In learning more about my own mental health this year I recognized that my historical pattern of ignoring it was not something that was sustainable. My experience in acknowledging that my mental health had been impacted was eye opening. Though acknowledging was a first step, it wasn't without its challenges. I had a sense of feeling like an imposter, I was embarrassed, and I was overwhelmed. I honestly felt like I hadn't 'earned' the right to say I was struggling, that I hadn't experienced something significant enough to warrant my mental health being impacted. How could I complain about anything when I have an amazing family and friends who care about me? I have a company that I am growing and I love. How is it possible that I could even suggest that I was struggling? To describe how I was feeling I would say I was simply feeling 'off'. I lacked energy, motivation to get dressed in the morning was low, my choices in foods were lazy, even just mustering the energy to wash and dry my hair seemed like a giant task.
It was in May of this year everything felt like it came crashing down. My Grandma, my final surviving grandparent, someone who I was extremely close to, had passed away in January and like many passings during Covid we delayed funeral services until a warmer month when we could have more people attend and be outside. 24 hours after my Grandma's funeral service my youngest brother's fiance suddenly passed away. Three days after that a close family friend/cottage neighbour passed away suddenly as well. Then on December 4th, my Uncle passed away suddenly. It was as the though world just didn't make sense anymore.
It was looking back on the number of people I had lost in the past 2 years that I started to recognize that although I had not directly experienced a major trauma, the 7 people who had passed away in that time had had a sizeable impact on my mental health. I realized that the state of my mental health had been a gradual erosion, like rocks under a waterfall over time. It was the first time that I put my pride aside and recognized that I needed to do something. I needed to do something for me to help me, but also for those who were struggling even more around me. Question was, what could I do? What resources were available to me? How could I access them? How much would it cost? It was these questions that led me here. Writing this, I guess you would call it a blog post, to help unfold how I could help myself so I would be better able to help others around me.
So here are the steps I took and resources I have discovered over the past several months.
1. Acknowledgement : recognizing that my mental health was not stellar was a big deal for me. It became apparent when I stopped doing any posts for Better Threads on social media. I could not muster up the energy to post happy go lucky posts when I was far from feeling that way myself.
2. Have open and honest conversations : I stopped answering the question "how are you?" with the traditional answer of "I'm good". I started being honest with my responses and by doing that one small change I started having incredibly engaging and meaningful conversations. This was very eye opening as I learned in being more honest and open with my responses that it encouraged others to share what was going on with them, and we would find ourselves comforted by knowing that we were both experiencing things in life that were tough and that we weren't alone. It also opened the door for more regular check ins with one another, which was also very helpful.
There was one common theme though in these conversations, and that was at some point one of us would apologize and say that our struggles were not as difficult as the others. I realized that the degree of what we had each experienced was not something that should ever be compared. That each of our experiences and what we were struggling with was unique and impactful to us and us alone. That it wasn't about who's situation was worse, it was simply that they were different and that to attempt to minimize what either of us was going through was not helpful to either of us. Once I realized I was guilty of that pattern it allowed me to be more present in my own experience but also be more available to listen and that in and of itself has been incredibly helpful to me.
3. Employee Assistance Program (EAP) : many companies offer an EAP program which includes resources, often free or at a minimal cost, for counselling and support. In speaking with a number of people I learned, like me, very few of us have actually engaged our EAP programs.
It was in May this year that I engaged with my husband's EAP program for the very first time. It was amazing how much of a shift I experienced in my mind about mental health during that initial conversation. The counsellor that was speaking with introduced me to the concept of "fuelling up". Meaning, mental health check ins with someone such as a counsellor helps to reduce the likelihood of getting to the point of crisis. It also helps with being better able to help others who are perhaps in or are on their way to crisis.
That very first conversation got me thinking about how much we only pay attention in extreme moments and how we don't treat mental health like we treat most other things. For example, typically we go to the doctor or dentist for check ups, whether it be annually or semi-annually. We don't only utilize these resources when we have a broken bone, an illness, or a toothache. So why do we only tend to engage resources when it comes to our mental health this way? Why don't we treat our mental health the same way as our dental or medical check ups? These were questions that really got me thinking about my own understanding of mental health and what it means to be healthy mentally. This was where I really changed my point of view and my strategy to improve my mental health and how I would maintain it.
4. Researched mental health organizations: while these organizations were not something I was needing it was helpful knowing what resources were available for others.
The first organization, and to be honest the only one I really knew about when I started down this research path, was CAMH (the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health). What I learned about CAMH was that while they are able to help support people there is such a high demand that utilizing their resources directly is very difficult. However, their website has a lot of amazing information to direct people to other organizations that are catered to the help they need.
One that really stood out for me was the Gerstein Crisis Centre. The unique service the Gerstein Crisis Centre has is a Mobile Crisis Team. This team can GO to someone in crisis and provide support. This was an incredible resource for me with my youngest brother after he lost his fiance. Knowing that his pain was something my family and I could not fix on our own and the toll that took on us mentally was significant. Learning of the Gerstein Crisis Centre and their Mobile Crisis Team was incredibly comforting.
If you need help in an emergency or are in crisis:
- visit your local emergency department or call 911
- contact a distress centre near you
Nationwide Distress line:
- Talk Suicide: 1-833-456-4566
Ontario Distress lines:
- Toronto Distress Centres: 416 408-4357 or 408-HELP
- Gerstein Centre: 416 929-5200
Spectra Helpline: 416 920-0497 or 905 459-7777 for Brampton and Mississauga residents
TTY: 905 278-4890; Languages: English, Punjabi, Hindi, Urdu, Spanish, Portuguese
- Assaulted Women's Helpline: 416 863-0511; Toll-free: 1 866 863-0511
- Kids Help Phone: 1 800 668-6868; Languages: English and French
Community Crisis Line Scarborough and Rouge Hospital: 416 495-2891 for 24/7 telephone crisis support.
Service borders: south to the lake, north to Steeles Avenue, east to Port Union Road, and west to Victoria Park
- Durham Crisis and Mental Health Line: 905 666-0483
- Distress Centre Halton: For Residents of the Halton Region (Burlington, Halton Hills, Milton, and Oakville). Oakville: 905-849-4541; Burlington: 905-681-1488; Milton/Halton Hills: 905-877-1211