A message from Dr. Nel Wieman (above), FNHA Deputy Chief Medical Officer; and Duanna Johnston-Virgo, FNHA Executive Director, Mental Health and Wellness
World Mental Health Day (Oct. 10) is a good day for each of us to give some thought to the state of our mental health and wellness, including what more we might want to do to improve or maintain it.
While everyone can experience challenges with mental health at times, First Nations people often have additional challenges as a consequence of historical and ongoing colonial injustices and atrocities. And of course, these past few years have been especially stressful for most of us with, to name just a few, the COVID-19 pandemic, the toxic drug crisis, the ongoing “discoveries" of many thousands of children's graves at former residential “school" sites, and First Nations people experiencing racist abuse, including at hospitals where we should be safe.
So, for First Nations people, a core component of working towards good mental health and wellness is acknowledging and healing from the complex and intergenerational trauma that we have experienced and continue to experience. This is a life-long journey that many of us are on; it is not a linear path, nor does it look the same for everyone.
Fortunately, many of our ancestors passed on the intergenerational strength and resilience that they needed to endure and survive profoundly traumatic ordeals related to colonialism, and that we need to continue to heal and to strengthen ourselves mentally, physically, emotionally, and spiritually.
Our ancestors also passed on their knowledge of traditional ways and methods of healing that help support and protect our mental health and wellness, including ceremonies, practices, medicines, and connecting to culture and communities (including friendship centres or other First Nations organizations if you are away from your home community). Community is so important for mental health: try to spend time with people who love and support you, and to get involved in cultural activities.
In addition to connecting with other people, connecting to the land is very important for our mental health. That's why healing for First Nations people often includes community-based, community-driven, land-based healing initiatives. Getting outside in nature helps us nurture spirit. Even walking regularly, especially with a friend or group, is a simple but effective way to support mental health and wellness.
If you are a First Nations person who would like help to improve or maintain your mental health and wellness, you can reach out to one of resources provided below. Please do not feel ashamed if you are having issues with your mental health and wellness, whether it be at times or consistently. We all struggle sometimes, whether it is obvious or not. Having a mental illness or struggling with mental health does not define who you are, and it is nothing to be ashamed of.
You may feel alone, but it's important to know that you are not alone – reach out to a Knowledge Keeper, Elder, or health professional as needed. And because sometimes it is difficult for people in distress to reach out to others, we need to reach out to each other, check in with each other, even if we think we are feeling well.
In addition to the links below, follow the FNHA's social media channels and website for expert information about maintaining good health and wellness, treatment centres, resources, programs, and more.