A message from Dr. Nel Wieman, FNHA Acting Deputy Chief Medical Officer
This week is Mental Illness Awareness Week, a time to talk openly about mental illness and to share our experiences and struggles with mental health and wellness.
This year's theme for Mental Illness Awareness Week is, “There is no health without mental health." Mental health is as important as our physical, spiritual, and emotional health. We need to keep this top of mind these days as the COVID-19 pandemic has brought new challenges and highlighted existing struggles that Indigenous communities already face.
As COVID-19 continues to put a strain on our communities, we need to prioritize mental health and wellness now more than ever. Addressing mental health concerns allows us to maintain balance, foster resilience, and stay strong for ourselves and others.
Mental illness is common, especially during stressful times
One in five Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at some point in their lives, with the most common being mood and anxiety disorders – and less common, but often more complex, being bipolar disorder and schizophrenia. Even if you have not experienced a mental illness, chances are someone close to you has or will.
During the pandemic, it is common to feel anxious and afraid of getting sick – perhaps even depressed. We know this situation is stressful. People living with mental illness and addictions may be finding it especially difficult to cope.
If you or someone you know is struggling, help is available. The new First Nations Virtual Substance Use and Psychiatry Service provides Indigenous people in BC with access to specialists in addictions medicine and psychiatry. Up to 70 per cent of persons living with mental illness see their symptoms begin before the age of 18, so the earlier we get the help we need for ourselves and for others, the better the outcome.
Ways to manage and mitigate mental illness
1) Access support early before mental illness becomes more complex and deeply rooted. Research indicates that early interventions play a big role in ensuring persons with mental illness can live their lives to the fullest.
2) Nurture spirit by connecting with the Creator, connecting with others (in your bubble or via technology at this time), spending time outdoors, listening to music you enjoy, practising meditation or mindfulness, spending time on hobbies, and more. For more ideas, click on this link.
3) Reduce stigma by treating people with mental illness respectfully and kindly, with compassion and understanding. Sometimes stigma can be harder to deal with than the illness itself. In fact, the World Health Organization calls stigma the “hidden burden" of mental illness. Family and friends should take the time to learn about their loved one's mental health concerns / illness from trusted sources. Better understanding can contribute to reducing stigma and fostering compassion. See this resource to learn more.
Learn more about the ways you can support your health and wellness and manage mental illness here.
As we stay strong and walk this path through the COVID-19 pandemic, remember that we are all in this together, and that accessing or providing support for mental illness is a brave step toward ensuring our wellness and the wellness of all our relations.
Resources and supports for those living with mental illness
You can find many resources and supports by clicking the following link: FNHA Mental Health and Cultural Supports during COVID-19.
To find resources in your area, you can contact your local Canadian Mental Health Association branch at www.cmha.ca/get-involved/find-your-cmha/, your local crisis centre for suicide prevention at www.suicideprevention.ca/in-crisis-now/find-a-crisis-centre-now/, or call 211 / visit www.211.ca.
You can read about or watch videos featuring individuals sharing their mental health stories – both their advocacy work and their recovery stories – by clicking here and here. For more information, visit: https://www.camimh.ca/mental-illness-awareness-week/about-miaw/.