Let’s Talk Mental Health & Wellness: What is it, how to nurture it



A message from Dr. Nel Wieman, Senior Medical Officer, Mental Health & Wellness

We all want to enjoy good health and wellness, which means having a reasonable balance in all aspects of life – physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually. Being mentally healthy also means having the ability to enjoy life and the willingness to think about and deal with everyday challenges such as making decisions/choices, adapting to and coping with difficult situations, talking about one's needs and desires, and maintaining meaningful relationships. Of course, everyone feels sad, worried or scared now and then. But when these kinds of feelings don't go away and keep affecting your thinking, mood or behaviour, making you feel distressed or as if you're unable to meet your usual responsibilities – you may be experiencing symptoms of a mental illness. Fortunately, there is help if you or someone you know is affected.

Who is affected by mental illness?

One in five Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at some point in their life. Even if you have not experienced a mental illness, chances are someone close to you has had, has, or will have a mental illness. In other words, mental illness affects everyone, whether directly or indirectly! We are all implicated in fostering conditions, environments and structures that respectively and effectively serve people with mental health conditions—and together we can.

Ways to support mental health and wellness

Supporting mental health and wellness – and combatting mental illness – includes (but is not at all limited to): 1) nurturing spirit, 2) reducing stigma, and 3) life promotion.

Nurturing spirit: This is the aspect in your life that makes you smile! Nurturing your spirit is about whatever positive, healthy practice or choice that makes you feel good and content; builds your self-esteem and self-confidence; and allows you to be connected to the Creator, others, yourself, and nature. Nurturing your spirit supports the mental, emotional and physical aspects of your being. Even though your spirit is fundamental in your wellness it is often overlooked or not supported when discussing your health. A huge component of taking a First Nations perspective on health and wellness is our holistic view, that is, we consider essential aspects such as culture and spirituality, which are often overlooked as unimportant in the western medical system. Some examples of nurturing your spirit:

 ​connecting with the Creator;

 connecting with others or helping others;

 spending time in nature;

 spiritual practices including drumming and dancing;

 listening to music you enjoy;

 de-stressing by meditating or praying;   

 spending time on your hobby or learning a new one; and

 for more ideas on nurturing spirit, see our previous article here.

To think about: What activities might you consider nurturing of spirit?

Reducing stigma: Stigma means thinking less of a person because of their condition. Reducing stigma is very important, because stigma adds to the suffering caused by mental illness by making people feel unwanted and ashamed for something that is not their choice or fault. It may be harder to deal with than the illness itself. In fact, the World Health Organization calls stigma the “hidden burden" of mental illness. Stigma also plays a role in people who are experiencing symptoms of a mental illness feeling unwilling or unable to seek help and/or access services. Here are some ways to help reduce/get rid of stigma:

 ​treat everyone with respect, i.e., in a way that they consider respectful;

 be warm, caring and non-judgmental in every interaction;

 Use language with sensitivity and common sense, e.g., say “person with a mental illness" instead of “crazy," and “person with schizophrenia" instead of “schizo";

 learn the facts about mental health and mental illness; and

 challenge stigma when you see it!

To think about: What are some of the ways you might be able to help with reducing stigma? 

Life Promotion: This is a strengths-based approach to living with mental health and wellness challenges; one that recognizes each person as worthy and capable of walking a path to a meaningful life and of creating a positive difference in our communities. Life promotion emphasizes the importance of purpose, hope, belonging and meaning in our lives and seeks a holistic approach for cultivating these, as outlined in guiding documents like the First Nations Mental Wellness Continuum Framework. With a life promotion approach to mental health and wellness, we shift from focusing on “illness" to looking at proactive, distinct paths for healing and wellness—whatever form they may take. What's more, we understand that a life promotion approach to mental health and wellness isn't only about promoting hope and meaning for people, it is also about changing the healthcare systems. This includes identifying, honouring and learning from what is already working in communities, instead of just bringing in solutions from elsewhere. For example, supporting and recognizing traditional healers and Elders as good medicines and integral service providers in our health and wellness systems is a key ingredient for a future of life promotion.

To think about: What are some of the ways you can support this life promotion approach?

Resources for living with mental illness

FNHA Mental Health Benefits link;

 Indian Residential School Resource link; Bell Let's Talk Mental Health link; and

 KUU-US 24-Hour Crisis Line Society for Adults/Elders & Youth at   http://www.kuu-uscrisisline.com/. KUU-US operates a 24-hour ​​​provincial Aboriginal / culturally safe crisis line for Adults/Elders (250-723-4050), Child/Youth (250-723-2040), Toll-Free Line (18005888717).​

Here are three ways to learn what other resources are available in your area:

 Contact your local Canadian Mental Health Association branch at www.cmha.ca/get-involved/find-your-cmha/;

 Find a local crisis centre for suicide prevention at www.suicideprevention.ca/in-crisis-now/find-a-crisis-centre-now/; or

​ Call 211, Canada's primary source of information on government and community-based health and social services – or visit www.211.ca.

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