“Mental health is defined (by the World Health Organization (WHO)) 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 her or his community. (1)
Have you ever had too many appliances in use at once and flipped a breaker? Or perhaps you’ve opened too many windows at the same time on your laptop, only to have your system crash in the middle of an important assignment. Well, in regards to the breaker issue, you’d likely unplug all unnecessary appliances, flip the power switch back on and problem solved. As for the computer overload, you’ll probably end up closing all unnecessary windows and some programs and hit reboot. And chances are, you’ll learn from your experience and it won’t happen again...well not too soon anyway.
When I think of understanding mental health these are analogies that I have found helpful to relate to. Although by comparison these are fairly simplistic analogies, since “It has been estimated that we have anywhere from 25,000 to 50,000 thoughts a day,” and “when programmed to simulate human brain activity, it took “one of the most powerful computers in the world” 40 minutes to crunch the data equivalent to just one second of brain activity.” (3)
So, like the overloaded electrical or computer systems, perhaps you can relate to feeling pulled in so many directions, that you suddenly felt you couldn’t keep up and found yourself experiencing difficulty coping? Anyone who knows what it feels like to suffer a great loss has likely been through a period when it feels almost impossible to journey through to the other side? Life’s stressors will always be there, and they can accumulate, a bit like “repetitive strain for the brain.”
When you stop and think about it, as we age and mature and experience life’s challenges, we are constantly collecting and processing vast amounts of data and assuming more numerous and complex roles with expectations for performance mounting and time always appearing to be in limited supply. And now with the age of “high speed” technology rapidly escalating, the words “down time” seem to be becoming almost obsolete.
So how much is too much - your mental health limits?
- the breaking point is as varied as the number of people there are in the world, and
- the types of mental illness are equally as varied, because
- there is no one cause for mental illness, it is “A complex interplay of genetic, biological, personality and environmental factors…” (2)
However, though everyone is unique, what we do share in common is that we need to stop and take notice that our mental health or that of the people close to us is sending warning signs that deserve immediate attention.
What are some of the warning signs?
- you find yourself so worried about the future that you can’t be happy in the present
- you’re struggling to find the joy in things that you used to enjoy
- maybe you’ve started to retreat from family and friends, becoming isolated because you feel overwhelmed
- perhaps it takes only the smallest things to get you irritated and you find yourself struggling to control your emotions more often
- all the thoughts in your head are suddenly difficult to keep up with and you’re struggling with focus and with remembering
- you’re listening but not really hearing and find you’re having trouble carrying on a conversation
If you can identify with any of these warning signs on a consistent basis, It’s likely your brain and your body are signalling you that your mental health is requiring attention. Awareness is key, knowledge is power.
What do you do if you or someone you know has reached or is on the way to reaching their limit?
When your system starts giving you signs that you’ve reached or are about to reach your breaking point, “Mental illnesses can be treated effectively.” (2) With increasing awareness and many resources now available to address this issue you need not struggle alone.
- See your family physician or health care provider- they can help advise in regards to the best course of action to initiate your recovery process and ongoing management
- Seek a referral to a counsellor- they are trained professionals whose main goal is your mental health wellness and they possess a wealth of knowledge and an endless amount of resources to help you
- Talk to your spiritual advisor, a trusted family member or a close friend, a compassionate ear is often the first step in a successful recovery
- Maintain a healthy diet, remembering that what you put into your body is fuel for your brain
- Take advantage of the benefits of regular physical activity, provided your doctor has cleared you for any contraindicating physical health issues, remembering that realistic goals are best
- Get the appropriate rest you need, in order to regenerate and restore your mind - unplugging from technology on a regular basis’ and keeping the bedroom for sleep are some helpful tips
- Increase your awareness of your own mental health, becoming mindful of what goes into your mind, how much you hold on to, and what may be necessary to let go of
- The practice of mindfulness and other relaxation or meditation techniques are helpful tools that have recently been proven to be very effective
Who is affected by mental health - are you at risk?
- In any given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health issue (2)
- Mental illness affects people of all ages, education, income levels, and cultures. (2)
- By age 40, about 50% of the population will have or have had a mental illness (2)
So chances are high that we or someone close to us will be affected by a mental health crisis or illness at some point in our life.
How can we reduce the likelihood of getting to this point before recognizing it and seeking help?
Take ownership – empower yourself, and empower others. In my personal experience, dealing with big life changes has never been easy, but up to this point I’d like to think I’ve managed ok. But as I’ve gotten older, accepting these changes has become even more difficult, even though I realize that they are a necessary part of life. Hopefully it won’t take you a multiple succession of changes and maxing out on coping strategies before you realize that it’s ok for a caregiver to take a break and receive care. There is no shame in asking for help, as shame invokes fear and fear in turn defeats growth. Instead, realize that even the tiniest of steps forward can make all the difference and aim for continued progress with obtainable goals, not perfection. No one is perfect. Be courageous. We can all think of something we want to change but are we willing to be that changing factor, putting fear aside and becoming a catalyst for others to follow suit. Surround yourself with positive influences that are willing to walk beside you on your mental health recovery journey, who are willing to help you draw out your full potential once again. Then pay it forward and walk beside someone you know as they journey through as well. Though our issues may differ we are all in this together. There is strength in numbers.
Where will I stand going forward?
Plan to attend Cameco’s Step up for Mental Health initiative, where exercise, awareness and community support meet to make a difference May 11, 2019. https://www.stepupformentalhealth.ca/step-up-program/what-is-step-up
Sign up for a mental health first aid training course and empower yourself by increasing your own knowledge about mental health. https://saskatoon.cmha.ca/programs-services/mental-health-first-aid-training/
~ Elizabeth, PT