Mental health issues have circled on the fringes of the headlines over the last year often overshadowed by the “bigger” headlines of the day of the pandemic, the elections, the riots, and the general chaos of the day.
This last year has taken a toll, on all of us. Yet those who are especially vulnerable to mental health issues have paid and are paying an especially high cost.
It’s not just the mental health issues we can “see” as we do sometimes with the more marginalized part of our population, it is the issues that we cannot “see” with our eyes, and often, amongst those we don’t expect.
I keep reading about the varied ways our collective mental health has taken a nose dive over the last year. Drinking, substance abuse, overdose, domestic disputes, poverty, homelessness, depression, suicide, child abuse and the list goes on and on.
Mental health professionals, doctors, police, sociologists, teachers, clergy are all ringing a bell clear and loud that many, many, many of us are in trouble.
Even our health professionals, the very ones we rely on and look to for help, are crying out from exhaustion, from trying to answer questions they don’t have the answers to, from their own pain due to what they have seen and experienced over the past year, for having to make impossible decisions of life and death.
What happens next? Our systems, our bodies and our minds can only tolerate so much, and we are quickly approaching terminal velocity.
For all of us in the North, February has traditionally been the toughest month of the year to get through. Weather, lack of daylight, SADS, call it what you will, it’s a brutal month.
That is in a normal year.
The best we can do is not assume that because someone “looks” okay that they are okay. We need to ask. We need to reach out. We need to listen.
This last year, being “locked down,” getting a barrage of information and trying to sort it all out, being afraid, not sleeping, not seeing friends and loved ones, has caused me and so many others stress like we have never had. Some have handled it well, many are struggling.
Take five minutes to call someone you care about and ask how they are coping. Ask your parents, ask your kids/grandkids, ask your friends, ask your doctor too. We can listen and you might be surprised at what you hear.
We need to be aware that the long term effects of this year and into this next year are devastating for people. We all got thrown out of the one world we knew into one we didn’t, and we didn’t have a clue it was about to happen.
So as we figure out what the ever changing “new normal” is, we have to help those around us figure it out too. We only have each other, and there are so many willing to help.
Last week, Bell Canada had their annual Let’s Talk day, where Canadians and people around the world joined in to help create positive change for people living with mental health issues here in Canada. Bell raised almost $8 million and they did it five cents at a time. It is inspiring. It is within our power to help.
Every person who struggles with mental health issues face stigmas, often preventing them from reaching out. We need to be aware of that, to make a conscious effort to be kind, be aware words matter, we need to learn more about mental health and the issues surrounding it, we need to ask questions, listen, and not be afraid to talk to each other.
Know a number for a crisis line, take extra clothes or toys or blankets to our Broadway Place Emergency Shelter or to Passage Transition House where they help women (and their children) in crisis.
Your actions can be as simple as saying thank you, you never know the day someone is having and it can make a difference.
We each can help, we will need to help in the days and months to come. If we spread the help out between all of us, no one person’s burden will be too overwhelming. If you get in the habit of helping, even a little bit in small ways, it gets easier to do.
A smile costs nothing, start there.