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Every single one of us is responsible for understanding and taking care of our mental health because at some point in our life we will be faced with challenges and it is how we respond to these challenges that impact our overall wellness. 

Our ability to respond to life’s challenges in a positive manner means we have prepared ourselves to problem solve and make good decisions for ourselves and our circumstances. 

If we find ourselves struggling with a mental illness, this does not mean we are always sick, we can experience good mental health, while continuing to live with a mental illness or mental health problem.  This is why it is important to talk about language so that we do not find ourselves making assumptions about ourselves or others who are having a tough time with their mental health.  One of the first steps to feeling more confident is knowing how we each respond as individuals to the challenges we will be faced with.  Only you know how you are feeling, what affects you and what helps, therefore, knowing yourself is a really good place to start when trying to promote positive mental health. 

If you feel you are in crisis, please reach out to Mobile Crisis at 306-933-6200. This is a crisis service available at any time of day. Mobile Crisis will provide an assessment over the phone, and will refer you to the appropriate resources, or physically come to where you are to provide support.

To explore more about mental health check out CMHA National or Online Therapy User. 

When to reach out for Help?

Mental health is a state of well-being, and we all have it. Just like we each have a state of physical health, we also each have our mental health to look after.  It’s not just about surviving, it’s about thriving. It’s enjoying life, having a sense of purpose, and being able to manage life’s highs and lows.

CMHA National

Talk to someone you trust, someone who is ready and willing to listen, someone who validates your experiences, someone who can help you find options for support.  This could be: family, friends, doctor, co-worker, counsellor, psychiatrist, nurse, social worker, mental health worker, teacher, caregiver, parent, sibling, spouse…..and don’t be discouraged if the first person you talk to doesn’t help, someone does want to help and will listen, ask again

I am struggling, do I need a diagnosis, how do I get one?

For some, receiving a diagnosis, is an important part of the process.  The individual and their loved ones often find relief and peace, in recognizing why we feel a certain way or why we choose certain behaviours.  It can provide a solution or take the weight of not knowing off our shoulders, but this is not the case for everyone. Sometimes a diagnosis can add to the weight we already carry, and there may need to be some time taken to process this.  However, we must always remember that how we choose to identify ourselves is truly up to us, we choose what we need as part of our mental health journey.    

Who can provide a diagnosis?

Family Doctors
This is a good place to start. Some doctors can discuss options for treating mental health problems, those who have training in psychological problems often prescribe medications.  Otherwise, they are the only way of getting a referral to a psychiatrist who is the mental illness specialist. 

Don’t have a family doctor? Access the current list of clinics taking on new patients in Saskatoon:

Before your appointment, make a list of:

  • Any symptoms or changes in symptoms you or people close to you have noticed ,and for how long
  • Key personal information, including traumatic events in your past and any current, major stressors
  • Your medical information, including other physical or mental health conditions
  • Any medications, vitamins, herbal products or other supplements you take, and their doses

Questions to ask include:

  • What type of mental illness might I have?
  • Why can’t I get over mental illness on my own?
  • How do you treat my type of mental illness?
  • Are there medications that might help?
  • How long will treatment take?
  • What can I do to help myself?
  • Do you have any brochures or other printed material that I can have?

Questions about Medications?

medication man

One of the options for treatment of our mental health symptoms may be medications, it is important for you to be given all the information before you decide whether this is a good option for you.  Make sure to ask questions and express any concerns you may have, this also means discussing additional options. 

The role of the medications is to help manage symptoms so that we can pursue additional areas that support our mental health, but this can be a frustrating process and there are no “fix it all” psychiatric medications.  Everyone is different in needing types of medications, at what doses, and in what combinations they need to feel well. 

Medication Assessment Centre: If you have questions about the effectiveness, interactions, and need of medications you have been prescribed this clinic can be a useful service.

Once you have spoken with a family doctor, you want to have a conversation about getting connected to these specialists:

Psychiatrist: Specializes in Mental Health Problems or Disorders. They often prescribe medications to treat symptoms as well as some psychotherapy approaches.

Psychologist: “A psychologist studies how we think, feel and behave from a scientific viewpoint and applies this knowledge to help people understand, explain and change their behaviour” (CPA).   They work with individuals to try and overcome or manage the problems they are experiencing. 

What is a Psychologist

Options for Support

Some people worry about asking for help because there can be stigma around mental health problems. They may believe that asking for help means admitting that something is wrong. Some people worry about how others might see them. Asking for help means that you want to make changes or take steps towards your new health goals. We should celebrate the courage it takes to speak up and make changes. Getting help is part of recovery.

CMHA National

When you decide to begin looking for additional support, it can be really confusing and overwhelming.  The key is to create balance and consider things that bring back some of the energy that you feel is bring drained from your day to day. Here are a few options:

Healthcare Professionals

This can include doctors, nurses, specialists, chiropractors, massage therapy; anyone who has a role in the medical health field.  This person often supports our physical well-being through assessments, tests, and treatment options, when we feel better physically, we can feel better mentally. 

Counselling

Our counsellor can be a psychologists or social worker, whatever their educational background is, they are there to support our psychological well-being.  This means that they take specific approaches to help guide our thoughts and emotions, in ways that helps us process experiences, find out root causes and learn to positively cope.  It is important to remember when we are looking for a counsellor, we may not like the first one we meet, their approach may be different, personality clashes or just general lack of connection, this is ok, it can be frustrating, but keep searching for someone who you feel comfortable with. 

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Support Groups

Group settings can allow for a great opportunity to discuss tough times in a less formal manner.  Often support groups occur in the community, they are facilitated by community members and they are a drop in/ no cost option, this makes a difference for ease of access to these supports.  Individuals can feel a sense of belonging in these groups because most of the time we find others who are having similar experiences in their lives. 

Peer Support

Peer support is a way of connecting with someone else who has their own lived experience, this does not mean they have had the same experiences as us, but they can understand how difficult it is to sometimes make it through the day.  Often, we are able to connect with someone consistently and this connection is flexible, it can include conversations, activities or help with accessing other community support.

Naturopath/ Holistic Approaches

“a system of alternative medicine based on the theory that diseases can be successfully treated or prevented without the use of drugs, by techniques such as control of diet, exercise, and massage.”

When it comes to our mental health we are often left feeling like nothing is working, medications can be frustrating, counselling can be overwhelming and we don’t want to feel this way anymore.  Our mental health is a large portion of who we are, how we face challenges and how we understand ourselves, this means that is may take time to explore what works best for us.  It can be beneficial to look outside the box or beyond what we have tried before, when we focus on looking at our whole self and what our mind and body need, sometimes we can regain some of that control we sometimes feel like we have lost.  Our health alternatives can be a great resource when we feel like all other options have failed.  Take the time to get back to listening to your body, be kind to it and nourish it in the ways you need to for you. 

These are professionals that can help with this journey: Naturopathy | NCCIH (nih.gov)

Naturopathic Doctors in Saskatoon • Saskatoon Wellness Centre | Saskatoon Saskatchewan (saskwellness.com)

Physical Activity

Our mind and body are truly connected, therefore, we are responsible for ensuring that both are taken care of.  Physical activity can be daunting, this does not mean that we need to go out and become the next greatest body builder, it means we need to move our body in ways that energize us.  Finding the movement that is meaningful for us will improve our over-all health, but we must remain consistent and carve out the time we need to be physical active.  Our body craves movement, it does not want to always be resting, get up, get out and get going. Some examples include:

  • Walks
  • Yoga
  • Dance
  • Stretching
  • Weightlifting
  • Running
  • Sports

Vitamins & Supplements

Our body uses a variety of vitamins and minerals to function on a day to day. None of us are perfect, we don’t always give our body all of the nutrition it needs all the time, so we often become deficient in some areas.  When our body does not have the nutrients it needs it can have a negative impact on our energy, concentration, memory, weight management, ability to sleep, and mood.  Sometimes we can become irritable, upset or experience drops in our mood as a result. Here are some of the following supplements that have shown to improve our mental health:

Vitamin B12
Helps your nervous system, used to regulate sleep and mood.

Omega-3 (Fatty Acids)
Helps lower inflammation and the risk of heart disease, but has also been known to help with depression and ADHD, the reason is that it is supporting brain health.

Probiotic
Our gut health affects a lot! It has even been shown to have an impact on our brain health, when we correct the imbalances in our digestive system we often have reduce symptoms of anxiety and depression. 

Vitamin D
Many individual lack exposure to the sun, especially during the winter months, therefore, we are likely deficient in vitamin D.  It is important for nervous and immune systems and has been know to help improve mood. 

Magnesium
Often taken to help with sleep, it helps control a lot of chemical reactions in our body. 

*always talk to your doctor before starting any new supplement.

 5 supplements for mental health | Well+Good (wellandgood.com)

Mindfulness

The basic human ability to be fully present, aware of where we are and what we are doing, and not overly reactive or overwhelmed by what is going on around us.

We spend a lot of time thinking about what has happened in the past and what is going to happen in the future, but we need to be here in this moment right now.  It is very beneficial for our psychological well-being to be in the present moment, to check in with ourselves and ask how are we really doing right now, am I tired? Am I thirsty? Do I need a break? Am I bored?  By doing this introspection we become much more self-aware and respond in a more positive way when we recognize we are not doing well. 

8 Facts About Mindfulness:

  1. Mindfulness is not obscure or exotic.
    It’s familiar to us because it’s what we already do, how we already are. It takes many shapes and goes by many names.
  2. Mindfulness is not a special added thing we do.
    We already have the capacity to be present, and it doesn’t require us to change who we are. But we can cultivate these innate qualities with simple practices that are scientifically demonstrated to benefit ourselves, our loved ones, our friends and neighbors, the people we work with, and the institutions and organizations we take part in
  3. You don’t need to change.
    Solutions that ask us to change who we are or become something we’re not have failed us over and over again. Mindfulness recognizes and cultivates the best of who we are as human beings.
  4. Mindfulness has the potential to become a transformative social phenomenon.
  5. Anyone can do it.
    Mindfulness practice cultivates universal human qualities and does not require anyone to change their beliefs. Everyone can benefit and it’s easy to learn.
  6. It’s a way of living.
    Mindfulness is more than just a practice. It brings awareness and caring into everything we do—and it cuts down needless stress. Even a little makes our lives better.
  7. It’s evidence-based.
    We don’t have to take mindfulness on faith. Both science and experience demonstrate its positive benefits for our health, happiness, work, and relationships.
  8. It sparks innovation.
    As we deal with our world’s increasing complexity and uncertainty, mindfulness can lead us to effective, resilient, low-cost responses to seemingly intransigent problems.

What is Mindfulness? – Mindful

Mindfulness – CMHA National

The Mindfulness Institute.ca

Ways to practice mindfulness:

Mindfulness Exercises – Anxiety Canada

Self – Discovery

One of the first steps that we may need to take when searching for support, is discovering who we are as an individual. Some questions we may ask:

Who am I?

What are my goals?

What are my values?

What do I need when I am not doing well?

What are my strengths?

What support do I need? How do I want to be supported?

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These are not always easy questions to answer, and we might have many more questions, but you need to know what works best for you.  Nobody can tell us what the answers are, nobody can tell us how we are feeling, we are responsible for being our own expert.  So go research, learn and ask questions about what you are feeling and why, this will help us understand what we need when we are well, and what we need when we are unwell. 

Options for exploration:

Online Therapy (online-therapy.com)

Home | Online Therapy Unit (onlinetherapyuser.ca)

Self Help | Canadian Mental Health Association Newfoundland & Labrador | CMHA-NL

Free Downloadable PDF Resources – Anxiety Canada

Mental Health Screening Tools : eMentalHealth.ca

Wellness Together Canada | Home

Wellness Tools

Boundaries 

All of us need boundaries at various times in our life, it is one way we can conserve our energy and keep ourselves healthy.  If we choose not to have boundaries or have difficulty keeping boundaries it can negatively impact our relationships, self-esteem and overall-welling.  Having good boundaries is no easy task, but can be flexible, we often must negotiate and renegotiate what boundaries work for us and which ones do not impede on the boundaries of others.  We need healthy boundaries in our life to create balance and protect our mental health. When thinking about boundaries and how we will assert them, keep these things in mind:

Our basic rights as humans…..

  • I have a right to say no without feeling guilty.
  • I have a right to be treated with respect.
  • I have a right to make my needs as important as others.
  • I have a right to be accepting of my mistakes and failures.
  • I have a right not to meet others’ unreasonable expectations of me.

Setting Boundaries

By establishing ways to set our boundaries we not only protect ourselves, but we protect our relationships with others.  The boundaries we assert are not meant to break our current relationships, but to maintain the meaningful ones that we want to continue participating in.   Once we have decided what our boundaries are, there are things to keep in mind to feel empowered and confident in communicating those boundaries….

Be assertive – using “I” statements

Learn to Say “No”

Ask for Help

Feeling guilty about asserting your boundaries?

We often experience guilt in response to being faced with situations or relationships that challenges our innate values.  When we are confronted with new situations it challenges us to look deeper into ourselves.  When making decision about our boundaries we feel like we are choosing our own comfort over the needs of others, it is a conflict between what we may need as a individual versus the relationship with have with another.  The reality is that we are not choosing one or the other, our values can change or grow over time, so we may have to ask ourselves the following questions:

  • Were do our values come from?
  • How do some of the values you hold affect the things you do or don’t do?
  • How have your family values affected your life?
  • Does the way you would like to be seen by others reflect your deepest values? In what ways?

When we answer these questions we have a better understanding of our decisions and why we make them, this is an important process that helps us feel confident in asserting what is right for us. 

Setting Boundaries

Communication

Being able to communicate well is not something we are born knowing how to do, it is a learned behaviour that we need to consistently practice, and we will still make mistakes.  However, communication is an important part of daily life and by practicing good communication we can express ourselves with more ease.  This can be challenging when trying to communicate our needs regarding our mental health, it is easy for the following to happen:

  • Messages can become distorted.
  • We have trouble finding the correct way to describe our experiences.
  • It can be confusing so we may send mixed messages.
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All of these can prevent us from getting the support we need, so how do we learn to effectively communicate? This may be a question of what does not work, we often focus on trying to ask for what is helpful, but we also need to assert what is not helpful for our mental health. 

Here are a few tips to help us practice good communication:

  1. Use “I” messages.       
  2. Explore the different ways to communicate. Ask yourself: How do I communicate? What do I need to communicate? Am I aware of verbal and non-verbal communication?
  3. Don’t assume.  It is not fair to assume others can read our minds or know everything about us. 

Asking for Help

Sometimes we find ourselves knowing that we need some help, but how to we ask for it?  Why is it so hard to ask for help?

Taking that step to reach out and ask for help can be difficult because it brings up feelings or thoughts of weakness, failure or being a burden on others.  This has been constructed in our world as a way of thinking about success and achievement.  We are often in competition with one another for who is the busiest, who is the most stressed out or who has taken on more responsibility.  The only thing we achieve from measuring our success based on personal effort is burnt out, unhappy, lonely and unhealthy people.  We should not feel like our struggles are compared to others, we should only focus on what health and happiness means for us and our situation.  Therefore, when we reach out for help, we are taking charge of our own wellness, we are confident in what we need and we are brave for asking for support. 

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Reflection:

Do you enjoy helping someone?

Why don’t you ask for help?

Do you believe the person you have helped is weak, a failure or a burden to you?

Then don’t believe that of yourself, because the person helping you does not believe that either. 

More information at CMHA National

Active Listening

If we are going to learn how to communicate well, we also need to know how to listen well.  This is also challenging, we have many blockers that prevent us from truly hearing someone, putting our own thoughts aside is not as easy task.  Some things to keep in mind when practicing good listening skills:

  • Let others finish their sentence.
  • Avoid interruptions.
  • Be courteous.  If you do not have sufficient time to talk, be honest.
  • Use open body language. Show the person you are interested in what they have to say.

Our ability to listen means that we had chosen to hear what someone has to say, and we respond without judgement.

Learn more:

Active Listening

What is Active Listening

Become a Better Listener

Building Resilience

“responding to life’s challenges”

Resilience is our ability to get back up after being knocked down, it is how we recover from difficult times, face challenges and learn to cope with what life brings us.

Are there limitations to our resilience?

Yes. There can be factors that are outside of our control that place barriers to our abilities to adapt or cope with challenges.  Some examples may include laws or legislation, notions of personal freedom, the ability to plan ahead, lack of access, and influences of past experiences. The result is a feeling of vulnerability, which impacts are our ability to positively cope with change or challenges. 

Am I a resilient person?

We are all resilient, we have resiliency within us, but we want to be able to choose to use it in ways that are healthy. 

Some examples of resilient characteristics:

  • Holding positive views of themselves and their abilities
  • Possessing the capacity to make realistic plans and stick to them
  • Having an internal locus of control
  • Being a good communicator
  • Viewing themselves as fighters rather than victims
  • Having high emotional intelligence and managing emotions effectively

Where does our resilience come from?

Every time we are faced with change, we can acquire new skills that promote our confidence for coping with that change.  However, many of us often view change as a negative occurrence in our life, this creates anxiety and apprehension, so we avoid facing changes at all costs.  This negative view of change influences our ability to effectively problem solve and make decisions for ourselves to move forward through the changes.  We must focus on the positive potential that change has in our lives, this is much more fulling and meaningful for our mental health. 

Change is inevitable, and often rapid.  While we can admit we do not always like change we can be more flexible than we give ourselves credit for.  By working through this change, we grow, gain a sense of control and ultimately become more resilient. 

https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-resilience-2795059

Reflection:

  • When life gets tough, I reach out to friends and family….
  • I believe that I can learn from difficult times….
  • When I am under stress, I still take time for myself…
  • I have a great support network…
  • After a stressful event, I can let go and move forward…
  • I cope well with change….
  • I try to live in the moment and appreciate the good things in life…

If you have said yes to most of these statements, then great! You already have some resiliency tools and support set up in your life.  If you have said no to a lot of these statements, have you failed?  Absolutely not, this does not mean you are not resilient, but maybe it is time to look at what you can do to strength your ability to face challenges in a positive way. 

When to challenge yourself?

Being resilient does not mean we have to put on a brave face all the time, every time we are faced with a challenge.  We are still human, we still fall and have trouble getting back up, this is all a part of the process, we do not always have the tools or the knowledge to cope in the best way possible.  Try not to dwell on the times when we do not bounce back as quickly as we would like to, these are not failures. By taking the time to acknowledge it, learn from it and choose to use it as a opportunity for growth, this is how we encourage ourselves to move forward. 

Learn more about how setbacks can also be an important part of our resiliency.

https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/resilience.htm

How do I build resilience?

There are many things we can do to promote our resilience on a daily basis here are a few places to start:

  1. Learn to relax.
  2. Practice thought awareness.
  3. Edit your outlook.
  4. Learn from your mistakes and failures.
  5. Choose your response.
  6. Maintain perspective.
  7. Set yourself some goals.
  8. Build your self-confidence.
  9. Develop strong relationships.
  10. Be flexible.

https://www.mindtools.com/pages/article/resilience.htm

https://www.camh.ca/en/camh-news-and-stories/building-resilience

https://www.verywellmind.com/what-is-resilience-2795059

Self-Care

Creating Balance

Taking care of ourselves is a necessity, it is something we need to do each day to promote healthy living.  It is something we must actively participate it, commit to, explore and plan for ourselves, but it is not always easy.  So how do we practice self-care? Where do we start? How do I know what my self-care needs are?

Start with recognizing what areas of your life are out of balance. 

Identify Imbalances
What do we like to do? What do we need to do?

We find ourselves stuck between these two questions, and what we need to do is often the winner, so how do we work towards achieving both?

Signs of Imbalances
Forgetfulness, irritability, feelings of guilt, health problems, sleep problems, procrastination, feeling overwhelmed, feeling pressured and out of control, preoccupation and distraction.

What’s Next?  PLAN

Once we have figured out where some of our imbalances are, we can decide how we are going to correct them.  This is not a process that should leave us feeling more overwhelmed or stressed. It is also not just about adding something to our daily routine, it may be about removing something we feel is not beneficial to our health. (ie. Too much screen time, unhealthy eating habits, over consumption of something).

Get back to basics, for instance, do you drink enough water in a day?  Most of us do not, maybe this is the first step? Try to increase your water intake a little more each day and see how you feel. If you need more structure, measure out how much you should drink that day and you will be able to visually see your progress.  And don’t worry if you didn’t achieve your daily goal, reset and try again the next day, we won’t always get it right the first time. 

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The important message about this process is that when we take care of our health, sometimes it is about reminding ourselves to ensure our basic needs are met.  Did I nourish my body? Did I drink enough water? Did I get enough rest or sleep? Have I moved my body in a way that brings me more energy? This is taking care of our whole self, this is how we manage stress, and this is how we do what is right for us. 

Self Care Strategies

Long-Term Self Care

Key components that are essential in committing to long-term self-care are sustainability and consistency.  For us to form well established healthy habits for ourselves we need to pick actions that are realistic, something we can maintain, and we must keep doing it.  It is important to carve out the time we need to create new habits that are beneficial for our well-being. 

Am I being Selfish? Why do I feel guilty?

When we decide to actively participate in promoting our own health, it can be perceived as a selfish act.  Others might view it as it being all about you or that you are being inconsiderate of others.  As a result, we begin to fear judgment from others, and this prevents us from asserting our needs or asking for support. Do not compare your decisions about your own health to anyone else’s decisions, what you choose to do for yourself is important and best for you and nobody else.  Bottom line is that it is not a self-fish act, but because we look to others for reassurance, we still might feel guilt sometimes.  Continue to work through this guilt by reminding yourself of two things: setting up time to take care of yourself is healthy and when we take care of ourselves, we are able to be there for others. 

Taking Care of Yourself

Not just for myself

Many of us value our relationships with others, we care about others, we want to help others and worry about others well-being.  In order to be able to continue our investment in our meaningful relationship with others we must take care of ourselves first.  If we are not doing well, we cannot be there for others and we are likely not the best version of ourselves within those relationships.  As a result, we may lose relationships, experience conflict or hardship, which does not benefit anyone’s well-being.  Therefore, our self-care is just an important for those we care about as it is for ourselves. 

For a moment, imagine that each time you choose self-care it is like adding a plank to a boat.  You keep adding planks until your boat is strong, stable and can float on top of the water.  Sometimes the waves come crashing into your boat, just like life’s challenges, but because you built such a strong base, your boat stays afloat.  However, your boat not only keeps you above water, but allows you to reach out to others who may be drowning in the waves, they are reaching out to you for help, and you are able to reach back safely.   

Self-Soothing vs Self-care

Let us just take a moment to talk about how to determine whether we are participating in self- soothing or self-care.  There is a difference? Yes. We do not always know it, but sometimes we are self-soothing when we should be focusing on self-care. 

 Self-Care

  • Daily
  • Focus on resilience and ability to move forward
  • Thriving vs. surviving
  • Examples: movement, sleep, nutrition, managing physical and mental health

Self-Soothing

  • Back-up skills used when in crisis.
  • Distress tolerance
  • Examples: baths, watching favourite TV shows, scrolling social media, online shopping
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This is not to say that self-soothing does not have a place in our life, we do need this approach for those tough moments, but it is important to recognize the difference so that we do not become reliant on soothing.  Self-Soothing can be helpful in the moment, but it does not benefit us over the long-term. 

What is distress tolerance? Our ability to manage actual or perceived emotional distress without making it worse. 

Tools for Self-Care

No matter the reasons we decide to commit to taking of ourselves there are lots of resources and tools to help us along our journey.  Take the time to explore what is out there, what works best for you and maybe challenge yourself to try new things.  Remember to look for options that bring back that energy into your everyday life and just because you have taken the time to participate in self-care does not mean it allows you to take on more in your life.  Self-care is to help you continue with what you are already involved in, not to add more to your list. 

Self Care Assessment