It is no secret that mental health concerns are more prevalent than ever these days. Mental Health Awareness Week serves as a great reminder that we need to continue talking about the issues we are facing in order to get the support and understanding we need. According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada and the CDC, nearly 50% of adults will deal with a mental health concern in their lifetime. Despite this, many still don’t know how to have conversations about such private and difficult things.
If you are dealing with a mental health issue for the first time, whether you are experiencing them yourself, or supporting a loved one, how exactly do you talk about it?
The first step is to identify what is happening. Just like any physical ailment we might experience, we would need to know what we are experiencing in order to understand what treatment, support or assistance we might require. This is likely a big reason the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has chosen the theme “Name it, don’t numb it” for this year. They are using the hashtag #GetReal to break the stigma and finally get real about how you feel (https://cmha.ca).
So, naming the condition we might be experiencing, and also the emotions associated with it, are an important first step. It will come as no surprise that, lately, many Canadians are reporting feeling sad, anxious, bored, stressed and lonely. The pandemic has certainly had an influence on us, and it’s reasonable to expect that many of us would feel this way. Having good mental health doesn’t mean feeling happy or positive all the time. Good mental health is about understanding and regulating our emotions. Feeling sad when you are experiencing a sad situation does not equate to poor mental health. It is a normal human reaction. Staying sad and being unable to lift yourself from that state as time goes on, however, might point to mental health concern that should be addressed.
We know that anxiety and stress levels for many are extremely high and sometimes we can’t tell the difference since they share many of the same physical and emotional symptoms. For example, both conditions can cause headaches, lack of sleep, excessive worry, rapid heartrate and more.
In order to identify and discuss our issues, we should make sure we understand what we are experiencing. A very brief comparison would be that stress tends to be temporary and anxiety can be ongoing. When we experience worry without an obvious cause or continue to notice physical and emotional symptoms that cause significant impairment to our lives (social, family, work etc.) it may be an anxiety condition rather than high stress.
(For more information about the difference between Stress and Anxiety, see : Psycom Article Stress vs Anxiety.)
Once we’ve identified and named our mental health issue(s) and the emotions we are feeling, it’s time to open up about them. The next logical step would be to talk to someone we trust about how we are feeling. This might be a friend, a family member, a mental health professional etc. Choosing someone who will be empathetic, and understanding can be stressful in and of itself. Some people simply don’t know how to talk about these issues, and many fear saying the wrong thing when supporting a loved one through a difficult time. While that can feel like a deterrent, it is important to remember that the more we talk about our feelings and experiences, the better others will understand.
When we experience common mental health issues, such as Depression and Anxiety, having heavy conversations about our experiences can be daunting. They can also be necessary. Talking to a family member about your struggles can result in better understanding at home. Discussing your needs and limitations with your manager could result in workplace accommodations and understanding from your team. Both can help to reduce the invisible pressure that might not be obvious to others, until the conversation has been had.
When we are ready to discuss our mental health, it is important to be clear about what we need. Allowing ourselves to communicate our needs clearly without guilt is important. What is most helpful during episodes of anxiety, for instance, will ultimately be different for each person. Maybe it’s time alone, maybe it’s distraction with jokes, maybe it’s physical connection or help untangling messy thoughts (separating what is real versus what our brains have exaggerated). Naming not only our feelings but also communicating our needs will help us feel more in control of our environment; significantly reducing our stress levels. It is important to discuss our experiences and be open to listening to the reality of others to help reduce the stigma and thrive through difficult times, together.
If you need help understanding your own mental health or are looking for next steps in seeking treatment or coping mechanisms, Click Here For CMHA Helpful Resources or visit the Mental Health tab of our EAP at Lifeworks. For further assistance or workplace accommodations, please reach out in confidence to your HR Representative or call our HR Hotline (1-877-MYHROSL).