This week is Mental Health Week in Canada.
We have been hearing about the rising concerns about the status of mental health and wellbeing. Loneliness, fear for the future, burnout and overwhelm, disconnection, breaks in routine to activities that bring us joy, lack of access to mental resilience resources like gyms, waiting lists for access to professional support.
It’s tempting to limit our conversation to the stats (that we’ve heard.) It’s good we acknowledge it exists and thankfully don’t deny it exists. It’s not so easy to look deeper into our histories – family, friends, our own – to see where it’s been present and painful. “The past is the past” as they say. For many of us, COVID has brought things to the surface. I know it has for me.
Our family is not without its brush with mental illness.
I can remember hushed conversations about my “shellshocked” great-grandfather post WW1 (“shellshock being now what we understand, years later, to be Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or PTSD). I recall when he would visit at Christmas time, every morning he would lock himself in the bathroom for about two or three hours, clearing his throat loudly (we were told it was because he had mustard glass poisoning however we later realized the noise was the poisoning but the self-isolation was depression). Then he stopped coming for holidays. Not long after that, he jumped off his balcony. When we were told “small granddad” had passed away, we were told it was because he tripped in his apartment. I can remember being confused about how something so small could end his life. We didn’t talk about “such things” back then to “protect” kids. It was a “different time” as they say. No doubt my parents didn’t have any guidance on how to talk to kids about mental health issues.
When mental illness hits too close to home.
So that was my first, albeit unbeknownst to me, experience with mental illness. I wonder if many of us have unknown first experiences that confounded and confused us.
Years later, I’ve tried to better understand my great-grandfather and what he must have suffered with without help, in silence, and perhaps even in shame. If you too want to learn more about PTSD, I highly recommend “The Body Keeps the Score” by van der Kolk as well as “After the War” by Stephen Grenier. In fact, you can catch an interviewer I did with Stephen about this time last year here
And by the way, even if your family hasn’t experienced PTSD specifically, just like they saw with SARS, there are early indicators our providers on the frontlines of COVID are showing the signs of PTSD. A compassionate, smart, talented Respiratory Therapist replied to a recent blog:
“I can tell you we were burnt out before this pandemic. God help us all.”
Re-read those words. Let that sink in. This is serious stuff. Even after COVID, it isn’t over for our providers. All the more reason to continually be showing appreciation to them now. Let’s not brush it aside as we did for generations past.
Let’s talk about it. I’ll go first.
I experienced very severe postpartum depression twice with both of my children. Despite the fact I knew I had depression (I did my undergrad in psychology and master’s in family relations and therapy so had a very solid grounding in the signs, symptoms and treatments.) When I brought up concerns with my doctor, she thought it was baby blues and assured me it would go away soon. I was so unconfident about, well, everything all of a sudden, I convinced myself as soon as my child stopped screaming 23 hours a day and could get a bit more sleep, I’d be better. Insomnia set in. And frankly, I never have totally shaken it more than 18 years later. You can read more about my story here.
Mental illness, and in my case depression, doesn’t discriminate based on how much you know about it, your postal code, your gender, or how many books you’ve read about it. Yes, there are risk factors such as how isolated you are and your socioeconomic status and safety that impact. And, none of us are immune. It happens to psychologists and students and CEOs and delivery drivers. It happens if you’ve worked 60-hour workweeks throughout this crisis or have lost your position. It is possible during and out of lockdown. If you have any concerns, I hope you won’t let it go for months like I did, ignoring the signs.
When it affects our kids.
Perhaps the most painful to tell you about is when my son’s mental health collapsed from being badly bullied, on and off, for five years. When it came to a head where we were worried about his long-term future, we decided to “quit our life.” I quit my job, we sold our house and cottage, we moved to a new community, we started the kids in a new school, all less than a year. If this story sounds familiar, I write about this in the opening of my book “Flip Side of Failing” and share it in my keynote of the same name. My husband and I feel it was our greatest parenting failure, to miss the signs and for his mental health to have gotten so bad, and we also feel – my kids included – that it was our family’s comeback story.
We don’t always feel like the comeback is possible. I’m sharing some of our stories here because the more we talk about how much mental health and illness is a part of our families, perhaps our own stories, and certainly our shared experience, the less we are likely to suffer in silence.
Here are a few things I’ve shared with friends on Zoom calls lately:
- Don’t tell yourself that “others have it worse than I do” (someone always has it worse than you do.)
- You don’t have to “wait for it to pass” (it may however wouldn’t it be better if it didn’t bore its way in deeper and longer?)
- You aren’t “bothering people” when you ask to talk with someone you trust or a professional (they want to help as that gives them meaning.)
If you or someone you love and live with needs resources and access to mental health support, here is a good place to start. Check out what your employer has available too. If you’re self-employed what you can access for yourself through a healthcare spending account (that’s what I have in my business and 100% of registered social workers, psychologists and other licensed professionals’ fees can get covered by your business before tax).
I am not a qualified mental health professional, so I’ll say this as a Recognition Expert: You deserve to be happy and well. Your health – mental and physical – is worth fighting for. You matter.
PS. – please don’t forget, it’s Nurses Week is just a few weeks away. If you don’t yet have your event planned or want to sponsor your local healthcare organization to celebrate in a big way, we’d love to help.
No time to plan an impactful nurses week celebrate with nurses week hot on our heels? This year we wanted to make things easier for everyone so we designed a live virtual learning experience designed to teach resiliency-building strategies that combat burnout in both the short and long term. Our goals: make it easy to access, cover all shifts, inclusive of nurses and everyone they work with, and all of the materials built for busy healthcare organizations to just invite nurses and that’s it. Want to celebrate with us? Reach out to us here.