January is Mental Wellness month

By Chadd Cawson Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

January is a month when we shine a light on the importance of mental wellness. While the holidays are a happy time for many, for some it only highlights struggle such as loneliness, anxiety, seasonal, or year-round depression. There can be angst in getting through the holidays or jumping into a positive frame of mind for the new year.  

According to Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), Canada’s largest mental teaching hospital and one of the world’s largest leading researchers in its field, one in five Canadians experience a mental illness and by the age of 40 one in two have already been affected by (a mental illness).  

Mental health and illnesses affect us either directly or indirectly. According to CAMH, young people ages 15 to 24 are more likely to experience a mental illness or substance use disorder more than any other age group. Their studies show that men have higher rates of substance use disorders and women have higher rates of mood and anxiety disorders. 

The weight of depression can lead to suicide attempts. CAMH studies show over that 75 per cent of suicides involve men, but women are prone to attempt it three to four times as often. More than half involve people over 45. Indigenous Peoples die by suicide at much higher rates than non-Indigenous Peoples, especially Indigenous youth ages 15 to 24, who die by suicide six times as often. For Inuit youth it is 24 times more than the national average. 

“I think mental illness is more widespread than people realize,” said Mayor Miller. “Because it’s a subject that is not widely talked about, it’s not like having a disease… When it’s mental health you can’t see it, and it’s only those people that carry it every day in their lives — they feel it. Some days are good, and some days aren’t so good. There’s a percentage of people out there that are isolated, and have nobody around — That’s a challenge, we need to try and do better, we need to reach out to people who feel alone. That feeling of isolation can lead to a state of depression and it’s difficult, I feel, for those people. COVID made our lives and people very divisive and that shouldn’t have happened. Rather than picking on people, we need to share more kindness.”

“If we don’t have our mental wellness, then often, we won’t have our physical wellness, making it hard for us to function in our day-to-day lives or society. For our community, mental wellness is a number one priority,” said Columbia Valley Métis president, Monica Fisher. “Within our local community, mental wellness can be such a concern due to lack of housing, the lack of job opportunities here, and the ability to bring in counsellors and psychologists to live here and support all of our people.”

Multiple studies show that spending time with our loved ones can improve our mood and happiness, not just around the holidays but the whole year through. Social interaction that includes face-to-face talking, and eye contact can enhance the quality of our relationships. Some people tend to ignore the positive things and focus on the negatives. The more we practice gratitude and speak it, the more we see our mindsets change, followed often by more good things entering our lives. Be thankful for your health, work, family, or friends. Being mindful can also help us find emotional balance. Breathing and exercises such as meditation and yoga can help.

Self-care is necessary. It includes decreasing screen time, meditating and doing nothing, or spending time with people you love. It can be learning more about yourself and traveling to destinations alone or spending time in nature. Sometimes leaving our comfort zone is what brings us the most comfort in the long run. Therapy is not limited to talking to a professional behind a closed door for 60 minutes; it is bringing any skills or habits into our life that can make us more emotionally intelligent, improve the quality of our work, relationships, and life. 

“We are lucky that we live in the Columbia Valley and have so many outdoor activities. I find in the winter it can be more difficult because we may be more stuck inside and with the weather being darker and greyer,” said Fisher. “I feel some small ways we can improve our mental wellness is by taking a drive up to Panorama where it may be sunnier and going for short walks, or finding another way to stay active, and to make sure we are reaching out to the community, and friends and other support networks when needed.”

The expectation to always be happy is an unrealistic one but there are things we can get in the habit of doing for overall healthy mental wellness. They include acknowledging body and emotional changes, allowing ourselves to feel what we are feeling, eating healthily, making sure to visit a doctor regularly and ensuring we are getting a good night’s rest. 

Having a purpose makes people feel positive whether it’s in work, service, hobby or family. Studies show that having a purpose can have multiple benefits including being happier, sleeping better, improved mind-body connection and living longer.

Mental Wellness month reminds us to be brave enough to have tough conversations. Research shows that our mental health significantly impacts our physical health. Individuals who suffer with chronic conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, or cancer are more prone to experiencing depression or anxiety.

Make Mental Wellness Month count this January by making those new year resolutions or by creating some new positive habits. Explore your interests, do what’s important to you, and have someone you can talk to. A passion and purpose equal a more positive mind, and the better our mental wellness, the better our quality of life. A great habit to get into to improve mental wellness, is through positive interactions and kindness we give to others; little things mean a lot. 

“Going forward, when people are out and about, I’d like to see more people showing random acts of kindness just out of the blue,” said Mayor Miller. “That can be as simple as showing a smile or a wave to people as you’re crossing their paths on the sidewalk, or if you can do it even purchasing a beverage for the person behind you in line. Just random acts of kindness, it’s simple but it’s something we need to do more of.”

Note BELL Canada’s #BelLetsTalk campaign, inaugurated in January of 2011 and which will be recognized on Jan. 25.