/default/files/2019-04/CC…

(8) Futures Recovery Healthcare (2018, October 29). 10 Tips For Creating A Sustainable Addiction Recovery Plan. Creating An Addiction Recovery Plan after Rehab. Retrieved on June 19, 2019 from https://futuresrecoveryhealthcare.com/knowledge-ce…


Healthy Habits: Actions to Recovery

Healthy Habits: Actions to Recovery


When we feel safe, secure and well connected to our families and people within our communities, we develop a sense of belonging and an understanding of who we are. These attributes allow us to have confidence in our actions and enable us to live our lives in ways that are satisfying and meaningful. In short, we create a baseline for what good mental health feels like.

In contrast, when we’re overwhelmed and/or looking to solidify our relationships and roles, we can experience mental health challenges that create further disconnectedness and detachment. Treatment and therapy are a key component of the critical support needed to re-establish the baseline of feeling well, which leads to healing, but there are also actions we can undertake to compliment and encourage sustainable recovery.

The process of recovering your mental health helps you find the parts of yourself that were lost; helps you learn about what makes you strong and where you are most vulnerable; encourages you to accept support from people who care about you; and shows you ways that you can create a life focused on positive interactions. Recovery from a period of poor or challenging mental health isn’t instant, and it’s something that will always be with you: “It is important to remember that recovery is not synonymous with cure.” (1) Remember to be kind to yourself along your journey and include, “hope, dignity, self-determination and responsibility.” (2)

What does recovery look like?

For recovery to be successful, you need to embrace actions that will help you heal. The personalized care you receive is going to help you learn about and create a positive sense of self. There is no single service or solution, therapy or treatment that will improve everyone’s mental health, because everyone is different. There are however, things you can do to help find what feels right for you:

  • Accept and understand that you are receiving personalized care that is going to help you create a “positive identity outside of being a person with [a mental health disorder].” (3) Developing an understanding that you are not defined by the labels of any diagnosis you receive: you are a whole person, which embodies all of your characteristics and traits surpassing those tied to your medical diagnosis.
    • Be willing to accept help, recognizing that your current health, your social interactions and quality of life can be improved.
    • Be prepared to trust that the people developing your personalized recovery plan see you as an individual and will be putting supports in place that will help you given your individual situation and needs.
    • Find and hold onto hope. It’s an essential part of recovery that helps to keep you motivated and focused during recovery.
  • Recognize you will be involved in making choices that support your best recovery path and allow yourself to take responsibility for as much as you can in your life.
    • Be willing to learn and accept that you will regain control in your life. Part of your treatment may help you identify things that have been harmful in your past and acknowledge how these may not be helpful as a part of your recovery. Instead, you may be encouraged to try new things with the support of the professionals and people who care about you. You’ll enter into the healing process with insight and begin to develop definitions to build self-worth and self-esteem.You will see how you fit into the world, your contributions, and understand how and why you matter.
    • As you recover, you will begin to recognize warning signs that indicate you may be moving backwards or reverting to previous harmful actions and behaviours. Identify your behaviours and moods that signal a shift in how you are thinking. With time, you will learn to see and acknowledge signs that you need to seek help and guidance, which will allow you to avoid risks that may result in a crisis.

Here’s a small list of common warning signs that many people experience when faced with mounting mental health challenges. It’s important to note that warning signs will differ between individuals. The signs noted below may also be attributed to physical health concerns. If you notice things starting to break down, you may want to consult your primary care physician or a counsellor: (4)

  1. Being angry at people who you care about
  2. Confusion, forgetfulness or thinking that is not clear
  3. Crying and not being able to stop
  4. Experiencing physical symptoms that are not usually present (excessive tiredness, lack of appetite, heart palpitations)
  5. Feeling overwhelmed and that you can’t go on
  6. Lack of motivation
  7. Wanting to withdraw and avoid people

Recovery doesn’t happen without your input and involvement

Your involvement in defining your recovery journey is key because it is so personalized. The professionals who are supporting you are only one element. Your mental and physical health are often affected in some capacity, and treatment options will look at all aspects of your health. A combination of mental and physical treatments are the best approach to securing and maintaining achievements during recovery. That means your care may involve pharmacological treatment, psychological therapy and physical care (exercise and diet).

  • As you acquire knowledge and an understanding of the help being provided, you will contribute to the creation of how you want to define what feeling well means to you, which, in turn, allows you to offer insights and choices about your care.
    • Think about the kinds of activities you enjoy when you are well. Do you like to cook, read or exercise?
    • Determine what feels meaningful with respect to the activities you feel comfortable participating in during your recovery.
    • You may want to work with your caregivers to create a personal plan for mental health to help your caregivers understand when they should intervene, what your care preferences are during a crisis, and how and when to recognize that you feel comfortable in resuming full control. Having a documented plan can make things more transparent for everyone involved and ensure your wishes are articulated during times when you may need more help.
  • During recovery, it’s import to have the right attitude towards sharing information, communicating and embracing care partnerships.
    • There may be some hesitation; however, sharing relevant information will help the people who are caring for you understand what your wants and needs are during recovery and will ensure synchronized and well executed transitions of your care requirements.
    • Be willing to learn more about yourself, your strengths and vulnerabilities, your family relationships and your friendships. Observe and identify how these interactions relate to your mental health when you are well and when you are in need of more support or are ill. This knowledge creates valuable meaning that can help you address your past and can help you define and reinforce positive choices in your care plan.
  • Another important action is your willingness to regularly re-evaluate where you are within your recovery journey with honesty and courage.
    • There are many tools you can explore to help you with this aspect of recovery. Review questions and contemplate scenarios that help you assess how you are feeling and set goals for yourself that allow you to track your progress.
    • Realize that your recovery effort is ongoing. The work needed may diminish with time, however it will never finish. Recognize this is a positive thing. Looking at your adversities through a recovery lens will help you find balance and a fulfilling life. As you gain more insight and the ability to recognize your signs of crisis, you will learn when you need to invoke a different degree of care. You can regain control of and manage your mental health.

Some questions you may ask yourself to assess your current mental health and help set goals(3)

  1. What keeps you going?
  2. How would you like your life to be different?
  3. What are your dreams now? How have they changed?
  4. How have you previously moved through tough times in your life? What was helpful? What would you have done differently?
  5. What positive ways have you changed or grown as a person?
  6. What things have you done or how have you behaved that made you feel really proud of yourself?
  7. What would give your life more meaning and make it more enjoyable?
  8. When did you last have fun?
  9. What would someone who knew you really well say about you? What would you like them to say?

The Principles of Recovery

There aren’t a prescribed set of steps to follow for mental health recovery. Instead, it’s based on self-discovery, acceptance, personal growth, working through occasional setbacks and learning from all of these experiences. Having a “holistic, person- centered approach to mental health care,” where recovery focusses on every aspect of your life is crucial. (5) That means looking at you (both mind and body), your spirit, and your community. Knowing that “It is possible to recover from a mental health condition and the most effective recovery is patient-directed”5 helps provide a framework for how you can live your life fully and successfully. Working to build upon your strengths and define your purpose with respectful, responsible and supportive care, plus receiving positive reinforcement through social relationships, support groups, family and friends will help you develop confidence and become more comfortable over time. Don’t rush and don’t look at repeating steps as defeat. It’s all part of a healthy recovery experience.


References:

  1. Jacobson and Greenley, 2001, p.482 (as cited in Principles of recovery oriented mental health practice) Government of Australia Health website. Retrieved on May 6, 2019 from https://www.health.gov.au/internet/main/publishing…
  2. Mental Health Commission of Canada (n.d.) What is Recovery? Retrieved on May 6, 2019 from https://www.mentalhealthcommission.ca/English/what…
  3. Slade. M. Dr., (2009). 100 ways to support recovery. Rethink Report – Canadian Mental Healh Association (CMHA). Retrieved on May 6, 2019 from https://toronto.cmha.ca/ wp-content/uploads/2016/07/100-ways-to-support-recovery-Rethink.pdf
  4. Copeland, M.E. (n.d) Webinar: Avoiding a crisis – When Things are Breaking Down. Wellness Recovery Action Plan (WRAP) Mental Health Recovery (website). Retrieved on May 6, 2019 from https://mentalhealthrecovery.com/webinar-avoiding-…
  5. Lyon, S. (2018, May 7). The Recovery Model. very well mind. Retrieved on May 18, 2019 from https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-the-recovery-…


Official Opening Ceremony for Homewood Ravensview

Official Opening Ceremony for Homewood Ravensview


Last week was a big one for us here at Ravensview.  Not only did we open our doors to our first clients on Monday, but we welcomed over 90 guests to Ravensview on Tuesday for our official grand opening ceremony.

I had the honor of hosting the ceremony with an exceptional group of speakers including former Governor General of Canada, the Right Honorable David Johnston as well as the Honorable Bob Rae, Regional BC Chief Terry Teegee, Shelagh Rogers, CBC Host and University of Victoria Chancellor, Chief Rebecca David of the Pauquachin First Nation and Jagoda Pike, President and CEO of Homewood Health.

The ceremony also included talks from former Homewood alumni, and local community representatives, Adam Olsen (MLA) and Geoff Orr (Mayor of North Saanich).

Situated in our third floor relaxation lounge, the vista that stretched before all of us was a stunning reminder of how connected we are to the land that Ravensview sits upon.  Pauquachin elder Curtis Henry brought this to life telling the story of the great flood from thousands of years ago where our mountain was a place of refuge, as it continues to be today, with Homewood helping those in need.

Described by many of those that attended the ceremony as being “magical”, there wasn’t a dry eye in the house when Chief Rebecca presented Jagoda Pike with a hand carved canoe, a symbol from the story of the mountain and representing our four years of partnership and collaboration.

As we begin this great new chapter, I’m thankful for all the truly amazing people we have working at Ravensview. I’ve been doing this a long time and the 50 staff we have onsite here are dedicated, passionate and not to mention, the absolute best in their fields.  I can’t tell you the number of clients that have already commented on how welcome they feel as well as well taken care of – from our chef to our therapists.

After two solid years bringing Ravensview to life, last week was full of the reasons why we’ve been working so hard – seeing clients ready to get better, the relief from family members knowing we’re here to help and being able to explain to people why what we do is so different from anywhere else.

Robert de Clark

General Manager, Homewood Ravensview


June is National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Month

June is National Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder Month


PTSD does not discriminate; it can affect anyone regardless of their age, gender, or race.

Recent statistics from the Ministry of Veterans Affairs indicate PTSD as the second leading mental health disorder within the Canadian Armed Forces, with incident rates doubling between 2002 and 2013. However, PTSD is not limited to our military and soldiers. It can affect anyone who has experienced or witnessed a traumatic event.

Trauma is the Greek word for “wound”. While the Greeks used the term for physical injuries, trauma can also mean emotional and psychological wounds.

Trauma can refer to the traumatic event and the subsequent emotional and psychological injury. PTSD refers to a set of symptoms, which can be diagnosed as the condition of PTSD when the after effects of the trauma don’t go away within a specific time period.

What is PTSD?

Post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) is the psychological reaction to emotional trauma. This could include responses to powerful one-time incidents or chronic/repetitive experiences.

Examples of One Time Experiences:

Accidents, natural disasters, crimes, surgeries, death, other violent events

Examples of Chronic/Repetitive Experiences:

Child abuse, neglect, military combat, urban or domestic violence

Who is at risk?

PTSD does not discriminate; it can affect anyone regardless of their age, gender or race. PTSD is brought on by experiencing or witnessing a traumatic, often life-threatening event. At particular risk are individuals who work in occupations where they are repeatedly exposed to trauma under high levels of stress. Also at risk are people who experience trauma in childhood and people with a family history of mental illness and addictions.

Symptoms of PTSD

The ramifications of a traumatic event may be felt immediately, but PTSD is not diagnosed unless the symptoms last more than one month. Symptoms include:

Re-experiencing Symptoms

Often, people who suffer from PTSD will relive the traumatic event. This can present in different ways, including upsetting memories which can be triggered by a reminder. For instance, when a combat officer hears a car backfire and it reminds them of gunshots, or when an assault victim sees a news report and is reminded of their own experience. Once triggered, memories can cause the sufferer to react in physical and emotional ways similar to those experienced during the original event.

Avoidance and Numbing Symptoms

Individuals with PTSD may go out of their way to avoid certain triggers. They may not want to return to the site of the experience, and there might be sights, sounds or smells they will avoid. They may even stop watching TV programs that remind them of their experience.

In order to numb themselves, people with PTSD may have a hard time getting in touch with their feelings or expressing them. They may isolate themselves from others, and stop taking part in activities they once enjoyed.

Arousal Symptoms

People suffering with PTSD may feel they are in a constant state of emotional arousal. This can cause them to feel abnormally alert, resulting in difficulty sleeping, irritability and difficulty concentrating. They may feel as though they are “on guard” and searching for signs of danger at all times. This can lead to substance abuse to either heighten or dull their arousal.

Changes in Mood and Cognition

A traumatic event can result in people altering their beliefs about themselves or the world around them. People suffering from PTSD may start blaming themselves or others, and saying things such as “I should have done more” or

“People in authority can’t be trusted.” They will have a persistent low mood and decreased enjoyment of things they once enjoyed.

How can I support my loved one who suffers from PTSD?

When a family member or close friend suffers from PTSD, it can be overwhelming for family, friends and others close to the individual. It’s hard to understand the changes in behaviour, and it may feel like the individual is less affectionate or angry with you. In turn, you may be frustrated taking on more responsibilities, when the individual suffering is unable to do things they use to do. Try not to take it personally, and remember these do’s and don’ts for living with someone who suffers from PTSD:

DO

  • Be patient
  • Educate yourself on PTSD
  • Be a good listener
  • Express your commitment to your relationship
  • Minimize stress at home
  • Anticipate triggers and try to avoid them
  • Watch for signs that your loved one is getting stressed
  • Ask how you can help
  • Give them space, if they need it
  • Let your loved one guide you as to how they are feeling, what they can handle, and how they would like to handle their stress
  • Call 911 if you feel you or your loved one is in danger of being hurt
  • Make time for yourself
  • Build a support system of trusted family and friends
  • Set boundaries, know your limits and communicate them to your loved one, family and support team

DON’T

  • Pressure your loved one to talk about their experience
  • Stop your loved one from talking about their feelings or fears
  • Trivialize or deny your loved one’s traumatic experience
  • Tell your loved one they are weak because they aren’t coping well
  • Offer advice, if you aren’t asked for it
  • Take their outbursts or need to isolate personally
  • Get upset with yourself if you sometimes have negative feelings towards your loved one


Reducing Mental Health Stigma

Reducing Mental Health Stigma


Irrespective of age, culture or income, at least one in five will experience a mental disorder in their lifetime. Given the prevalence of mental health disorders, this article we address common myths and the realities associated with mental health. There is no need to suffer alone and in silence. It’s time to start talking.

According to the World Health Organization, health is “a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” Yet so many people define good health as being physically well. Our mental health is equally important and often does not receive the attention it should.

Aside from the economic cost, mental health disorders prevent millions of North Americans from reaching their full potential and living life to its fullest.

One in five Canadians meets the criteria for having a mental health disorder in their lifetime, 24.1 percent of women and 17 percent of men —this affects nearly every one of us, whether at work, at home or personally.(2)

Government of Canada

One in five Canadians meets the criteria for having a mental health disorder in their lifetime, 24.1 percent of women and 17 percent of men —this affects nearly every one of us, whether at work, at home or personally.

What are mental health disorders?

Our psychological health has a profound effect on how we communicate, feel, perceive, and understand the world around us. When we are mentally unwell, we experience alterations in thinking, mood or behaviour which causes distress and impairs how we function both day to day and throughout our lives.

There are many types of mental health disorders, the most common include:

Anxiety disorders are the most prevalent of all mental health disorders. While some stress or anxiousness is normal, anxiety disorders are characterized by more severe and long-lasting anxiety, which can interfere with one’s ability to function at work, at home and in their relationships. Panic disorder, phobias, social anxiety disorder, obsessive-compulsive disorder, post-traumatic stress disorder and general anxiety disorder fall under this category.

Eating disorders such as anorexia and bulimia involve a distorted image of one’s body along with extreme behaviours to manage food intake and weight. The opposing behaviour, binge eating disorder, is associated with the consumption of large amounts of food in a short amount of time on a regular basis.

Mood disorders involve changes and disruptions in mood and emotions. Feeling extremely sad or extremely happy from time to time is part of being human. People with a mood disorder such as depression or bipolar disorder experience these feelings with greater intensity over longer durations of time.

Personality disorders affect the way we act, feel and co-exist with others. They can also cause people to be more impulsive. Borderline personality disorder and antisocial personality disorder are two examples.

Common myths and stigmas

Mental health disorders remain shrouded in stigmas and misconceptions that have evolved into fabrications and falsehoods of those struggling with these conditions. Recently, more people are beginning to share their experiences and challenges with conditions such as anxiety or depression. However, other conditions like psychosis and schizophrenia are still characterized by fiction and myth.

In order to dispel the myths, understanding is critical. A mental health disorder can be defined as a psychological pattern, potentially reflected in behaviour, that is generally associated with distress or disability, and which is not considered part of normal development.

People with mental health disorders are often hesitant to tell their family, friends or employer of their struggles for fear of being labelled or having to face prejudices. Others are told to “snap out of it” or “toughen up”. It’s important to know that mental health disorders can be treated, often with excellent results.

Below are six common myths, accompanied by the truths that dispel them:

Myth 1: Mental health disorder is a single, rare disorder. There are multiple types of mental health disorders with different complexities and underlying causes. Similarly, each mental health disorder relates to the impediment of brain chemistry and function. Each of these illnesses has its own specific cause and approach to treatment.

Myth 2: People with mental health disorders never get better. Treatment for mental health disorders are more numerous and more sophisticated than ever before. With the evolution of understanding and with advancements in care, many people do fully recover, while others acquire the skills needed to keep their symptoms managed and under control. Today’s pharmaceutical treatments are more concise, targeting specific areas of the brain where treatment is most beneficial. A full recovery is often attainable, and may require more than pharmaceuticals; recovery may include social and physical activities to get people back to their lives.

Myth 3: Psychiatric disorders are not true illnesses. Unlike a broken leg or heart attack (which are easily detected by simple tests), mental health disorders have traditionally been an invisible disease. This inability to see what’s wrong creates the perception or illusion that no illness exists. Mental health disorders are bona fide medical conditions involving complex physiological processes, as well as changes or imbalances in brain chemistry.

Myth 4: Children don’t get mental health disorders. “Emotional problems are just part of growing up.” Parents naturally want their children to do well, so some may brush off or explain behavioural problems or other childhood difficulties as being mere growing pains. However, numerous psychiatric conditions, including depression, eating disorders, obsessive-compulsive disorder and anxiety disorders can occur in childhood. Roughly one in every 33 kids and one in every eight teens suffer from depression.(3)

Myth 5: People with a mental health disorder lack intelligence. Intelligence has nothing to do with mental health disorders.

Myth 6: People with a mental health disorder shouldn’t have jobs. People with a mental health disorder are unlikely to miss any more workdays than those individuals with chronic physical conditions such as diabetes or heart disease. Employees are often unaware of those suffering from a disorder. A stress-ridden workplace may be a breeding ground for the development of stress-related mental health disorders, such as anxiety and depression disorders, threatening work-life balance.

Reducing the stigma of mental health

Three out of 10 Canadian employees report that their work environments are not psychologically safe or healthy.(2)

No matter what role or industry, mental health affects us all. It can be a difficult and daunting task for someone to address their needs when they feel they may be judged by their co-workers or managers. As a collective society, we must realize that mental illness isn’t a form of weakness, but a natural reality of what people face. We are complex individuals who react to daily challenges differently. Being open minded, considerate, and compassionate are ways to support those who are facing mental health challenges at your workplace.

10 ways to reduce mental health stigma:

  1. Know the facts. Educate yourself about mental health. Learn the facts instead of the myths. Reading this piece is a great place to start!
  2. Be aware of your attitude and behaviour. We’ve all been subject to prejudicial thought and judgemental thinking, but we control the way we think. See people as individual beings, not as labels or stereotypes. See the person beyond the mental disorder; they have other personal attributes that don’t disappear because they have a mental health disorder.
  3. Listening. It takes courage for someone to open up about their challenges. Perhaps the most important thing you can do is listen.
  4. Asking what you can do. Don’t guess or assume, ask the person what you can do to help. Letting them tell you how you can help, can guide your actions and ability to support their needs.
  5. Choose your words carefully. The way we speak can affect the way others think. Don’t use hurtful or derogatory language. Be open to the challenges as judgement can be what someone fears the most.
  6. Educate others. Find opportunities to pass on facts and positive attitudes. If your friends, family, co-workers or even media present information that is not true, challenge their myths and stereotypes. Let them know their negative words and incorrect descriptions affect people by keeping misconceptions alive.
  7. Focus on the positive. Health problems can be a component of who a person is and the value that they are perceived to offer. We’ve all heard the negative stories. Let’s recognize and applaud the positive ones.
  8. Support people. Treat people with dignity and respect. Think about how you’d like others to act towards you if you were in the same situation. If you have family members, friends or co-workers with a mental health disorder, support their choices and encourage their efforts to get well.
  9. Include everyone. In Canada, it is against the law to discriminate against people with mental health disorders. Denying access to jobs, housing and health care are a violation of fundamental human rights.(4)(5)
  10. Taking care of yourself. Supporting anyone with a physical or mental health disorder can be a physically and emotionally draining scenario. Protect your own physical and emotional health.

People with mental health disorders have the right to take an equal part in society. Let’s each do our part to make sure that happens.

 

 

  1. MHCC. “Case Study Research Project: Early Finding Interim Report.” Mental Health Commission of Canada. Mental Health Commission of Canada, 2015. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.
  2. Government of Canada, Public Health Agency of Canada. “Chapter 1 Mental Illnesses in Canada : An Overview – A Report on Mental Illnesses in Canada – Public Health Agency of Canada.” Chapter 1 Mental Illnesses in Canada : An Overview – A Report on Mental Illnesses in Canada – Public Health Agency of Canada. N.p., 05 Jan. 2012. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.
  3. Health, Partners For Mental. “Right By You.” Right By You. Partners for Mental Health, n.d. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.
  4. Santillan, Carolyn. “Beyond Emotion: Depression Created Disconnect for Canadians At Home, With Friends and in the Workplace.” Fasken Martineau. Fasken Martineau, July 2009. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.
  5. “Seven Important things we can do to reduce Stigma and Discrimination.” Shatter the Stigma Mend The Mind. N.p., 2017. Web. 15 Mar. 2017.

 


Women's Mental Health

Women's Mental Health


A more in-depth look at women’s mental health, to discover their unique health-care needs and find out how we can better support women who are struggling with mental health challenges.

The World Health Organization defines mental health as, “a state of well-being in which every individual realizes his or her own potential, can cope with the normal stresses of life, can work productively and fruitfully, and is able to make a contribution to their community.” (1)

While a lot has been done in the past decade to help bring more awareness of what it can mean to live with or support someone who is struggling with mental illness, for those dealing with mental health disorders, stigma still exists and the reality is that many people still don’t know how to react, respond and offer help.

Both men and women experience many of the same mental health disorders, however their willingness to talk about their challenges and feelings are often very different. This month, we take a more in-depth look at women’s mental health, to discover their unique health-care needs and find out how we can better support women who are struggling with mental health challenges.

Some enlightening facts about women’s mental health:

  • 47% of women were considered at high risk of developing mental health disorders, compared to 36% of men. (2)
  • 25.7% of young women have self-harmed – more than twice the rate of young men. (3)
  • Women are nearly twice as likely as men to be diagnosed with depression.
  • Women who have experience childhood trauma such as sexual abuse and physical violence are 3 to 4 times more likely to encounter depression as adults. (4)
  • Women tend to experience more concurrent mental health disorders. Depression might be accompanied by anxiety, agoraphobia (feeling unsafe), panic disorders, somatoform disorders (symptoms of physical illness or pain that cannot be fully diagnosed), and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD). (1)
  • Women have significantly higher rates of developing PTSD following exposure to traumatic events – at least double that of men.
  • An alarming 80% of individuals with eating disorders are women, which has the highest overall mortality rate of any mental illness. (6)

Though many mental illnesses seem to be gender neutral, women often have different signs and symptoms, requiring different treatments and services. For example, there are gender differences in age of onset and symptoms of schizophrenia. Women often develop this condition later in life and have more hallucinations and psychotic symptoms than men. With bipolar disorder, women tend to develop more rapid cycling forms and experience more anxiety, depression and medical illnesses than men. They also have a higher chance of being hospitalized during the manic phase.

Social stereotypes don’t help to reduce stigma.

Many may find this surprising, recent surveys show that

42% of Canadians were unsure whether they would socialize with a friend who has a mental illness and only 50% of Canadians would tell friends or co-workers that they have a family member with a mental illness, compared to 72% who would discuss a diagnosis of cancer.(1)

Many gender-based stereotypes also exist, creating societal beliefs that women are more prone to being emotional and therefore having emotional problems. Often, women’s biology and reproduction factor into these negative stereotypes, but these physiological distinctions are valid contributors that do affect women’s mental health.

Society has conditioned the way we see femininity. Many gender acquired risks arise from women’s greater exposure to discrimination and disadvantages, such as traditionally earning less than men in paid work and bearing the responsibility of being wives, mothers and caregivers of others. Traditional gender roles can also increase women’s vulnerability to mental health issues by imposing obedience and dependence. On top of a duty to take on the constant care of others, women are typically expected to take care of all the unpaid work of maintaining a household as well.

Women are often busy helping everyone else

We know that traditionally, women take on a higher proportion of caregiving of both children and elderly family members than men, but when it starts to become overwhelming is when women try to balance their roles in the workplace with what’s going on at home. Despite seeing an increase in women in more executive roles, studies show that 80% of caregivers are still women. The burden of all of these responsibilities greatly increases their rates of stress – which not only affects mental health, but physical health as well. A WHO report pointed out that, “the inequity of the division of labour was the most important predictor of depressive symptoms rather than the absolute number of hours worked.” (4)

There are also other fairly distinct factors which increase a woman’s risk of developing mental health challenges. For instance, women suffering from emotional distress, exhaustion and parenting difficulties associated with newborns, or those who have experienced infant loss, can develop serious postnatal depression. They may feel isolated and unable to cope with the stress of added responsibilities due to the biological and physiological changes their bodies are undergoing post-pregnancy. Women’s risk of experiencing mental health challenges also increases when economic, political and social forces intervene to disrupt their income, employment and living conditions. These all create disadvantages that can reduce access to mental health care. What’s interesting is that when these factors are taken into account and addressed, they can offset biological and reproductive influences affecting women’s mental health, and many risk factors then disappear.(4)

How can we better support women and their mental health?

While women are more likely to speak with their primary care physicians about mental health challenges, women also fear seeking treatment because of the social stigma and their obligations as parent and caregiver. If a woman does not look for help when a disorder first develops, it could mean that they delay seeking support and/or treatment for considerable time.

Historically, treatment has largely ignored gender distinctions, even though there are unique challenges for women with mental health disorders tied to biology. Women often have different responses to medications than men, and female life-cycle events can affect the instance and the way that mental health challenges present. A report titled, Women, Mental Health and Mental Illness and Addiction in Canada: An Overview, concludes that “women’s and men’s health and health needs are distinct both because of differences in their bodies and because of differences in how women and men live, work, and play, as well as how they were raised as children.” (5)

Once we open our minds to the fact that women and men do have distinct needs, we can collectively begin to work on changing beliefs and addressing risk factors that are directly related to “economic, social and gender disadvantages and biases.”(4) These inequalities affect mental and emotional well-being and addressing them will help with social change.

Courageously speak out against stereotypes

Having an awareness of stereotypes that are reinforcing stigma and preventing someone from getting help or talking about their mental health challenges can make a significant difference. Don’t be afraid to challenge misconceptions like emotional problems being associated with women. Introducing new information can be the first step to changing someone’s beliefs.

Support new ways to deliver help

Women need to be able to access services that allow them to feel more in control of their minds and bodies. They might need to be delivered in different, easy-to-access locations, or at alternate times than traditional care and treatment options. As a consideration, postpartum treatment could be given as part of general maternity services, where women being treated could bring their babies along. Today, most are admitted to psychiatric units in hospitals, alone. Pay attention to new partnerships and resources that make services available to women in familiar and trusted settings.

Get involved to support those who may be particularly vulnerable

There are some groups of women who are more vulnerable to developing mental health problems because their challenges are often overwhelming. Immigrant women, for instance, are “simultaneously experiencing an unfamiliar environment, facing new societal norms, and lacking their former social networks.” Women who are facing violence, aggression or abuse at home need extra support because these experiences tend to get worse and intensify in severity over time.

Talking is often the first step to encourage getting help

Having the courage to discuss things openly and help address fears and other feelings that a woman may be experiencing is essential. Encourage self-realisation, and share opportunities while providing her a positive role in connecting. There’s no doubt talking about mental health challenges can require sensitivity. Provide mental health resources while showing concern and respect at all times and help her to realize that even though she may feel trapped, she isn’t, and getting help is worth it.

By working together to understand the influences women encounter when it comes to mental health challenges, we can help to encourage broader access, break down stigma and help women develop the mental health strength and resiliency they need in order to diminish the challenges they face.


References

1. World Health Organization (2014). Mental Health: a state of well-being. Health Topics. Retrieved on January 25, 2019 from
https://www.who.int/features/factfiles/mental_ health/en/

2. Chal, C. (2017) As cited in These 3 groups are at ‘high risk’ of mental health issues in Canada. Here’s why. Global News. Retrieved on January 25, 2019 from
https://globalnews.ca/news/3415871/these-3-groups-…

3. Agenda Alliance for Women & Girls at Risk (n.d.). Women’s Mental Health Facts, Retrieved on January 25, 2019 from
https://weareagenda.org/womens-mental-health-key-f…

4. World Health Organization (n.d). Gender Disparities in Mental Health. Retrieved on January 25, 2019 from
https://www.who.int/mental_health/media/en/242.pdf…

5. The Royal, Areas of Care, Women’s Mental Health (n.d.) Retrieved on January 25,2019 from
http://www.theroyal.ca/mental-health-centre/mental…areas-of-care/womens-mental-health/

6. Eating disorders are women.
https://www.camh.ca/en/camh-news-and-stories/camh-….