Mental Health Week: #GetReal
It has only been in recent years that mental illness has begun to lose some of its stigmas, and that mental health has been given any sort of discussion and awareness. However, the Canadian Mental Health Association has been putting in the work for decades. Every year since 1951, the CMHA has hosted Mental Health Awareness Week during the first week of May, marking 2021 as the 70th year. The goal is to promote communities, schools and workplaces to rally to celebrate, protect and promote mental health.
Fact: It is also Mental Health Awareness Month in the USA. You can find helpful information about related health initiatives and more here.
Mental illness will indirectly affect every single Canadian at some point in their lifetime, and in any given year, 1 in 5 Canadians will personally experience a mental illness. This means that by age 40, half of the population will have or will have had a mental illness. These numbers are only worsened by the onset of COVID-19; 40% of Canadians say that their mental health has deteriorated since the start of the pandemic. But even if you are among the lucky percentage who will never experience a mental illness firsthand, you still have mental health. Now that society is beginning to understand the complexities of mental wellness, mental health can be viewed as something that can be maintained, rather than something that can only be lost.
The theme of this year’s Mental Health Week is understanding our emotions. At first read, it may sound like something that would be taught to a classroom of first graders, but emotional literacy – the ability to recognize, understand and express how we feel – can help us understand how we feel, which makes it easier to take the steps necessary to feel better.
Even though we “feel” certain ways, these feelings aren’t always easy to put into words or fully understand. A lack of understanding is what causes irrational behaviour and unhealthy coping mechanisms, and the first step to overcome this confusion is recognizing a feeling for what it is. Scientists call the act of putting feelings into words affect labelling and doing so allows a person to find meaning in their emotions. Affect labelling is comparable to hitting the brakes on your emotional responses.
What can affect labelling look like? In my own life, I don’t deny myself the catharsis of giving in to my emotions, as long as I don’t let them cloud the bigger picture. For example, earlier this year I found out I did not get the dream job I had interviewed for. I was devastated, and I allowed myself to be devastated, but only for a day. The reality was that the world wasn’t going to stop because I was disappointed, but also that my disappointment was perfectly valid. In allowing myself to go through the motions, I was able to start fresh the next day, and the disappointment was not debilitating in the way past disappointments have been.
If you want to begin the process of affect labelling but are a bit overwhelmed, a great starting point is to write down what you are feeling. According to the CMHA, “When people put their feelings and thoughts about upsetting experiences into language, their physical and mental health often improve. Writing about our feelings can reduce physician visits and positively influence our immune function.” A specific formula I learned when I went to therapy in high school was this: “I feel ____, but I know ____, so I’m going to _____.” When it comes to battling negative thoughts and emotions, especially related to anxiety, logic is the best defense against unreasonable thinking.
Something important to remember is that at the end of the day, your mental health will always belong to you. So, practice mindfulness, and gratitude, and this week, practice affect labelling and see how it can transform your own life. And if your emotions are overwhelming, persistently negative, or are interfering with the quality of your day-to-day life, it is important to seek mental health support. Distress Centre Calgary offers an online confidential chat and a 24-hour crisis line, or you can directly contact your local CMHA chapter. If you are thinking of suicide call toll-free 1-833-456-4566 in Canada. If you are in the USA, call the NIH toll-free at 1-800-273-TALK (8255) or text the Crisis Text Line (text HELLO to 741741).
Remember that you are never alone and that it will always get better.
Adapted from an article written by our guest writer, Kendall B.