This article originally appeared on Lifemark.ca and was written by Keith Hanson.
This past year has been challenging, the likes of which we have not seen in our generation. It has affected all of our lives in ways that we never would have imagined and taken a toll on our mental health and wellbeing.
Many people continue to struggle, silently trying to make it from day to day under the uncertainty and unpredictability of the pandemic on top of their life stressors. Talking about our mental health and reaching out for support can really help, but it may seem daunting for a number of reasons.
Why is it so hard to talk about mental health?
Recognizing or admitting that we are struggling with our mental health is not easy for most of us, let alone talking about mental health with others. We may have not have had an experience where we had to talk about it or if we did, we were judged or not supported.
We often do not know how to describe what we are feeling or are able to put it into words. Stigma and fear of discrimination are also factors that prevent us from talking about mental health.
What can we do?
What we know from research and lived experience is that talking about our mental health, whether that is putting our feelings into words or reaching out to talk to someone, can have a positive impact. Putting our feelings into words, known as “affect labelling” can reduce our feelings of distress and our bodies responses (heart rate, tension) to the stressor.
It requires us to self-reflect on the feelings that we have, identify them, and then actually put them into words, which is a feature of mindfulness – something we know is helpful for our mental health.
Recognizing and labelling our emotions is an important step toward caring for our mental health. However, if this is not enough, we may need to reach out for help. A couple things to remember:
We all know it is not easy to admit and to say to someone else that we are struggling and need help. Know that it is a show of courage and strength, not weakness, to reach out for help. The support you will get from others when you open up about it may surprise you. Reaching out for help sooner than later is beneficial not only for us, but the people around us who we love.
We want to be the best versions of ourselves and those around you that love you will want the same for you and will support you in recovering your mental health.
If you are reaching out, look to connect with people who you trust or who have helped you before. If you’re having a hard time finding someone you trust or don’t feel comfortable discussing things with someone close to you, there are resources out there. EAP programs, local mental health helplines or online therapy programs are great places to start.
If you are the person that someone reaches out to for support, know that it took significant strength and courage from that person to talk to you. It’s a good idea to acknowledge that strength, and thank them for reaching out.
Create a safe space to talk about mental health by not being judgmental about what the person may be feeling, accept them fully and remember you do not have to “fix things.” Just be there to support them with a listening ear, open heart, kind words, assist in connecting them to help, and most importantly, just be there for them.
What we all need now more than ever are meaningful connections, safe spaces for courageous conversations about mental health, and an environment where support is given and encouraged. Let’s all support Canadian Mental Health Week and #GetReal about how you feel.