The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is celebrating its 64th Mental Health Week from May 4 to 10 and wants to support conversations about mental health. The theme this year is to explore the important mental health needs of men and boys. Check out mentalhealthweek.ca to get important information you can use in your classroom and your own life. You can also check out what is happening across Alberta (and across the country) for Mental Health Week.
Good mental health isn’t about avoiding problems or trying to achieve a perfect life. It’s about living well and having the tools for coping with difficult situations even during life’s challenges. Each person’s path to mental health is unique. We all have our own goals, our own challenges and our own supports. Good mental health is within everyone’s reach. Positive mental health allows us to enjoy life fully and deal with challenges we face.
Students, parents, volunteers and school staff all come to school carrying their life in their backpack. As well as trying to do their best job, they may also be anxious or depressed; worried about bullying, violence or suicidal thoughts; concerned about whether the money will stretch far enough; worried about family members and friends; stressed about coming out or transitioning; hungry; worried about passing, getting into post-secondary school or having job security; wondering where they are sleeping tonight; or hoping they are not crazy.
It is easy to feel alone and isolated when your problems are big and feel insurmountable, especially if there is shame or stigma attached to your problem. Sometimes it’s hard to isolate the problem; it may feel as if there are too many.
Stigma stops people from reaching out for help. Stigma also stops people from understanding what mental health is and from offering help. Did you know that 46 per cent of Canadians believe mental illness can be an excuse for bad behaviour? Did you know that 27 per cent of Canadians are fearful of someone with serious mental illness? Did you know that 100 per cent of Canadians are affected by mental illness through their own mental health challenges or those of a family member, friend or colleague?
Start the conversation
Efforts are made every day to make schools safe and caring places. Creating a welcoming and non-judgmental atmosphere, having wide open ears and sharing a soft heart make the world of difference for anyone who is carrying a burden. It is important to reach out and start the conversation about how to have positive mental health. It is never too early to start that conversation. We can teach very young children about kindness and mindfulness, how good it feels to exercise the body and enjoy good nutrition, the restorative power of sleep, and the vocabulary to express feelings and thoughts. And we know we can also teach old dogs these “new tricks!” Knowing about school and community resources is a next step.
The CMHA, in partnership with the Mental Health Commission of Canada, hosted Headstrong youth summits in Edmonton, Calgary and Lethbridge this spring. There is such energy and passion among our youth to end stigma by sharing personal stories of lived experience (life can get better, recovery is possible!), create circles of friendship and support in schools, and create stigma-free school zones. These youth summits are possible to easily replicate across the province, and planning tools are available at mentalhealthcommission.ca.
Recent provincial research shows that most Albertans want to learn more about mental health and want to learn how to support their own mental health. They want information. CMHA can help youth, adults and families to learn how to take care of their mental health, get the facts about mental illness and find help. Visit cmha.ab.ca to find the CMHA closest to you. Visithelp4me.ca, a newly launched CMHA Edmonton website, to learn more about youth and mental health.
So when someone asks you how you feel, do you say you feel fine or phine (saying you are fine when you are not)? Now Get Loud because being phine is not fine. Get Loud in support of mental health! ❚
Ione Challborn is the executive director of CMHA Edmonton Region.