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Nearly 450 million people worldwide are currently living with a mental health challenge, yet nearly two thirds of persons with a known mental illness never choose to seek treatment. Additionally, the COVID-19 pandemic has had a profound impact on the mental health of persons of all ages, status and walks of life.

These numbers will only increase, leading to another pandemic. In November 2020, the CDC reported that 44 per cent of us were dealing with either depression or anxiety.

While historically data shows us that one in five adults will experience a mental health challenge, these days it certainly feels like it’s five in five.

However, let us not only focus on dark facts. Let’s shine a light in the darkness. Now, more than ever, it is critical to reduce the stigma around mental health struggles, because that stigma often prevents individuals from seeking help.

“When MHA started Mental Health Month in 1949, we did so to communicate the importance of mental health to overall health. Our insights about the factors that lead to mental health for all ––including embracing diversity, equity, and inclusion in all we do ––have grown since then.

“There are things we must do to change the world around us. And there are things we can do for ourselves along the way,” shared Paul Gionfriddo, President and CEO of Mental Health Awareness.

Building our resilience

The pandemic forced us to cope with situations we never even imagined, and a lot of us struggled with our mental health as a result. Many people who had never experienced mental health challenges found themselves struggling for the first time.

During the month of May, HEALTH PLUS will be focusing on different topics that can help process the events of the past year and the feelings that surround them, while also building skills and support that extend beyond COVID-19.

It is important to remember that working on your mental health and finding tools that help you thrive will take time. Change won’t happen overnight.

Instead, by focusing on small changes, you can move through the stressors of the past year and develop long-term resilience strategies to support yourself on an ongoing basis.

Prioritising your Mental Health

We all face trauma, adversity and other stresses throughout our lives. When people think of trauma, they often think of things like abuse, terrorism or catastrophic events (big ‘T’ trauma).

Trauma can also be caused by events that may be less obvious but can still overwhelm your capacity to cope, like frequent arguing at home or losing your job (little ‘t’ trauma).

Trauma of any kind can be hard on your mental health but prioritising the development of these strategies and becoming more resilient can help you feel more at ease.

Tips for coping

1 ↓Pause before reacting

When you feel yourself getting upset, take a moment to notice what you’re thinking, then take a few deep breaths or count to 10 in your head. By giving yourself even just a few seconds before reacting, you can put some emotional distance between you and whatever is disturbing you––and you might even realise that you’re actually tense because of something else.

2 Release built up energy

Anger is a high-energy emotion, and we store that energy and tension physically in our bodies. Exercise is a great way to get rid of extra energy and can improve your mood.

Some people find grounding exercises (like meditation or deep breathing) helpful to calm intense feelings, while others prefer more high impact activities like running or weightlifting.

Think about what you usually do to decompress, like taking a hot shower or blasting your favourite music and use the tools that you know work for you.

3 Manage your expectations

Negative feelings often stem from people or situations not meeting your standards or assumptions. It’s frustrating to feel let down but recognise that you can’t fully predict anyone else’s behaviour or how situations will play out. Shift your mental framework so that you aren’t setting yourself up for disappointment.

4 Talking it out

Keeping your feelings bottled up never works, so allow yourself time to explore what you feel. As long as you don’t focus on it for too long, venting can be a healthy outlet for your emotional disturbances. You can open up to a trusted friend or write it all down in a journal. Sometimes it feels better to pretend to talk directly to the person (or situation) that you’re angry or distressed about––pick an empty chair, pretend they’re sitting in it, and say what you need to get off your chest.

5 ↓Don’t be afraid to ask for help

If you’re working to cope with anxiety, anger or depression but feel like you can’t get it under control, it’s time to get some extra support. Anger can fester and become explosive if not resolved. A number of mental health conditions can manifest as anger, so this may actually be a sign of depression or anxiety–treating an underlying condition can help heal your trauma as well. Reach out to a mental health professional or even a trusted friend or loved one that can guide you to the right resources.

The good news is that there are tools and resources available that can support the well-being of individuals and communities. Now, more than ever, we need to combat the stigma surrounding mental health concerns.

Language matters in compassionate care

Especially in behavioural health care, the words you use matter and that doesn’t mean just what you say in front of a patient. What you say behind closed doors with friends and coworkers can be the seed for stigma and perpetuate discrimination.

Using people-first language means speaking in a way that primarily acknowledges the person, rather than the illness or disability. In other words, individuals with mental illness and disabilities are first and foremost … people!

Lookout for HEALTH PLUS every Tuesday for more informative articles on achieving optimal health and wellbeing. If you have any questions or interest in subscribing to these articles, please email [email protected]