Monday, 11 June 2018

She Seemed Happy

I really love stuff like this because it shows that you never know what's inside someone. Even if the outside seems perfectly fine

She seemed happy. He was so successful. He had it all - love, money and fame. The last time that I spoke to her she was making plans. These are all things that have been said about people after they died by suicide. They also show what we fail to see: mental illness is not about being sad all the time. You might not see the signs.

The high profile deaths this past week of designer Kate Spade and celebrity chef/writer/TV host Anthony Bourdain were shocking, heartbreaking and perplexing to many.

Both of these people left behind young children, partners, families and friends. And, of course, their millions of followers and fans. The question that follows is often this: how could they do it?

Here's what I believe to be true about those who die by suicide. They don't want to die - they just want the pain and suffering to end. For those of you who have never experienced severe mental illness this must be difficult to imagine.

To feel that there is only one way out, to feel that there is no hope left and no light at the end of the tunnel must be horrible. When I went through a major depressive episode about five years ago I had suicidal thoughts. But I was one of the lucky ones; I could still make out that tiny sliver of light. So I held on. I was not without hope.

I am one of the 14.7% of Canadians who have thought about suicide, according to data collected from the Canadian Community Health survey in 2012. Sadly, 11 people will die by suicide in Canada today. It is the ninth leading cause of death in Canada. This statistic, coupled with the fact that mental illness is the number one category of disability worldwide, points to a serious health problem.

To put this into perspective, let's compare it to breast cancer. According to Statistics Canada, approximately 5,300 women will die from the disease this year. Suicide deaths will total approximately 4, 015. And there will be no pink ribbons to raise awareness of this.

Mental disorders - depression, bipolar disorder, addiction, to name a few - are complicated disorders of the brain.  What scientists know about the brain is a small amount. What is known is that these are real and they are serious.

We will lose people to suicide as a result of these illnesses. But we can save some people, simply by talking about this. Educating ourselves about mental illness is crucial. And choosing to be curious rather than judgemental is important.

Maybe the person that we need to worry about is the one who seems to have it all together, who never lets you see them cry.

KB xo

Get help: Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention







Sunday, 27 May 2018

Why Mental Health Week is Every Week

I Support Mental Health Awareness & Say No to Mental Health Stigma - & Support those Who’s Going Through, &/Or Have Gone Through Any Type/Level Of Mental Illness(s) 

The second week of May each year is recognized as Mental Health Week in Canada. It's an opportunity for mental health organizations such as the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) to create discussion and raise awareness about the importance of mental health.

It's also a great opportunity for employers to host lunch & learns on the topic and share information about their employee and family assistance providers. This is something that I do as part of my work as the Manager of Diversity & Inclusion at my organization.

In general, it's a chance to shine a light on a topic that, although more and more of us are talking about, still remains largely misunderstood.

This year I missed it.

Or, rather, I experienced it in an altogether different way.

The first five months of this year were difficult for me: Balancing stress in my life, coupled with the loss of a treasured friend to cancer, threw my mood disorder into a tailspin. I tried to catch my breath but after weeks of struggling I finally recognized it for what it was: a small relapse of my depression.

Living with a chronic illness can be incredibly tiring. When I found myself sitting in my doctor's office once again, as I have so many times over the course of two decades, I started to cry. How did I end up here again? That's what I wondered.

And then, almost as quickly as that feeling of self-pity came, it left me. Because I know the how and why: I have a chronic illness. It is something that I will live with for the rest of my life. After allowing myself a little bit of sadness and frustration I decided to brush myself off and do what I needed to do to make it through this one. I have managed to move through numerous depressive episodes and anxiety attacks in the past - all of them, actually. So that's a pretty good track record.

And I did - I made it. Two and a half weeks away from work and then I was back.

My resiliency is a strong muscle. I have been forced to build it after so many years of chronic depression. The key to resiliency, in my opinion, is being able to put things into perspective. I can't change the fact that mental illness is the 'thing' that I have been given to deal with in this life - everyone has something. But I can choose to be optimistic and do what needs to be done.

So how did I spend that time away from work? Walks in nature, quiet time, a low sugar diet, plenty of sleep, a small adjustment to my medication, and time with people who I love.

I also spent time considering and reaffirming what is really important to me when it comes to how I want to live my life. Losing a friend who is the same age as you tends to make you pause and take stock. It certainly did for me.

The big thing that kept coming back up to the surface through that reflection was my commitment to mental health advocacy.  I am not going to stop talking about this. Not until the stigma and shame associated with mental disorders is gone. And not until we no longer need a special week.

For me, and for the 450 million people worldwide who have a mental illness, it is not just Mental Health Week for one week in May. It's mental health week every week.

Sunday, 22 April 2018

Your Brain on Nature: 5 Ways Forests Increase Well-Being

quotes about nature and life - Google Search

In honor of Earth Day I thought I would spend some time exploring how nature can benefit overall well-being. We usually just feel good when we are outside but have you ever thought to consider exactly why we feel good?

I lived in two of the most densely populated neighbourhoods in Canada for over two decades. There were people and noise everywhere. I loved the hustle and bustle for many years but I eventually began to feel like I had few peaceful moments in my life. And, it was absolutely starting to impact my anxiety and depression. I yearned for peace and quiet.

I finally tired of it and moved to an area much quieter. What I gained in tranquillity, I lost in my daily commute. I spend much more time in the car (not great for the environment - sorry, Mother Earth!) but part of my daily drive to and from work is through farm land and I have a beautiful provincial park ten minutes from my doorstep.

The noise and fast pace, coupled with the increasingly high cost of living, contributed to my decision to move. And I am not the only one, especially in Metro Vancouver. Many of us are searching for a balanced life, one that has well-being at it's core. But not everyone in the world can just pick up and move to somewhere more peaceful.

Urbanization is happening at a rapid pace worldwide. Why? Increased industrialization - people move to where there are jobs. According to a 2014 United Nations (UN) report called World Urbanization Prospects, 54% of the world population resided in urban locations four years ago. It is projected that by 2050 the number will be 66%. The city with the largest population? Tokyo, Japan. The greater Tokyo metro region wins the title with a staggering 36 million people.

Which brings me to the concept of forest bathing. Ever heard of it? The Japanese term is
 'shinrin-yoku' and refers to the sense of well-being that you get from being in nature. This was started in the early 1980's by the Forest Agency of Japan to encourage the Japanese people to take more walks in specially designated forests. Since then it has become an established well-being practise in Japan and is spreading worldwide. Just Google it and you'll find no lack of scholarly reports and websites dedicated to the topic.

And it appears that those folks at the Forest Agency knew what they were doing. In addition to the physical benefits of exercise, there are a many other positive things that happen when you practise shinrin-yoku. Here are just a few courtesy of Wisconsin Department of Natural Resources:

Top Five Ways Forests Increase Well-Being:

1. Improves Mental Health: Spending time in green spaces with trees reduces your pulse rate, heart rate, blood pressure and the stress hormone, cortisol.
2. Reduces Noise: Trees and shrubs act as buffers and can reduce 50% of the noise heard by humans.
3. Improves Attention: The effect of walking through a park is equal to the peak effect of two typical ADHD medications.
4. Improves Physical Health: Post-surgical patients with window views of nature have shorter hospital stays and take fewer pain medications than patients with windows facing brick walls.
5. Reduces Violence: Trees and natural landscapes in public housing reduce domestic aggression and violence by as much as 25%.

I don't know about you, but I have a renewed sense of awe and wonderment for nature.

According to the UN, the number one cause of disability worldwide is mental health related. While mental disorders are complicated things and I do not recommend any one form of treatment - that is up to you and your health care provider - I think it's fair to say that time spent outdoors in nature is time well spent. And it just might be something that we should all add to our mental health toolkit.

If you are looking for me this weekend, I'll be in the forest, shirin-yoku'ing.

KB xo





 

Sunday, 14 January 2018

"Not Just Sad"

Telling someone "why are you depressed Look at how great your life is" is same as saying "what do you mean you have asthma Look at all this air"
I was recently reminded how depression is still largely misunderstood. I was speaking with someone about mental illness and this person began to tell me about a friend who has depression. She said that she told this friend, "Don't be so sad. You have lots of great things in your life to be happy about." I could tell that she cares about her friend and truly felt that she was helping her to place things into perspective. Frankly, this is a horrible thing to say to someone in the grips of depression.

Telling a person with a mental illness to not be 'sad' because they have so many great things to be happy about is exactly the same as telling a person who has cancer to not feel the physical pain because they have "so many great things to be happy about." Exactly the same thing. 

It made my heart hurt knowing that this woman's friend is not being supported in a truly understanding, empathetic way. And I get it - I really do. People just don't understand mental illness. Still. I have been tossing this conversation around in my mind in the few weeks since it happened and I have come to this conclusion: we want to reduce depression down to something simple and palatable - something that we can understand. That is this one small word: sad.

You can be sad and not have depression. But sadness alone is not mental illness. Depression is a much more complex thing. In fact, a person who has depression can have moments of happiness and joy - they are just rare. Depression is overwhelming and all encompassing. The American Psychiatric Association lists the symptoms of depression as:

* Loss of interest or pleasure in activities once enjoyed
* Changes in appetite - weight loss or gain unrelated to dieting
* Trouble sleeping or sleeping too much
* Loss of energy or increased fatigue
* Increase in purposeless physical activity (hand-wringing or pacing) or slowed movements and speech (actions observed by others)
* Feeling worthless or guilty
* Difficulty thinking, concentrating or making decisions
* Thoughts of suicide or death
* Feeling sad or having a depressed mood

These symptoms can range from mild to severe and must last at least two weeks for a diagnosis of depression. Sadness, you will note, is just one symptom of many.

I have experienced the majority of this list over the course of three major depressive episodes. I also had moments of laughter and happiness - incredibly fleeting but those moments were there. Depression is complicated. If it were simple I am certain that we would have a cure for it by now. Unfortunately, we don't. 

In the meantime, let's all learn more about what has become a health crisis. Depression is the number one cause of disability worldwide. It's not heart disease or breast cancer. It's depression. Let's seek to understand so that we can support each other and ourselves to be mentally healthy and well. Reducing a serious illness to one small component of it keeps people silent when what we really, desperately need is more open discussion.

It's OK to feel sad. It's OK to have depression (no, you are NOT weak). It's not OK to minimize the very real physical and emotional pain that people experience.

KB xo

P.S. To learn more watch one of these TED Talks about mental illness or choose a book from this list.



Tuesday, 12 December 2017

"How to Not Lose Your Mind Over the Holidays"

Wait, what's that "festive holiday party" anxiety?

I have something to tell you, a tiny secret. Come closer. Here it is: not everyone loves Christmas. There. I said it.

If you were to believe everything that you read and watch on TV, you would think that December is four weeks of sheer happiness. For many people, it's four weeks of ridiculously high expectations, stress, low mood and high anxiety. In the weeks leading up to Christmas and Hanukkah we are inundated with reminders that we need to spend more money, buy that perfect gift, host the perfect holiday party, and on and on. Add to that poor weather and reduced sunlight and you can easily slip into depression. Even if you truly do love the holiday season and everything is going great in your world, stress is still there.

I used to be one of those people who LOVED Christmas - everything about it. I planned and hosted a big holiday party for my friends every year. I searched high and low for the absolute, most perfect gifts for my family and friends, and usually started shopping in September. Christmas would almost always be spent with my immediate family and my maternal grandparents; like something out of a Hallmark card - family gathered together to celebrate the season. On the surface, it all sounds wonderful. Look closer and you can spot some cracks in the veneer.

SOCIAL COMMITMENTS: Just say no.
The holiday party that I hosted each year for many years was fun. It was also a lot of work, cost a lot of money and, always, I drank far too much and was left with a horrific hangover, sometimes for two days. I won't lie - I loved it for a long time but when I started to love it less and then, subsequently, stopped drinking alcohol, it was time to end that particular tradition.

As my work life has become busier and depression and anxiety have played a larger role in my life, I have had to become very conscious of what I commit to, whether it's at work or outside of work, and how that will impact my mental health. I don't do a lot of socializing anymore and that is by choice. Add introversion to anxiety and you will learn quickly how vital it is to guard your energy levels.

Start saying no. I am getting much better at this but it's a work in progress. Now, before I commit to something, I ask myself, what will this cost me in terms of my wellbeing? If the cost is too high, it's a no-go.

SHOPPING: What IS the perfect gift?
I have always loved shopping. I remember when I was a teenager taking the bus to the mall on Saturdays and wandering the stores for hours on end. I hated Sundays because the stores were all closed. As I became an adult and began living with a mood disorder, the shopping became something that I used to soothe my bruised spirit. It worked until I would get my credit card bill and then reality would hit me hard. My mood would sink and what was the answer to that? More shopping, of course. It was a cycle that I would live with for two decades and that really did a number on my credit rating. And, full disclosure, it's something that I am still working on.

I also equated the perfect gift with happiness. If I could present the two people in my life who seemed to be the hardest to please at Christmas, my dad and grandpa, with the perfect gift then they would be happy and everything would be perfect. There's that word again.

Stop aiming for an impossible goal - perfection is highly overrated anyway. Something else that I finally learned is this: spending time with someone you love is usually gift enough. Plan a breakfast date or coffee from a local coffee shop and a walk in a favorite park. How about plans to catch a movie together in January? Something to look forward to in the new year is a great idea. Just get off the financial roller coaster: set a budget, stick to it, and be creative.

FAMILY: Brady Bunch or Griswalds?
Our little family Christmases were often stressful and that is the simple truth. My dad has never liked Christmas. My grandpa was a man who was not diagnosed with depression until late in life. As a result, he spent much of his life in a 'bad mood', to put it lightly. He adored his children and grandchildren but he was not easy to be around. So my mom tried to make everyone happy at Christmas. And then as I got older, I tried.

Guess what? It is exhausting and just not possible. I am not responsible for anyone's happiness except my own and neither are you. Set some boundaries and make a plan - decide in advance how you will handle the cranky aunt or the drunk brother in law. Create some space to spend time during the holidays with those who make you happiest. Let go of your expectations and allow people to be who they are, as hard as that can be.

A MONTH OF ZEN: Creating moments of calm.
When January rolled around I always fell from my high and hit the ground pretty hard. It's only been in the last five years or so that I have really recognized how all of this - the search for perfection, the spending, the frenzied socializing - has negatively impacted my overall well being. I am sure it's no coincidence that around that time was when I started to come out of my deepest and most serious depression yet. An experience like that makes you look at everything in your life.

My new approach to Christmas is this: I am intentional about creating my own moments of zen. For me, zen is a variety of things. It's gifting my mom with tickets to an event that we can enjoy together. It's sitting each morning with my nephew, our dog and a cup of coffee - enjoying the peace & quiet before the hectic day begins. It's reading a really great book while snuggled under piles of blankets at night And, sometimes, it's as simple as enjoying the twinkling Christmas lights on the house in my neighborhood. Now that is perfect.

KB xo

P.S. Check out these mental health tips for managing the holiday season courtesy of the Mayo Clinic

Sunday, 3 December 2017

"Invisible Superpowers"

I will fight for those who cannot fight for themselves. -Wonder Woman Movie Quote

It's easier to believe in something that we can see, isn't it? With the exception of Santa Claus, God and perhaps the Tooth Fairy, I think it's safe to say that if you can see it, touch it, taste it, it's much easier to believe in it. The same rule holds true when it comes to disability. We can see a person using a wheelchair; therefore, we know that they have a disability. Not so with mental illness.

Have you ever been asked this question, "If you could have any superpower what would it be?" Invisibility would be amazing, yes? You could go do great things - go to places that were normally off limits to you, eavesdrop on conversations and who knows what else. Superpowers are cool and amazing.

But is an invisible illness like a mental disorder amazing? Is it cool? Do we envy people with mental illness? Or do we judge and turn away, perhaps even consider a person with a mental illness to be weak?

The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) reports some interesting findings about the stigma associated with mental illness:

In a 2008 study, "42% of Canadians were unsure whether they would socialize with a friend who has a mental illness" and 46% of Canadians "thought people use the term mental illness as an excuse for bad behavior."  Considering that, conservatively speaking, approximately 1 in 5 of us have either already had a mental illness or will have one in their lifetime, that's a significant part of the population to discount.

That was nine years ago and, in my own experience, I have found that perceptions have improved. Let's see what CMHA reported based on a 2015 survey:
  • 64% of Ontario workers would be concerned about how work would be affected if a colleague had a mental illness.
  • 39% of Ontario workers indicate that they would not tell their managers if they were experiencing a mental health problem.
Yikes! Not good enough. Not good enough at all.

Here is the reality: people with mental disorders are functioning and contributing to the workplace and society at large and they do it Every. Single. Day. You probably work next to a colleague who has an anxiety disorder and you don't even realize it. What many of us don't see is that people who have chronic illness or have experienced some sort of health challenge have developed skills - let's call them superpowers. Some of the superpowers that I have as a result of two decades living with depression and anxiety are:

Resiliency: There was a time in my twenties when a set back would take me out for the count for awhile. It wasn't always easy for me to bounce back from a breakup with a boyfriend or a disappointment in life; I took things hard. The ups and downs of a mood disorder have taught me how to go with the flow and to be able to dust myself off faster after disappointment.

Perspective: Quite frankly, when you have experienced the darkest depths of depression and been to a place where you question the point of your life, you gain the gift of perspective. I learned how to place things into perspective: will this thing that seems so important to me today be as important a week from now, a year from now or when I am 80 years old? If I can't answer yes to all three questions then it isn't worth my time or worry.

Positivity: I wasn't always positive. There were times when depression had me tightly in its grips that everything seemed bleak - the glass most definitely appeared almost completely empty. But for some reason I never lost sight of a tiny sliver of light, that little bit of hope was still there. I made a choice to view things from a positive perspective as a survival technique. It took practice but it was well worth it and I now view the majority of things in life positively.

Confidence: Knowing that I survived the worst and made it to where I am today (amazing friends, a loving family and a career that I truly love) has given me what might be the greatest superpower of all: confidence. It took me many years to claim this particular superpower and now that I have it, I am not giving it back. I know that I can come back from the brink of despair to achieve great things and I am far less likely to settle for that half empty glass these days.

It's time for Canadians to understand that mental illness is not a sign of weakness or an excuse. Those of us with mental health challenges have skills and the ability to contribute to society. We make amazing friends, employees, parents and partners. Together, let's remove that cloak of stigma that renders us invisible - it's well past time.

Now here's a secret that I want to share with you: YOU have superpowers, too. Together we can save the world! Or, at the very least, we can make it inclusive for all. And that's the kind of world that I want for us all.

KB xo

P.S. Did you know that December 3 is the United Nations International Day of Persons with Disabilities? Learn more here. The theme for 2017 is Transformation towards sustainable and resilient society for all. A 'super' theme if you ask me.





Sunday, 5 November 2017

"Talk About it Already"

Telling Someone with a mental illness to Snap Out of it, is like telling someone who is deaf to listen harder #mentalhealth via International Bipolar Foundation

Raise your hand if you have ever had to go to your job and work while you were sick. I am going to guess that is all of us, minus the millionaires among us. It's hard, isn't it? Trying to concentrate in an important meeting while your head is stuffed up with a winter cold isn't easy. We tend to understand and feel sympathy when a colleague has the common cold. Guess what else is common? Depression and anxiety.

The number one category of disability worldwide is mental illness. Yes, worldwide. Not just at my workplace or your workplace of even just in Canada. Worldwide. And yes, we still don't talk about mental illnesses nearly enough. We put up posters in workplaces encouraging employees to get flu shots, to stop smoking and to lift boxes safely. Mental health awareness? Not so much. Still.

I often speak at conferences and at organizations about the importance of being proactive about mental health awareness in the workplace. I share facts and figures, I tell parts of my own personal story and I even partner with the big guns at the Mental Health Commission of Canada sometimes. I know that I have helped people see the toll that untreated mental illness has on our society. And yet, there are still those people in the audience who are holding onto the old way of thinking. It goes something like this, "I can't afford to have an employee go on a disability leave or even take a few days off to look after their mental health. I have a business to run and I can't be short staffed. And I don't have time to talk about this stuff - I need to talk about our customers and sales targets and whatever else is urgent."

I get it. I really do. 

And here is what I want to say to those people: unless you take the time to begin this conversation in your workplace you are closing your eyes to an epidemic, and one that will negatively impact your organization's financial bottom line. If the human argument doesn't reach you then I am hoping that the financial imperative will.

According to the Mental Health Commission of Canada (MHCC), approximately $28.8B is spent annually in Canada in disability income support. Organizations are experiencing an increase in worker's compensation claims, high benefits utilization rates, an increase in grievances and workplace conflict. There is a financial price tag associated with each of these things.

And here are two of  the saddest statistics courtesy of the MHCC: up to 90% of Canadians living with severe mental illness are unemployed; unemployment is associated with a two to three times increased relative risk of suicide as compared to those who are employed.

And here is what this all comes down to: the belief that mental illnesses are not real illnesses. I have said it many times before and I will continue to say it; stigma kills. 

Depression is very real. So are anxiety, addiction and OCD. People who have these illnesses ARE able to work and contribute to society but they sometimes need a little help. They need to know that their employer will support them just as their colleagues with the flu or a broken leg or cancer are supported. Mental illnesses are just as real - you just can't always see them.

To the managers, leaders and executives out there I ask you this: is your workplace psychologically safe and healthy? Are you not just ignoring your employees' mental health but also, perhaps, negatively impacting it? And the most important question of all is can you afford NOT to start a conversation about mental health?

KB

P.S. Want to learn more about the National Standard for Psychological Health and Safety? Visit the Mental Health Commission of Canada's website.



She Seemed Happy

She seemed happy. He was so successful. He had it all - love, money and fame. The last time that I spoke to her she was making plans. The...