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Helping a loved one cope with a mental health diagnosis

It was seven years ago when the news of a loved one’s recent mental health diagnosis hit me with the shock of an ice-cold wave in winter. I was a recent Toronto transplant just acquainted with university life when one of my favourite people in the whole world called me to tell me the beast we knew of finally had a name and to pardon the silence, as a days-long hospital stay required a communication shutdown. I listened to the details and my heart sank to the curb as I watched the walk sign on Dundas street flash red to signal stop. Years later, this is what I’ve learned about helping a loved one cope with a serious mental health diagnosis.

Bottle your emotions

This is a rarely-prescribed piece of advice, but it is absolutely essential to keep personal emotions in check in order to make space for those of a loved one. When I found out everything this person who I adore had gone through, my heart broke in a way it never had before — and never has since. A family member or friend’s mental health diagnosis, however, is about them. Don’t cry or panic. Be the crutch they need. Express emotions to a third party later if need be.

Listen without judgement

Judging a person never paved the way for open discussion. Let this person lead the conversation. Don’t flinch at their reality. Do encourage them to share whatever they need to. Don’t suggest what they should have done or ask why they didn’t do things differently. Certainly don’t ask why you didn’t know. Many need to process by vocalizing. Be a responsible listener.

Follow up

Your friend will need you the moment someone gets a diagnosis, finishes a hospital stay, a rough week or a change in medication, but don’t just be available during those periods, but during all times – without being invasive or helicoptering, of course. If there’s a relevant book or article to pass on, do so. Asking someone how they’re doing never hurts. Find out first what kind of approach works for this person and show support within that scope so as not to drop the conversation.

Ask the important questions

There’s a sweet spot between prying and playing too polite by not asking enough. Find that zone. For example, asking someone how they’re adjusting to a new medication isn’t self-serving and it brings the conversation to a space where if they want to share more, they will.

Do what the medical professionals can’t

There are things that medical professionals with even the best bedside manner cannot do. Details of a mundane day at the office, for example, could be just the thing to make an otherwise chaotic or emotional day seem normal. During a turbulent time, penning a phone call time into the schedule to chat for even five minutes could be a big deal for someone grappling with a new mental health diagnosis. While doctors did their good work, my purpose was simply to dial the number and shoot the shit for a few minutes. That’s an important job too.

Learn what the disorder isn’t

My person’s mental health condition has a name and I know both what it is and also what it is not. It is not, for example, an eating disorder like one nurse ignorantly assumed. It is not temporary. It is also not a life sentence preventing this firecracker of a human being from being anything less than that. By knowing what a disorder is not, those who provide support reduce the likelihood of uninformed remarks causing harm.

Why do we feel down during the holidays

No matter how much you may love the holiday season — the seasonal hot drinks, the ice skating, the markets, and of course, the holiday itself — it does come with added stresses.

The stress of hosting events, of having to mingle with your coworkers, and of needing to find the perfect gift can be overwhelming. And then there is the lonely factor. For those without partners, every romantic christmas fairytale movie is a stab to the heart. It doesn’t matter how many parties you are invited to or how many people send you holiday cards — December and January can be lonely months with no one to kiss under the mistletoe. Finally, there is the cold weather. The constant grey skies and the fact that it gets dark by 5 p.m. can take it’s toil on the human body. 

So, what do you do when you start to get these feelings? Here are five options that may help:

Take time for yourself: No, this does not mean take time to shop for others or go out with friends. This is serious me time. Go get a manicure or a facial, get your hair done, go for a walk in the snow, or read a book with some hot cocoa. During this time, try not to think about what you still have left for you. Use these few hours to tune in with nature or escape into a good story. Only by taking time for yourself will you be able to manage the rest of the holiday season.

Slow down: Try not to get overwhelmed by that long list of holiday “to-dos”. Make a list, and take everything one day at a time. Try to split your weekend between “holiday days” and “me time”. If you spend your entire weekend shopping, baking, decorating, and going from event to event, come Monday you will be exhausted before you even get to work.

Tap into your feelings: Why do you feel lonely? What are your fears? What is really stressing you out? Sometimes, all of these feelings crash together, making it very difficult to resolve. Take a moment to tap into what you are feeling and determine their origins. Once you know what triggered your stress, you can either avoid it or you can learn to cope with it. Unfortunately, it’s not an easy process. If you need support, ask a friend or close family member to sit down with you and talk it out.

Spend time with loved ones: While you may feel alone at your friend’s party, it’s still important to go. Staying at home, thinking about the feelings you are experiencing, can sometimes aggravate the situation. Pick and choose your moments to mingle. If you aren’t feeling like a full-blown holiday shindig, ask your friends to go get some brunch or see a movie. Do something low key. The important thing is to recognize that you have people in your lives who want to spend time with you — even if it is just one person!

Start something new: This is my personal favourite option. When I’m feeling down, I like to start a project. First of all, it gives my mind something to think about besides the problems plaguing me during the holidays and second of all, it feels really good to try something new. This can be something small like trying yoga or committing to a paint night every month. Choose something that you enjoy or that you’ve always wanted to try. Keep in mind this isn’t a New Year’s resolution. There is no need to choose anything to do with health, fitness, or any sort of physical or mental transformation. Just pick something that you will find fun!

What do you do to conquer the holiday blues?

First “digital” pill approved by the FDA in circulation

The Food and Drug Administration announced on Tuesday they have approved the first digital pill in the United States to help health professionals ensure patients are taking their medication. This revolutionary, and uneasy, advancement in technology and medicine came as an interesting surprise. Abilify MyCite is a pill used to treat patients with mental disorders such as  schizophrenia, depression, and bi-polar disorders. The pill looks like any other normal pill, but it is engrained with a tiny ingestible sensor no bigger than a grain of sand.

Once ingested and mixed with acid in the stomach, Abilify MyCite activates an electrical signal. This signal is then transmitted to a patch that is worn by the patient on their left rib cage.  The information is then sent via bluetooth to a smartphone app, which can list the time the pill was taken, the dosage, and gives the patient the option to upload these results to a database where doctors can access the file.

Image courtesy of Proteus Digital Health

The sensor then passes through your body naturally, as the little chip is made of silicon, copper, and magnesium. The patch that will be worn on the body can last up to seven days and will continually record the data every time you take the pill. The patch is also able to track physical activity, steps taken, heart-rate, sleeping patterns and other data similar to a smart fitness tracker. This pill/patch combo does raise many concerns about patient privacy and the vulnerability of having our personal information available to others..

The patient has the power to upload the data, but can allow access to four other members, including family members or significant others. While this is a big step in digital health, there is also cause for concerns in terms of information sharing, especially considering the increase in data breaches and internet hacking.

Doctors must determine if the patient is capable and willing to use the pill/patch combo. Being an antidepressant, Abilify MyCite, does come with risks, including worsening suicidal thoughts and a list of side-effects determined during the clinical trial, including a possible skin irritation from the patch.

The pills are manufactured by Japanese pharmaceutical company, Otsuka, in collaboration with the producers of the sensors, Proteus Digital Health. Concerns have been raised that the FDA may have opened the door for other potential digital pills, but advocates says the technology will ensure medication is not wasted and that patents are actually taking their pills and getting the treatment they need.

Abilify was first approved by the FDA in 2012 and since then, the pill with an included sensor was in the works and Abilify MyCite was first approved for marketing in 2012 as well.

What are your thoughts on the first approved digital pill and does this reinforce the fact that Big Brother is always watching ? Comment below.

 

The nasty reality of gun control and mass shootings in the US

During 11 a.m. Sunday morning worship, gunshots rang out in the air at the small First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The alleged shooter, Devin Patrick Kelley, 26, tried to make his escape, but once cornered, died of a self-inflicted gunshot wound.  This event marked the 307th mass shooting in the United States for 2017.

This is a small number in comparison to 2016, which proved to be even higher at 477 incidents.  A mass shooting, in its simplest definition,  is the killing of four or more people at the same time. So far, 26 people have died, with the number expected to rise  due to severe injuries. As Americans and the world anxiously awaited a response from US President Donald Trump, who is on a five-country Asian tour, more details emerged about the alleged shooter, painting him as volatile, with a history of violence and disgruntled after bing dismissed from the US Air Force.

President Trump’s response to the shooting at a news conference in Japan was direct and once again avoided the broader issue of gun violence by narrowing it down to the events of the tragic shooting.

“This isn’t a guns situation. This is a mental health problem at the highest level. It’s a very, very sad event. A very, very sad event, but that’s the way I view it,” Trump told the room of reporters in Japan.

Trump also made the comment that mass shootings can happen anywhere, while ironically standing in a country with no record of mass shootings and very strict control of gun laws.

This dangerous response may, unfortunately, be similar to what a lot of other Americans are thinking. However, there are some people that are wondering how many mass shootings it will take before the gun control laws in the United States are revisited? A similar response came from the president just last month during the deadly mass shooting in Vegas which killed close to 60 people.

Sadly, hearing about mass shootings in America has become common place. If the situation is not blamed on mental health, it is blamed on terrorism. The bigger issue, which seems to be obvious to everyone else in the world, is the accessibility to guns. The fact that you can buy guns at the same time you do your grocery shopping at Walmart is appalling. Walmart in the United States sells firearms for the aim of ‘hunting or sporting’, but just like animals, guess what— humans can be hunted too.

The debate on gun control in the United States continues as almost half of gun users feel that owning a gun is part of their American identity. However, can we stop narrowing down these tragic events and fight to fix the bigger issue?  Because without access to these deadly tools, 26 more lives could have been saved.

While President Trump blames this incident on mental health, in February 2017 he signed a bill undoing the work of former President Barack Obama to prevent those who were mentally ill from purchasing weapons. The bill stated that for those mentally unfit be added to a background check database. In doing this, President Trump had now made it easier for persons with mental illness to purchase weapons. So, is this really a mental illness problem? When will America admit the problem isn’t the people — it’s that all of these people have guns?

What do you think? Let us know in the comments below!

How to stay thankful when the world hits back

With all the stress, disaster, and hurt happening in the world, it may be hard to realize that each day is an opportunity to start fresh. As many people in the Caribbean are dealing with the catastrophic effects of natural disasters, there are many things that people around the owrld should be thankful and grateful for in this life. It’s a difficult feeling to know that you can only do so much for those in need. It also doesn’t need to be Thanksgiving for you to remember what it means to be thankful. Little steps and tips daily can help you to become a more grateful person despite the chaos around you.

Keep it classic

Remember when people would actually speak to each other face to face and over the phone and not just over instant message or email? Sometimes the smallest things can make the world of difference to someone’s day. Maybe it’s a quick phone call to a distant friend or a written and mailed thank you note or letter. These little gems have become so unexpected that they are now moments to cherish. When you take the time to do these things, you are expressing more gratitude than just a “thx” in an email.

Remember to speak

Sometimes people get frustrated and that is understandable; however, it is unacceptable to take it out on complete strangers. Just yesterday, I was in line at Subway and there was one man serving approximately four customers. The man in front of me was visibly upset for having to wait an extra four minutes to get his sandwich. When his order was finally complete, he threw the money at the server and left the restaurant without a ‘thank you.’ The man behind the counter was visibly upset and he told me that sometimes people get the treatment they deserve in life. As a new immigrant to Toronto, from the UK, the employee told me that despite being a multicultural city, Toronto still feels cold to him in part to people like that. Nobody deserves to have money thrown at them, no matter the day you’re having. The best thing you can do is always remember to say ‘Thank you.’

Keep it on record

Many people get into the habit of expressing their emotions thorough journals and this is a good way to show emotional control and to keep track of your thoughts. Even if you are not into the routine of journaling, there are small exercises you can do daily to keep gratitude in perspective. Every morning or every evening, list five things that you are grateful for. Try not to stick to the broad and basic stuff like ‘my family’ and ‘my home,’ but instead think about your day to day experiences and the people you cross paths with in life. Be thankful for the stranger that held the door open for you this morning or be thankful for the feeling of sunshine in a balmy September.

Be Positive

Telling someone to be positive when everything is going wrong around them can sometimes feel like a slap to the face. Instead, make it your duty to reflect the best version of yourself to those around you. You have to be the one to make the decisions that will impact your life. Practice more self awareness and don’t bury your face in a phone while communicating with someone. Or even practice breathing and mediation in order to calm yourself and improve your mood.

Only one version of you

The most powerful thing you have over someone else is that you are unique. There is nobody else like you in this world. Some may have similar characteristics and traits, but you are in control of your life and the best thing you can do is be thankful to your body. Eat, sleep, exercise, and have fun. The moments may pass us by quickly and you don’t want to leave your life with regrets. The best thing you can do is make yourself happy because sometime happiness can be the most difficult thing to achieve

Dear mental health, I’m sorry

I’m sorry.

I’m just starting to realize how important you are. You’re something that needs to be cared for, something that can’t be ignored. So, for all the times you cried out for help when you weren’t feeling well, and I ignored you, telling you to stop being so sensitive, I’m sorry.  For all the times I tried to hide you and pretend you don’t exist, I’m sorry. All the while, you sneaked into my bones and muscles, waiting to be heard. I get it! Physical pain is easier to listen to. But sometimes, you make it hard to get out of bed. Let’s not forget all those times you wouldn’t let me see my friends or family, because you just didn’t have the energy to converse and socialize.

The past few years have not been kind to me. Between drastic life changes, difficult relationships, and trying to understand my own personhood, I found it hard to be kind to you as well. I failed to listen when you told me how to feel. Pushing away feelings of stress and sadness is just easier for me. It’s only when you come at me with full force that I understand you’re something that I need to look after.

But it’s hard to understand where you’re coming from sometimes. It makes it difficult to talk to people about you for that reason. Are you acting up because it’s my time of month? Are you trying to tell me I have too much on my plate? Sorry, I don’t understand.

I fear my relationships will suffer because of you. If I don’t understand you’re not well, how could my loved ones? Multiple ‘bad days’ can kill the vibe, ruin a positive atmosphere. I’m sorry if I mask what you’re trying to tell me, in an attempt of keeping things light. Fun. I’m sorry that I downplay your sickness as another ‘bad day.’ It’s just easier. We don’t want people being more concerned than they should be, right? I hope you understand.

I’m sorry that we never had the chance to get that close. I’m sorry we don’t keep in touch. To be honest, you’re a little high maintenance. For you to feel better, a lot of actions have to be taken. Therapy is expensive. And yes, my job might be stressful – but it’s what puts money on the table. My friends and family may be difficult to interact with sometimes, but they care about me. It’s difficult to ask me to give up such important parts of my life for your own betterment.  I’m sorry you’re not a priority even though we both know you should be.

But I’ll try harder. The days you don’t feel well, I’ll try to listen. And when other people are talking about their own mental health, I’ll listen then too. When they don’t understand where you’re coming from, I’ll explain it to them. It’s time to start talking about you. Because you’re important. I realize that now.

Women of the Week: Mandy Rennehan

Staying humble and true to yourself after achieving success in the business world may seem like a difficult feat, but CEO of Freshco Mandy Rennehan, makes it look easy. Rennehan leads the retail construction supergiant, an enterprise that has spread across Canada and the United States. Rennehan is one of the top CEOs in Canada; yet, anyone in her presence feels extremely comfortable and important, a rare and welcome way to treat others in the high stakes modern business world.

“Growing up in a small town on the East coast, people are humble and simple. People will give you everything they have because they truly care,” Rennehan says. “I didn’t know I was going to be an entrepreneur, it just picked me and I’m 41 now. When people from home see me and talk to me, they tell me I’m the same way I was when I was 10. I left the east coast with a personality, a smile and a work ethic. I want to treat people like I want to be treated.”

Freshco is a boutique facilities firm that focuses on maintenance, projects and reconstruction. The company has landed some massive clients including Home Depot, Lululemon, Sephora and Apple, among others. “Freshco does everything on the mechanical and cosmetic level to retailers with any form of structure,” Rennehan says. “As soon as they are ready to open a store, we renovate, maintain and come in when there is an emergency. We call ourselves ninjas sometimes. All you see is the beautiful design, and merchandise and Freshco is the company that maintains that look all the time. We are there in the morning, and overnight.”

Rennehan believes that employee happiness is paramount to the success of her company. She handpicks all of her employees with her management team and then dubs them with a nickname. The chosen nickname for a new employee is put on company hoodies and business cards.  “I don’t believe in work-life balance and I think employers put too much strain for people to have two lives,” Rennehan says. “I create an environment that is cool, trendy and comfortable. I believe in the fun and narrowing in on people and bringing out the personality in them. Happy people are productive. We jam up the music and have fridges full of beer.”

Rennehan is also invested in helping others who need support in the trades industry. She launched the Chris Rennehan Scholarship in 2015 that supports people in dire financial circumstances to go to trade school or work for Freshco. “I launched the scholarship because my brother is a lobster fisherman and before he died, we were making a plan to get him into the floor renovation business. His death really affected me and my family. There are so many people who are lost and don’t have the time to go to school. They need to learn something right now because they have bills and families,” Rennehan says. “The scholarship fund sends them to trade school, or sends them to me and we can teach them. People are donating to the fund because they know I am going to do the right thing with it. These people are almost on the brink of mental health issues. My philanthropy and objective long-term to fund the passion of any trade and any individual.”

Due to her amazing work as a Canadian entrepreneur, Rennehan has received a number of awards including being on WXN’s 2015 Canada’s most powerful women: Top 100 award, in which she also received a letter from the Minister of the Status of Women. She also won EY Entrepreneur of the Year in 2016 and was named 20th in Profit’s 2016 W100 list for top female entrepreneurs in Canada. Rennehan is often asked to be the keynote speaker at various events, most recently at the Women with Drive Summit on March 2.

Rennehan is clearly an innovative and forward leader that is taking Freshco to the next level with projected growth across the United States in the next year. The company is a success story, but had its trials as well. In 2010, FreshCo, a grocery chain owned Sobeys, was launched and there was little Rennehan could do about the extremely similar name (only difference on Sobey’s part being the capital ‘C’). The rub? Sobeys was one of Rennehan’s first clients. “What doesn’t kill you makes you stronger and that’s the truth. We got our heads kicked in with this, and Sobey’s was my first client,” Rennehan says. “I should’ve trade-marked Freshco and I didn’t. They took my font, my colours and everything. We completely rebranded and with the media attention I get, people are seeing the difference between the two.” Rennehan, true to her positive and upbeat attitude, decided to make a joke out of the issue and even launched a national campaign that including rebranding her trucks to say “FRESHCO, not the grocery store”.

Rennehan is also an avid supporter of women in the trades. Though she has been immersed in a male-dominated industry for the last 20 years, she has never felt discriminated against in her field.  “The trades are still very male-dominated, but it has never bothered me because they know I’m better than them,” Rennehan says. “Despite my sexuality, I’ve never been discriminated against a day in my life. I don’t listen to the garbage and I arm myself with knowledge. I’ve really been a poster child for not being a woman, but being amazing at what I do. Feminism is all fine and well, but just be amazing at what you are and you won’t face that discrimination.”

Rennehan is reading a book called “Spark”, based on a study between physical exercise and how it improves brain function. “Being married to Jane Fonda [a nickname Rennehan calls her partner] for years, I’ve been very involved in exercise,” Rennehan says.”She also loves to golf, play tennis, travel ad is a big wine connoisseur. Her favourite travel destination is Tuscany.

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Woman of the Week: Criss Habal-Brosek

“What does it mean to be a member of Progress Place? It means you are not a patient. It means you are a person first.”

This line was spoken during an audio tour of Progress Place, a registered charity that specializes on recovery from mental illness. It is run using a clubhouse model, which means that staff work side-by-side with its members to keep the centre running. A variety of daily activities and programs are offered daily, focusing on wellness, health, employment, and education.

Upon entering Progress Place, I was greeted by a smiling man sitting behind the reception desk. He asked me who I wanted to speak with and called up to ensure the person I was meeting was ready to see me. He was friendly and kind, and when I left he wished me a good day — what I didn’t know until the end of my tour was that he not only works for Progress Place, but he is a member as well.

Progress Place has helped over 7,000 people since it was founded in 1984, and firmly believes that “empowering people can cure.” In fact, they claim that 90 per cent of their members are not re-hospitalized after being a part of the clubhouse for two years.

The success of Progress Place is thanks to its dedicated employees, including Criss Habal-Brosek, Executive Director and a veteran employee of 32 years.

“I feel like I can relate to the staff when they first start. The Progress Place model keeps you very humble and I think that’s really important for people to remember — everyone has issues and struggles and everyone deserves to be treated respectfully and equitably, and everyone deserves opportunities. The goal is to instill hope.”

Habal-Brosek was always interested in social work, but wasn’t sure which field she wanted to go into until she started at Progress Place. During her time at York University, she tried a number of different placements, including a contract working nights at a correctional facility, a halfway house for people on parole. “If someone came in and they violated their parole, and I was working by myself on nights, I was supposed to call and have their parole revoked and they would have gone back to prison.”

“I knew I didn’t want to do that, but I was very thankful for the experience because I think it shaped who I am, in regards to my street smarts.”

After over a year at the correctional facility, a friend of hers told her about a position that had opened up at Progress Place. Over the last 32 years, Habal-Brosek worked in about every single job available at Progress Place before acquiring the position of Executive Director. Her passion and dedication to the clubhouse is undeniable — every question about her personal life automatically circles back to her work.

Progress Place boasts over 800 members, about 200 of which work at the clubhouse itself on a daily basis.  Members help plan menus, run the café, perform clerical duties, participate in daily decision-making meetings, and even lead tours for the public. The clubhouse itself offers health and wellness programs, a boutique with low-cost new clothing, weekly “next step” dinners, young adult programs, as well as a peer support telephone and online chat service called the “warm line.”

The transitional employment program and double recovery program are unique to Progress Place.  Staff help members, who may have an uneven work history, train for and gain employment. This support includes covering the member at their workplace if they have a medical appointment. The double recovery program offers multiple anonymous meeting spaces and support for those with substance abuse or mental health issues.

Staff offer training programs to businesses or organizations like the Toronto Transit Commission, who want to learn how about the stigma of mental illness with compassion and understanding. Progress Place is also exploring modern avenues to help spread their message and educate people on the stigma surrounding mental health. Their goal is to become as well-known for mental health as the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health.

The clubhouse has already expanded beyond their location on Church St. They opened up a pilot seniors day program and it has been quite the success. “As people age, depression sets in because people are lonely and isolated,” Habal-Brosek said. “Half of the seniors that go to the day program never knew they had a diagnosis and they have since been able to go to doctors and get medication.”

Habal-Brosek was incredibly excited to discuss Progress Place’s latest development in Mount Dennis, a program that is run in a retrofitted recreational space in a condo tower. They run March Break programs for teens, offer health services, and mental health workshops, and Habal-Brosek hopes it leads to other partnerships with developers throughout the city.

Their newest venture, recently launched on Jan. 20, is Radio Totally Normal Toronto, a monthly podcast that hopes to reduce stigma surrounding mental illness. In their debut broadcast, hosts provide an audio tour of Progress Place and discuss how to stay mentally healthy.

 

 

The unfortunate reality is that Progress Place hasn’t received an increase in funding over the last four years, despite the increase in cost of living. The clubhouse has evolved immensely since it opened and hopes to continue to do so.

As for Habal-Brosek — she has no plans to leave Progress Place. The positive response she sees from the community and from her members makes it all worthwhile.

“You get to hear such positive stories, whereas in a hospital situation, I feel kind of sad for people that work there because they see people at their worst. What really is inspiring is getting to see people who have never worked go out to their first job, go back to school to finish their high school diploma, or go to university and graduate.”

And that’s what Progress Place is all about.

People with mental health continue to suffer in Toronto

Imagine yourself sitting in the house alone day after day, jumping at every noise and wincing at bright lights.  You finally get up the courage to step out the house and go to the hospital to ask for help. Getting there is painful. You have to deal with the crowds of people on the subway and the constant fear of being watched walking down the street. Finally, you get to the hospital and wait for several hours before seeing a physician. You are given a list of phone numbers and then asked to leave. Clutching the piece of paper, you retreat back to your home and close the door.

In Toronto, people are turned away every day at hospitals and health centres and sent home with a list of contacts to call, only to be forced to sort through the maze of mental health on their own, oftentimes ending up on long waitlists with no aid. The issue in part has to do with the history of mental health in Canada. In the 1980s, mental health reforms across the world deinstitutionalized people from mental hospitals and many countries failed to provide a strong alternative. Many sick people fell into chronic homelessness, and a lack of replacement funding was offered.

In Canada, this is certainly the case. Other countries worldwide did implement strong healthcare systems that work to this day. Trieste in Italy created a network of 24-hour mental health facilities with inpatient beds and group home facilities for people with mental health in need of housing support. Because of constant access to mental health care, Trieste is known worldwide as the example to follow in managing the mental health needs of a population adequately.

It is no longer acceptable to place mental health as a secondary concern in health care. In Canada, mental health is a leading disability and affects one in five Canadians annually. According to the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), by the time the average Canadian reaches 40, one in two having been diagnosed with a mental illness. Finally, mental illness burdens individuals 1.5 times higher than all cancers, and more then seven times of infectious diseases. This is due to the number of years living with mental illness and a higher rate of early death.

How is turning people away from receiving help for mental health issues a proper response to a severe medical concern? If someone can’t leave their house due to aggressive anxiety, or is so depressed they are contemplating suicide, how is it remotely appropriate to put people on a waitlist?

CAMH alone has an eight-to-ten-week processing time once a doctor referral is submitted.  If someone has a debilitating mental illness, it is left up to them alone to make a mental health plan. It often falls to families and friends to help strategize what to do, and finding resources and filling out forms for long waitlists is exhausting.How many people simply fall off the grid and never receive the help they need? If the person who needs mental health aid does not have anyone to support them, they have to shoulder to burden themselves with no help in sight.

The federal government has promised to make mental health a priority, but has come under criticism as of late for cutting the Canada Health Transfer annual increase from six per cent to three per cent. Health Minister Jane Philpott has said she is committed to supporting mental health help, but the federal government has yet to provide any specific amount of funding.

Mental health needs to be a primary concern in Canada. It is no longer a conversation to have in hushed tones in the corner, but a public discourse that needs to be dealt with in the immediate future. There is nothing shameful about living with a mental illness. Can you imagine a society where each person living in Toronto had access to free counselling in every neighbourhood? It could be the change our society needs, to put people’s mental health first and foremost in a world that definitely needs it.

Embracing my vulnerability in “Rising Strong” by Brené Brown

I would like to begin by saying that I am not a fan of self-help or motivational books. I have nightmares of being the woman in that aisle of the bookstore crying, while searching through the stacks for a solution to my problems. I feel the same way about motivational speakers and the false sense of happiness that is often advertised. After saying all of that, there is one book that has snuck its way into my life and has undoubtedly changed me for the better.

Rising_Strong_by_Brene_Brown_Book_Summary

Rising Strong: The Reckoning. The Rumble. The Revolution by Brené Brown was purchased by my cousin and given to me for Christmas. I admittedly let the book become a coffee table decoration for about six months and, after an especially hard day, decided to take a glance. I began to read the book and found that Brown’s concept resonated very strongly with me. It didn’t advocate for the easy route out or a simple tell-all solution as many self-help books do, but instead demanded hard work and acceptance.

Rising Strong begins by explaining the importance of vulnerability. People are often taught to reject feelings that aren’t necessarily comfortable. They are told to tuck these emotions away by laughing it off or drinking it down. Brown recommends looking these feelings in the eye, and by doing so embrace our inherent human vulnerability. She also lightens the mood by saying “people who wade into the discomfort and vulnerability and tell the truth about their stories are the real badasses”.

Once this idea of vulnerability is introduced, the idea of embracing it becomes overwhelming. How do I embrace such a scary emotion? How do I even begin to look at myself and my darker truths? How do I become this badass? Brown gives a set of steps to follow that are simple and direct. This is what appeals to me about Rising Strong: the path to self-realization isn’t ambiguous or complex. Instead, the presentation of the steps is straight-forward and unpretentious.

It begins with “The Reckoning”, which is the realization that if you are vulnerable, you will get knocked down. You will fail and life will hurt. This is the trade-off to living a fully authentic life. Brown’s next step is “The Rumble”, which is when you decide to embrace the uncomfortable feelings of being knocked down. “The most dangerous stories we make up are the narratives that diminish our inherent worthiness. We must reclaim the truth about our lovability, divinity, and creativity,” she writes.

The book helps you to learn how to question the common self-damaging narratives we create and how to understand that parts of those stories are merely assumptions created out of insecurity and fear. “The Revolution” is when you rise up and are truly stronger for having faced some of your issues.

An essential component to Rising Strong includes learning how to question whether we judge others too often by asking yourself the simple question:

“Do you think people do the best they can?”

Brown explains that setting high expectations of ourselves in turn causes us to hold these same standards for people around us and it is bound to cause disappointment. Instead, understanding and empathizing with others helps to create appropriate boundaries and expectations in our relationships.

Brown has a Phd in Social Work from the University of Houston and has published a series of motivational books. The companion read to Rising Strong is Daring Greatly, and the series has sparked Brown to create workshops (including a free workshop on trust!) and a community to continue discussing her method. Brown was arguably popularized by her TEDx talks on vulnerability and shame. She has also been on Oprah.

Rising Strong is filled with examples and details of how to obtain a sense of self-assurance and an understanding of living an authentic life. I would definitely recommend reading this novel if you have often felt lost and afraid of your own vulnerability. There is nothing stronger than embracing your own emotions, and Brown will show you a way to do this that will make you a stronger and more badass woman.