A Word About Mental Health

In honour of today being #BellLetsTalk day, a national campaign to end the stigma surrounding Mental Health and Illness, I have a word or two to say about mental health.

It’s not always obvious.

As a student nurse who has seen different forms of illnesses and diseases in front of her face, I can tell you that a fracture or wheezing in the lungs tends to be one of our easier cases. There are routine assessments for that sort of thing that have been used and developed by medical professionals and clinical specialists for many years. There are actual diagnoses that these medical professionals and clinical specialists can validate and the rest of the medical team can get behind by. There are treatments and medications for these diseases/illnesses, like insulin or morphine, which have been commonly used and prescribed for these illnesses. So when someone comes in for having an unusually high blood pressure or for spraining a joint, the medical team is prepped and ready to treat it. It’s taken with a high degree of seriousness.

When someone comes up to another person and says they’re feeling depressed, the most common responses are:

“What for? You have a great life – you have nothing to be depressed about!”

“Just try smiling and going out with your friends more!”

“You’ll be fine, just make more of an effort.”

They are quite rarely treated seriously. It is only when very serious things occur due to depression when people begin to realize the magnitude of their words or actions. Why do we have to get to that point?

It is important to be conscious about the effects our words and actions have to other people. It is vital to be understanding, empathetic, and a source of comfort for other people, and not a place of judgement. I believe this to be an “everyday rule” but this significantly applies to mental health. Your mental health is incredibly important. It’s the source of your ability for self-care, the source for your ability to function productively on a day-to-day basis, the source for your ability to interact with others, etc. It’s important to ensure that that part of you is well taken care of.

Mental illness is therefore a physiological, clinical illness that affects that part of the person. Mental illness is a product of neurological and psychological defects. Social construct refuses to see it in that way. Society would have us to believe that mental illness “isn’t real” and that it is just a way for people to “be lazy” and “complain.” I cannot stress this enough but that ideology is 100%, completely and utterly false.

If we buy in to this way of thinking, if we adopt this ideology about mental illness that society would like us to believe, we are facilitating the stigma that surrounds this issue. We are silencing voices that need to be heard. We are condemning the people who have these illnesses to fight a difficult battle alone and to suffer this silently. We are not allowing people the right to access safe, efficient health care that can possibly save their life.

What’s funny is that we wait for when someone takes their own life due to depression to be sorry for our actions.

Mental illness is still so heavily stigmatized. People still don’t take it seriously. People are ignorant about how debilitating it is emotionally and physiologically. You can provide someone with as much clinical proof as possible – that depression, anxiety, bipolar disease, schizophrenia, etc. are all physiological illnesses – and they’ll still tell you to just “get over it.” Get real. Your mental health is equally as important as i.e your cardiovascular health. Be educated. Be kind and understanding. Think before you speak. Reach out. You can be saving a life just by being an open-minded and kind person.12651241_10156543597845457_5977017614954725656_n

Self Administered Treatment for Anxiety Disorder [Part II: CBT Exercises]


It’s important to be aware of mental health issues and how to treat them. Sometimes we aren’t even aware of how we can actively be involved in our own recovery and in the maintenance of our own mental health. My last post focused on anxiety disorder, how it impacts one’s mental state and how one can address it using relaxation exercises. This weeks’ post will be focused on more cognitive behavioural approaches towards treating and minimizing anxiety on one’s own.

One cognitive behavioural technique you can do on your own is filing out a thought record. Here is a step by step description of how you can fill out a through record:

1. State the situation that triggered the anxiety by answering the 5 W’s (Who? What? Where? When? Why?).

2. Describe your mood during the situation and rate that feeling from 0-100.

3. Describe the automatic thoughts that occurred just before your feelings of anxiety began. Think about how the situation reflects who you are and your future? Write down what your fear is and why? Think about any images or memories that might come to mind.

4. State the concrete, factual evidence for the most extreme and anxiety provoking thought from step 3.

5. State the evidence against the extreme thought.

6. Are there any alternative thoughts? Rate how much you believe each thought from 1-100.

7. State what mood you are now feeling after completing the exercise. Rate that mood(s) from 0-100.

The point of this exercise is to interpret your anxiety and how you are feeling, why you are feeling it, whether your thoughts have evidence and to think of an alternative thought. After breaking down the scenario and considering how accurate your thoughts are and why they may not be as accurate as you think you will hopefully be feeling less anxious. When we get anxious, we tend to think more irrationally as our mind begins to race and we think of the worst case scenarios. Through this exercise, we are able to identify our triggers and our unrealistic thought while also thinking of more alternative, rational thoughts. It takes time to master a thought record but it is a good way to reflect on oneself and identify why you are anxious. A helpful suggestion as mentioned in the last post is to show the thought record to a friend, family member or loved one so that when an anxious episode begins, they can remind you to do your exercise and can even coach you through completing it.

If you don’t have time for complete a thought record or don’t have a template available, another helpful way to diminish anxiety on your own is by jotting down the unrealistic thought that is causing anxiety (this can be on paper, in your phone, whatever is easily available and works for you) and then coming up with a more realistic and balanced thought.

An example from http://www.anxietybc.com/self-help-cognitive-behavioural-therapy-cbt :

Unhelpful and unrealistic thought:

I always screw things up. I’m such a loser. What’s wrong with me?”

More realistic and balanced thought:

“Everyone makes mistakes, including me – I’m only human. All I can do now is try my best to fix the situation and learn from this experience”

Don’t make these exercises difficult on yourself. Jot down simple thoughts that you can work with. They can be specific thoughts to a particular situation or more general thoughts on how you view yourself. Regardless, it’s good to work through these thoughts in order to calm the mind.

I hope these relaxation techniques and CBT exercises can be helpful to those of you facing anxiety disorder. It’s a tough battle to fight, so do your best to be actively involved in your own support and treatment. Take the time to focus on yourself and work through your anxious episode through breathing, muscle tensing, thought records or realistic thinking. We are the answer to our own recovery.


Thought record http://www.docstoc.com/docs/102511728/CBT-Thought-Record http://www.anxietybc.com/self-help-cognitive-behavioural-therapy-cbt


Cognitive Hypnotherapy for Anxiety – Article in the Guardian Newspaper

Coping with Anxiety Disorder

Anxiety is not to be taken lightly. You’d be surprised just how many people suffer from Anxiety. Anxiety can be classified as a disorder and mental illness where individuals feel a sense of danger, worry and/or fear. Individuals may feel for their safety in a current or future situation, they may experience feelings of worry triggered by a particular event or they may have experienced a traumatic event in the past that brings about anxious feelings. This disorder can also be co-morbid with disorders such as depression, post-traumatic stress disorder, panic disorder or obsessive-compulsive disorder. Symptoms of anxiety may include rapid heartbeat and breathing, sweaty palms, irrational thoughts, dizziness, shaking and nausea. Not everybody experiences anxiety in the same way. Some people describe the feeling as having a heart attack and others feel as though they are dying.

By age 11 I knew something was wrong. It was shortly after 9/11 occurred in the U.S. that my parents flew home from a vacation in the states. On their way to Toronto, their plane ran out of fuel and had to land in New York. When my sister and I received the call that they would not be returning until the following night and that they would be staying in New York, anxiety took over. After this event, I grew fearful of my parents being away. I would have full blown panic attacks and tantrums when they tried leaving my sister and I at home to go for dinner. Anytime they left the house I feared I would never see them again. Anxiety completely took over my 11 year old life. I could not longer go to sleepovers without panicking and having to call my mum to pick me up. I could no longer be away from my parents for what I considered to be long periods of time. My mother knew that something was wrong, as my life had been significantly impacted by this one event. My mom decided it was time for professional assistance.

I saw my first therapist at age 11. My therapist assisted me to change my perceptions and corresponding behaviours though cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT). Through CBT, my therapist enabled me to cope with my anxiety by taking small steps towards overcoming a particular problem. For example, she would have my parents leave for 1 hour so that I could learn to deal with my thoughts and emotions that accompanied their absence. She would have me complete worksheets during these times in order to monitor my thoughts and emotions. Such worksheets included mood and thought scales, where I would rate my current mood and anxiousness on a scale of 1-10 and then record it once my parents returned. Another exercise was called the “coping character”, where I would think about someone I considered to be influential and think about what that person might do in this situation in order to help calm my mind.

With a lot of time and hard work, I eventually conquered my separation anxiety. I once had fears that I would never be able move away from home, travel, and study abroad, and yet here I am, being able to say I got to do each of those things. I am sharing my story because people deal with anxiety everyday. I may have overcome my separation anxiety, but I still experience anxiety on a fairly regular basis. I remain proactive in keeping my anxiety under control. Self-help and learning to self-cope is extremely important for any disorder. If you are facing anxiety, start today to learn how to cope with your thoughts so that your anxiety will not hinder on your everyday life. Try doing a thought record where you consider the situation that makes you anxious, rate your current feelings, jot down your anxious thoughts that situation generates, facts that support the anxious thoughts, facts against the anxious thoughts, your alternative/balanced thoughts and your final emotion rating. Thought records help to calm the mind by forcing your mind to think more rationally based on facts. For those of you who can share in the discomfort of anxiety, it is a difficult barrier to deal with, but with the appropriate tools and supports, each day gets easier.

For self-help worksheets such as thought records, check out this website with free downloadable forms: http://www.getselfhelp.co.uk/freedownloads2.htm



Image From: https://www.boundless.com/psychology/psychological-disorders/anxiety-disorders/explaining-anxiety-disorders/




Mad Pride


Did you have a good time at Gay Pride?  Want to keep the fun going and learn something?  Then try Mad Pride.  Mad Pride is an arts, culture, and heritage festival created by psychiatric survivors, consumers, mad people, and folks the world has labelled ‘mentally ill.’  People experiencing mental health deal with discrimination, stigma and are commonly misunderstood. Mad Pride uses art and theatre to dispel stereotypes and to educate. There are free Mad Pride events all over the city and on campus at Ryerson from July 8-14.  This years international Mad Pride day is July 14.

If you can only make a couple of events, here are some recommendations.  However, I have a feeling that if you attend one you will want to attend more!

Altered States – Films by mad people

This documentary follows the life of Khari Stewart, a Canadian rapper who has rejected his label of schizophrenia.  He has chosen to view his experiences as spiritual rather than medical.  This documentary challenges our notions of mental illness and health.

Ryerson University
245 Church Street

“The walls are alive with the sound of mad people” 

In the 19th century the buildings of CAMH were built by unpaid patient labourers.  This tour of the grounds is a theatrical event guided by the Friendly Spike Theatre Band.  If you don’t know anything about the history of CAMH (Centre of Mental Health) then this is the event for you.

1001 Queen Street West
Meet on the corner of Queen and Shaw

The Mad Market

1001 Queen Street West

All good pride events have a market.  The mad market will have goods made by mad people which you will go made for.  Performance artists will also be wandering the market.  The perfect place to find that ‘bizarre’ item that you have been searching for.

The Bed Push and After-Party

Meet at Parkdale Library (1303 Queen Street West)
1230-3pm – parade
3-7pm – BBQ

One of the best events of Mad Pride is the annual bed push. Bring your costumes, banners, mad gear, children, family and of course your pride. Enjoy the parade filled with drumming and speeches.  Then stay for food and fun at the destination.

There are tons of other events, from lectures, discussion panels, dance parties to book launches,  happening at various times all around downtown and on campus.  All Mad Pride events are free and accessible.  If you have little experience with ‘mad’ people, you want to learn more about this community, you enjoy arts and theatre, you want to challenge stigma and discrimination or you just want to have some fun then Mad Pride is for you.

Check out Mad Pride’s website for all the details.  Hope to see you there!