If you are in distress, you can text WELLNESS to 741741 at any time. If it is an emergency, call 9-1-1 or go to your local emergency department.

By Jessica Ward-King, B.Sc.(Hons), Ph.D.

The other day I was  walking down the street when my foot hit a divot in the pavement, and I went over on my ankle.  I heard – or maybe felt – a snap.  My ankle started swelling almost immediately.  To the emergency room I went and as I whiled away the hours scrolling, watching videos, and playing word games I watched my phone’s battery dwindle and eventually I was “in the red.”  Uh-oh!  I needed my phone to call a ride when my ER ordeal was done!  With no hope of seeing the doctor soon and no charger in my pocket there was nothing I could do but give the phone a rest and turn it off.

Wouldn’t it have been magical if, when I turned it back on two hours later, instead of finding my battery at 8% it had recovered its charge up to 50%?  Wouldn’t it be great if just giving my phone a rest would also recharge its battery?

Alas, that is not how it works – for phones or for people either.  Rest is not the same thing as recovery.  I need to recharge my phone if I expect its battery life to recover.  I need to plug it in if I hope to recharge its battery.  Luckily with a phone it is a very simple and linear process – we know exactly what to do when our phone’s battery is in the red.  But what do we do when our own “batteries” need to recharge?

Self-care is the obvious answer to mental health recovery, but it isn’t as obvious what self-care looks like, because it looks completely different for different individuals.  In fact, self-care is often maligned as an airy-fairy concept, awash with adult colouring books, meditation apps and yoga poses – and if those are your things, then great!  But self-care can be and is so much more.

Some people (like introverts) recharge their batteries solo or with smaller group activities – reading, crafting or solo exercise.  Others (like extroverts) find they recover better when they can feed off the energies of others and prefer to recharge in the presence of other people – parties, group activities and team sports.  However, there are some all-round solutions if you are looking for ways to recover.

Taking care of your body with sleep, exercise and nutrition is a must.  We all know this.  But there are a lot of moving parts here!  When you are in need of recovery it can be overwhelming to see the  catalogue of things you are “doing wrong” in this department, and that is not the goal.  The goal is to choose practices that recharge your energies, not deplete them.  And so, beginning a practice of good sleep hygiene or drinking more water might be more manageable. Don’t try to change everything at once and make it perfect – there is no such thing anyway.  Just do something good for your body to help it rest and recover and celebrate that!

Experiencing nature is another powerful way to recharge your batteries. This is one self-care tip that becomes easier as the leaves and flowers bloom.  Taking a nature walk or forest-bathing can help but even just sitting in your back garden or eating lunch on a park bench is enough to help restore balance. 

These self-care tips are helpful in recovering your mental health, but these are not the tips that will lead you to recovery with mental illness.  Medications, talk therapy and a good therapeutic alliance with your caregivers as well as peer support will help with that.  And the road to recovery with mental illness is a long and non-linear process.  But that process will be augmented by a self-care routine that keeps your batteries charged, giving you the energy to work at that process. In short, we all have mental health, and we all need to mindfully recover our mental health all the time, but mental illness requires a different kind of recovery. 

Spoiler alert – my ankle was a simple sprain and I hobbled out on crutches and a prescription for, you guessed it, REST!  In a few days it was right as rain.  That is the last piece I want to touch on here.  While rest is not the same thing as recovery, recovery takes rest.  It takes time and relaxation – whatever that looks like for you.  Sometimes staying off of it – metaphorically speaking, of course – is the best thing you can do for your mental health.  Sometimes you need a crutch.  So, take your weekends and vacation days to rest.  Do something to take care of yourself.  And watch your battery life go up.

Jessica Ward-King
Jessica Ward-King

Jessica “StigmaCrusher” Ward-King has a Ph.D. in experimental psychology from the University of London, England, and a bachelor’s degree from McGill University with a BSc (hons) in psychology.  Jessica also has living experience of Bipolar II Disorder, a chronic mental illness that she has lived with since she was a teenager.  Jessica works tirelessly to crush the stigma of mental health and mental illness as a keynote speaker, author and YouTube creator.  

By Nicole Chevrier

Do more. Be more. Get more. Be successful. Strive. Hustle. Achieve. Be a winner. Don’t waste time. Sound familiar? Time flies. Yes, it does. All the more reason to slow down. ‘Stop and smell the roses’ is a cliché for a reason. You deserve the quiet moments to nourish your well-being.

As a motivated and ambitious person, I was fully subscribed to the achiever mentality, perpetually running on the hamster wheel. I wanted the success, the accolades, the big career, and everything that I thought went with that level of achievement. What I didn’t know was that I was missing out on a lot of important things. Balance. Wellness. Spiritual growth. The journey of becoming a fully self-actualized human being.

Running on empty

I think we can all relate to the fatigue that can descend when we get lost in the hustle and bustle of life. Each one of us has made a difference to someone else, as the go-to friend, the superhero mom, the devoted partner, or the supportive leader. But if we don’t protect our own well of energy and vitality, we can end up on empty pretty quickly.

My self-care always hovered near the bottom of my list despite my best efforts. I should do some yoga. I should get a massage. I should go to bed earlier. I should, I should, I should. The self-care somehow always got shuffled to the bottom of the endless list. Going to bed exhausted and feeling guilty because I didn’t get to my self-care to-dos is pretty dysfunctional.

As hard as I tried nothing changed. But it’s not a matter of trying harder and harder. It’s about looking at things differently. You eventually learn the lesson: you cannot give to others before you give to yourself. Sometimes you learn the lesson the hard way, like I did. One burnout and years of therapy later, things have changed for me.

I have honed my self-awareness after many years of not paying enough attention to the level in my gas tank. I don’t wait until it’s empty to act. Now, when I hear myself complaining, and getting bothered by trivial things, I know that it’s time to fill my cup.

The power of gratitude

When I first learnt about the gratitude thing, I thought it was silly new-age bunk. I had a bad attitude, so I was being judgmental, and I wasn’t really open to it. Why? Let’s just say I was going through a tough time, and I was too focused on my unhappiness.

“Now let me hear what you’re grateful for” my therapist would say, and I would sigh, roll my eyes, and rhyme off the list. “I’m grateful for my job. I’m grateful for my car. I’m grateful for my friends.” You get the picture. A lazy, half-hearted litany. What I eventually learned is that you have to go deeper. A wise person and spiritual advisor once told me that the practice of gratitude is powerful and transformational, but the key is generosity of spirit. Don’t approach the immensity of the ocean with a little cup and then complain about the stinginess of the ocean.

How I find joy in the ordinary

I slow down. I shift my focus from the doing, doing, done and quiet my mind. For myself, nature is the remedy for busy brain, the catalyst for the shift in perspective.

I go outside and I open my eyes. I notice things. It takes patience. Sometimes it takes hours, but I always find something to marvel at. Small things that you would normally miss, because your eyes are open, but you aren’t really looking. The magic of nature. A sunset. A flower. A butterfly. The keen and watchful eye of a wild bird.

Sometimes an ordinary walk, with the shift of the light, takes on a magical quality, if only for a few minutes. As a collector of sunset moments, I have learned to have patience, because it is worth the wait. In that magic moment, my joyful heart sings, and sings. Inspiration is everywhere.

Nicole Chevrier
Nicole Chevrier

Nicole Chevrier is Marketing and Communications Manager with the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Mental health is one of her passions.
Nicole is an avid writer and photographer. A first-time author, she recently published her first children’s book to help children who are experiencing bullying.
When she isn’t at her desk, Nicole loves to spend her time doing yoga and meditation, ballroom dancing, hiking, and celebrating nature with photography. She is a collector of sunset moments.

By Jessica Ward-King, B.Sc., Ph.D.

I do my hair. Paint my face. Iron my blouse and press it just so. Earrings, a matching necklace. Glasses the complement the look. I’m ready for my close-up – in a Zoom meeting, of course. I am put-together and professional. Trendy, even. Successful.

From the waist down I look more like I feel – stained pajama bottoms and slippers, legs unshaven. I am barely able to drag myself from bedroom to home-office. Yesterday’s coffee cup holds today’s tepid brew. I am feeling down and depressed. Mentally ill, even. A mess.

This contrast is not lost on me. Day in and day out I manage to fool everyone in my virtual world. For 40-minute Zoom calls I am upbeat and on-the-ball, leading discussions and asking relevant questions. In between these calls, however, I dissolve into a heaping pile of wreckage, trying hard not to let my tears ruin my make-up. The second that I hang up from the call, the smile drops from my face and my shoulders automatically slump. I can’t help it. It is all I can do to harness the energy to appear on camera but when the eyes of the world are shut, I revert to my depressed self.

I have high-functioning bipolar depression. This is not a diagnosis that you will find in the DSM-V, but a popular term we put to the kind of life that I am describing. For the outside world I am able to put on a grand performance, like the thespian wearing a mask on stage I take on the persona of someone like me, but a much more successful version of me. My audience never knows what is going on behind that mask, they see only the performance and, unaware that they are in a theatre at all, take that mask at face value. Literally. Unless they read this blog, my colleagues would have no idea that I am struggling as much as I am.

This is not something I can just turn on or off whenever I feel like it. I am compelled to perform like a circus animal. “The show must go on” is my unwilling motto. On those rare days when I am determined to buck the status quo, when I refuse to put on make-up or I wear a ragged t-shirt to work, when I insist on remaining quiet and deflated in a meeting, soon my resolve wavers and I wave off my colleagues’ concerns with a more characteristic humorous quip, a coat of mascara and some lipstick and a scarf hung around my neck to hide how I’m really feeling.

High-functioning is less a choice and more an imperative – a symptom of the disorder itself. Initially masquerading as a protective factor, allowing people to remain active at work and in the community, this insidious symptom shuts the sufferer off from all outside help by masking the other symptoms of depression so effectively that no one even knows that the person is struggling. At home – the only place the person can take off the mask and really show themselves – things rapidly fall apart as there is no excess energy left for the partner, family, and chores. This Jekyll and Hyde routine is as exhausting for those close to the afflicted person as it is for the person themselves, leaving families to feel confused, incredulous, abandoned, and unsupported by an oblivious community.

Even if one does manage to reach out, we are often met with disbelief – “Jessica? Depressed? But she’s too with it, together, successful, and downright happy to be depressed!” – and who can blame them? The outside world believes what it sees and doesn’t like the wool pulled over its eyes. Yet does anyone watching a Hollywood blockbuster think for a moment that the characters and the actors playing them are one and the same?

And so, I urge you: believe me when I say that high-functioning depression is real. High-functioning mental illness in general is real. Believe your family member when they tell you that they are putting on an Oscar-worthy performance for the outside world. Support your loved ones who are reaching out for help with an impossible illness. And if you are struggling with high-functioning depression please know that you are worthy of help. Even though you can still go through the motions and do well at work and seem successful. You are struggling and you don’t have to be. I know you feel like you are the only one who is feeling this way, but that is the definition of high-functioning – nobody else knows that you’re struggling just like you can’t see anyone else suffering in silence behind their mask. So, reach out for help. You’ll be glad you did.

Jessica “StigmaCrusher” Ward-King has a PhD in experimental psychology from the University of London, England, and a bachelor’s degree from McGill University with a BSc (hons) in psychology.  Jessica also has living experience of Bipolar II Disorder, a chronic mental illness that she has lived with since she was a teenager.  Jessica works tirelessly to crush the stigma of mental health and mental illness as a keynote speaker, author and YouTube creator.  

By Janelle Jordan

We often associate hunger with our stomach.

Yet, what if I told you, it’s your brain that’s hungry? 

From the food choices we make, to what we put on our plate, our brain demands the most energy from our food. Dr. Bonnie J. Kaplan explains. She is a pioneer in nutritional psychology who is also a semi-retired professor at the University of Calgary, Cumming School of Medicine.

“The brain is the greediest organ for micronutrients, or the vitamins and minerals from our food. While the brain is two per cent of our body weight, it absorbs 20 per cent of all the nutrients fed to our body.”

But why is this statistic important for us to know?

Because emerging research shows food does affect our mood, for better or worse.

According to evidence-based research in nutritional psychiatry, several nutrition researchers claim there is a correlation between our dietary intake and mental health outcomes.

While books, shows, and articles in the media promote a healthy lifestyle, they mostly preach the same mantra: “eat more healthy, real foods”.

Yet the stark reality is that more than half of what North Americans are putting into their mouths is not real food. Why?

The unseen answer: the concept of “hidden brain hunger”

More than 50 per cent of us are filling our bellies with ultra-processed ‘foods’, while at the same time, we are also keeping our brains hungry. How?

The concept is called “hidden brain hunger” – a negative consequence that our brain experiences when it becomes deficient in essential micronutrients, such as vitamins and minerals.

The brain’s silent starvation becomes more intense when we consistently eat ultra-processed foods high in sugar, salt, and fat. These ‘food-like substances’ lack essential vitamins and minerals optimal for brain health and the absence of these key nutrients impact the brain’s overall performance, especially when in crisis mode.

Dr. Kaplan compares this brain-nutrient phenomenon to pregnancy. “When a woman is pregnant, if she’s not getting enough food, the food preferentially feeds the fetus, moving nutrients and oxygen to where it’s most needed critically, in a crisis.”

“Similarly in the brain, when handling a crisis and it involves fight or flight, our bodies preferentially move the nutrients to where we need to be activated…if you are not providing your body and brain enough nutrients, everything is preferentially diverted to handle the crisis, the stressful situation – parts of your brain and body are going to be deficient.”

Why nutrition is a key ingredient in the recipe towards better mental health

Dr. Kaplan’s life mission has been distilled into a cutting edge 368-page book called The Better Brain: Overcome Anxiety, Combat Depression, and Reduce ADHD and Stress with Nutrition.

Inside its pages, you will find evidence-based research, sage nuggets of nutritional insights, plus mood-boosting, whole food recipes scientifically proven to help nourish our brains.

For example, foods like leafy green vegetables, fatty fish, dark berries, nuts, and olive oil (found on the Mediterranean menu) have been linked to boosting our brain power: whether proactively as we age, or protectively, slowing down mental decline and improving cognitive function.

And why should we think about what we put into our mouths, for our brain’s sake?

You may think, well, “I already know what to do” (in theory) when it comes to eating healthily: typically, the “how.”

Yet where most of us usually stumble is in the application, or the “why.”

Focusing on the why in creating and implementing change can be a powerful motivator to achieve better physical and mental health.

Brain food for thought

As an eminent researcher in nutritional sciences for more than 50 years, Dr. Kaplan aims to continue convincing skeptics within the medical profession that nutrition does indeed play a role in our psychological and emotional resilience.

“Every mental health clinic should be educating about the importance of whole foods and getting rid of the ultra-processed chemicals [and] about what nutrients do in the brain That should be step one,” Dr. Kaplan states.

And step two? Pulling back the curtain on what eating whole foods could look like for patients, so they can replicate this healthy dietary lifestyle at home.

“It should be pre-treatment when a patient is first referred to any mental health setting before they’re assigned for treatment of any kind, they should learn about how to eat a whole foods diet,” Dr. Kaplan says. “And they should be asked to track the cost because people who track the cost as they move to a healthier diet are amazed that they can save money – we have to teach them inexpensive ways to do it.”

Another goal Dr. Kaplan shared with me is her desire to also influence us (thanks to her interest in the physiological basis of human behaviour) – to not only understand how to eat better, but also why we should eat better. And why it matters.

“People don’t know why they should improve their eating habits,” Dr. Kaplan says. “Probably the reason why is lack of education or knowledge…it’s not enough to know how and what to eat when it comes to healthy nutrition. Nutrition is the foundation of our mental resilience.”

By Nicole Chevrier

This blog post discusses substance use and trauma

What does mental health look like? I think that the answer probably depends. Mental health is not a one-size-fits-all concept. This question was top of mind for me when I recently spoke with community outreach workers of the Breaking the Ice (BTI) program at The 519, a city of Toronto agency dedicated to the health, happiness, and meaningful participation of 2SLGBTQ+ communities.

Breaking the Ice at the 519

Breaking The Ice (BTI) is focused on the needs and barriers faced by 2SLGBTQ+ people who use drugs in Toronto’s Downtown East. Peer-led and rooted in the principles of harm reduction and anti-violence, the team engages in regular street outreach, develops resources targeted to community needs, and supports The 519’s drop-in clients.   

Nadine is a BTI coordinator, leading a team working with the people living in the encampments of Toronto. Supporting people who live outside can involve check-ins, providing basic supplies or emotional support, helping with housing or shelter, and it includes the intense work of supporting people who are in conflict with the law. It can also involve responding to people experiencing overdose.

Operating on the block in Toronto that sees one of the most overdoses in the city,  harm reduction workers like Nadine are bearing witness every day to suffering and death.

“Nobody should be seeing what we see,” she says. “It’s exhausting. The grief and loss are incredibly heavy – for community, and for folks providing supports.”

Nadine’s experience provides insight into the broader conversations about a post-pandemic return to “normal.” While some sectors of society can talk about getting their lives back, many people are being left behind.

The pandemic significantly impacted the communities served by BTI and created unprecedented challenges for the people supporting them. The crisis shifted everything about their work. The need for housing and shelter was already at a crisis level before the pandemic, but COVID-19 exacerbated the situation. There was a lack of trauma-informed services available and widespread disruptions to health and social service offerings, and minimal access to wrap-around supports.  Despite the challenges, The 519 never stopped service provision, and pivoted to an essential service provision model.

Vigil for transgender people in Toronto
Photo ©The 519

Opioid deaths and hospitalizations surged significantly across Ontario after the pandemic hit in early 2020, seriously impacting people who were under or unemployed, precariously housed, or unhoused. In 2021, 2,819 people died from opioid toxicity, an increase from 2,460 opioid deaths the year before, according to data from the Office of the Chief Coroner. These statistics, the BTI team points out, need to be framed with the understanding that many overdoses go unreported.

Nadine and her colleagues worry about the future. They see increasing poverty, evictions, lost employment, worsening affordability, and discrimination affecting more people.  Youth are part of the upward trend. In a given year, there are at least 35,000-40,000 youth in Canada who are unhoused or precariously housed, staying with friends, living in “squats,” renting rooms in boarding houses, or are street-involved. Unhoused youth report high rates of alcohol and substance use compared to youth in the general population and are disproportionately exposed to violence with limited access to healthcare.

Indigenous youth and African, Caribbean, and Black youth are over-represented in the numbers of youth affected. Youth who identify as 2SLGBTQ+ make up 25-40% of the youth experiencing homelessness. Trans youth often face unique and complex challenges. As well as discrimination in the shelter system trans youth often face mistreatment and violence.  Nadine and the BTI team often witness their communities having to navigate systemic discrimination within shelter environments.

Wellness As Privilege

The statistics and numbers provide context but cannot illustrate what it’s like to try to survive in subsistence mode where access to basics such as water and sanitation is not necessarily a given. As Nadine and her colleagues point out, looking at the situation from a distance with an arms-length perspective, is a position of privilege. “How can we even ask about their wellness and mental health,” says Nadine, “when people are struggling to get their basic needs met? It’s unfair.”

It’s an important question as policy makers grapple with the uneven effects of the pandemic. How can we put physical and mental health on equal footing without addressing systemic barriers and questions of access?

The pandemic has magnified deep social problems that pre-existed it, holding up a mirror to our failings as a society. In April, New York Times op-ed page editor Sarah Wildman underscored this point: “Society has rarely taken the most vulnerable into account when it comes to how daily life is navigated. The irony is, if we made vulnerability less stigmatized, less isolated, less shameful, and invisible… we might be less afraid of it.”

To the people like Nadine who do this work, the fundamental issue of basic human rights is eclipsed by the anti-poverty rhetoric and the invisibility of the substance use crisis in Canada. Yet the pandemic has added another layer of complexity. “The pandemic has been overshadowing this equally important public health crisis, the overdose situation is not being talked about. There is no appetite to hear about it.” The shame and the stigma associated with substance use is divided between socially acceptable and criminal substances. “All social classes use drugs. Find someone who has not been touched by it.” says Nadine.

Showing Up in Meaningful Ways

The 519’s BTI program is based on relationships and consent-based interactions. Supporting people with respect and dignity is based on workers like Nadine being available when and how they are needed and meeting people where they are. “If someone needs five hours of my time, that’s ok”, Nadine says, “but it is challenging in such a high-needs context”.

Doing this work often means reframing our notions of success. For example, when Nadine assisted a client who was experiencing a serious mental health crisis, she assisted the person in getting “formed” – meaning they were voluntarily admitted to a psychiatric facility as an alternative to being incarcerated. (The term “formed” comes from the Form 1 psychiatric assessment that a physician completes to determine if a person needs to be admitted for further care as an involuntary or voluntary patient). In this case, the person was able to access treatment rather than being immediately jailed—meaning they were treated as a person who needed care rather than as a criminal.

Nadine and workers like her see firsthand the effects of stigma and the hyper-criminalization of communities of people who live outside and/or use substances and the attendant cycles of homelessness and incarceration.

Placing human dignity at the centre

According to a growing body of research, a shortage of affordable housing directly contributes to homelessness but so do systems failures that include difficult transitions from child welfare, and inadequate discharge planning for people leaving hospitals, corrections and mental health and substance use treatment facilities.  

The common threads of systems failures, stigma, and discrimination seem inextricably intertwined, like a gordian knot. For policy makers attempting to untangle that knot, one thing becomes clear: what is needed is an approach that is rooted in human rights and addresses historic harms, colonialism, and institutional oppression. An approach that is informed by human dignity, rather than perceptions from a perspective of privilege.   

When asked how she copes with working on the front lines of the crisis, Nadine says that despite the heavy toll of this work on her own mental health, “knowing what happens is disturbing but not more disturbing than not being there.”

Views and opinions expressed in this blog post belong solely to the original author and do not necessarily represent the views and opinions of the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Nicole Chevrier
Nicole Chevrier

Nicole Chevrier is Marketing and Communications Manager with the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Mental health is one of her passions.
Nicole is an avid writer and photographer. A first-time author, she recently published her first children’s book to help children who are experiencing bullying.
When she isn’t at her desk, Nicole loves to spend her time doing yoga and meditation, ballroom dancing, hiking, and celebrating nature with photography. She is a collector of sunset moments.

By Aishah Khan

I recently took up roller skating.

My legs are sore from my practice session in my cousin’s basement. A seasoned hockey player, he agreed to help me, although he was mostly unconcerned, absentmindedly shooting a tennis ball around as I wobbled.

I’m 26, and I have spent the past few years in a transitive state. I made two major moves during the pandemic and have started from the beginning in foreign places where I know no one.

I need to learn, to feel motivated. I need to have fun in a city where I’ve spent the past eight months in my apartment, going to school, work, therapy and talking to friends despite not leaving the living room.

Mastering roller skating can’t replace my friends or cure growing pains, but that feeling of exhilaration when I begin to glide and feel control makes me excited, makes me smile, even sometimes makes me whoop with triumph.

It won’t fix my existential confusion, but it’s enough for now.

My parents are in an almost opposite stage of life. As I try to find my groove, they struggle to slow down.

I told my mother that there’s a lot to look forward to, and I don’t want her to regret being sad during these years. Each phase of life has something different to offer us, but this transitive stage makes it unbearable to face –– it’s lonely and daunting and the hardest thing I’ve ever had to do.

My parents are clinging to their past selves. They both still work, although they are financially secure, and my father is nearly 70. They’re frustrated that they get tired more, can’t do physical things as easily and need more help. My mother explained that it’s scary, realizing your body is turning on you, and fearing that you will lose the ability to function.

I agreed, shivering at the thought. But I still encouraged her to explore what this phase of life can offer that she and my father haven’t had: total financial security, no responsibility over children, no parents to worry over. They can enjoy what they’ve worked for, they can finally sit back. Their time can be theirs, not their job’s or children’s. They can try new things, rediscover forgotten hobbies, read books in one sitting and stay up until 2AM binging Netflix because they don’t have to work the next day.

It’s hard to accept change. I’m trying to adjust to the crushing responsibility of independence and my parents are trying to prolong their productivity instead of enjoying the results.

While I must lean into my fears, my parents must let themselves relax. We both have joy waiting for us, we just need to reach for it in different ways.

Aishah Khan

Aishah Khan is a recent writing and communications student who is slowly settling into her niches of feminism, mental health awareness and editorial writing. She is an avid reader and media consumer, and one of her all-time favourite books is A Tree Grows in Brooklyn. In her spare time, Aishah can either be found drawing or painting in the winter, and camping, canoeing and swimming in the summer.

By Alicia Aquino

The Covid-19 pandemic has had a drastic effect on our mental health, especially for the Asian community. For many Asian people, stigma regarding mental health contributes to a hesitancy to discuss the issue. People do not know where to start when seeking out resources, help and treatment.

One of the easiest ways to find information and resources is by using online communities.

Discover three helpful Asian-Canadian websites:

https://www.thecolourproject.ca/

The Colour Project is a Canadian non-profit organisation that aims to make support more accessible by offering free, anonymous, text-based peer support for mental health. Created by Ian and Amanda Feng, their goal was to create a non-judgemental space where individuals can easily access support when needed.

The project creates a community of people with similar experiences and allows them to realise they don’t need to battle through life on their own. Being a free, text-based resource makes this a great option for those seeking mental health support for the first time.

asianmentalhealthproject.com/watch/

The Asian Mental Health Project is an online community that focuses on the cultural stigma that many Asian-Canadians face when seeking mental health support and treatment. The project offers resources accessible to all, including telephone hotlines and recommended therapists for Asian, 2SLGBTQ+, and other marginalised communities. Additionally, they offer a Therapist Outreach Template to aid those considering reaching out to a therapist for the first time.

The project is also known for creating online talks on topics such as stress and stigma, and ‘check-ins’ which serve as an open healing space and discussion. Recently, the project has teamed with Hollaback! to provide bystander intervention and de-escalation online training workshops with translations and interpretations in Mandarin, Cantonese, Korean, and more.

coldteacollective.com

The Cold Tea Collective is a media platform sharing the stories and experiences of North American Asian millennials. The online platform includes blog posts, podcasts and other stories covering topics from arts and culture to health and wellness. Headquartered in Vancouver, the collective has writers spanning all over Canada and North America.

The Cold Tea Collective is passionate about giving Asian millennials a platform to understand and connect with themselves and the world around them. They value sharing authentic stories and creating quality content and conversations. One blog post that caught my eye is titled “Quarantine qapsule: Archiving the Asian Canadian Experience”.  Written by the user, Nightingale, the post unravels the detrimental effects the pandemic had on the Asian Canadian community.

Exploring these resources are a great way to dive into the Asian online mental health and wellness community. There are hundreds of stories to read, topics to discuss, and safe spaces to confide in. Starting your mental health journey can be scary, but remember that your feelings are valid, and there is no shame in mental health issues. By educating ourselves on these topics, and having these tough conversations with family and friends, together we can end this stigma.

By Jessica “the StigmaCrusher” Ward-King, Ph.D.

This morning I woke up to find that my nose was running, and I had a cough.  Is it the dreaded COVID-19? The common cold? This year’s strain of influenza? Allergies?

So, I took an over-the-counter cough and cold medication (and maybe an allergy pill, just to be safe) to deal with the symptoms.

Luckily my COVID-19 rapid test was negative, so I may never know the real cause of this illness.  All I can do is treat the symptoms and take care of myself the best I can.  I get lots of rest and drink lots of fluids.  I eat some chicken soup, drink lemon tea, and use a chest rub and lozenges.  I will self-isolate and wait it out. 

If my symptoms worsen or new ones emerge – trouble breathing or a high fever, for example – I might have to seek medical help.  My doctor might prescribe treatments for these symptoms – acetaminophen to lower the temperature, a puffer to open the airways – and if it gets worse (God forbid!) I may end up in hospital on a ventilator.  The doctors may do some tests to identify the cause of the symptoms.  Is it viral, such as COVID-19 or influenza or bacterial? Asthma or allergies?  If they can  determine the cause, they can actually treat the disease rather than just treating my symptoms.

The difference here – between treating the symptoms and treating the actual illness – is not one of semantics.  It is the difference between the syndrome and the disease

A syndrome is a collection of symptoms that “run together” (from the Greek: syn=together and drome=run) without any identifiable cause.

A disease has an identifiable cause that results in the signs and symptoms that  present clinically, such as  COVID-19, or a dust allergy.

Most mental illnesses are syndromes – collections of symptoms that tend to “run together”.  The  Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM–5), the authoritative guide to the diagnosis of mental disorders, helps the clinician to diagnose based on these syndromes.  My Bipolar 2 disorder diagnosis is based on a set of symptoms that I live with and, like my runny nose and cough, could really be caused by any number of different diseases.  Psychiatric treatments, then, like my medication and talk therapy, are prescribed to treat the signs and symptoms that I present with, based on the DSM-5 and my doctor’s clinical experience with syndromes similar to mine in other patients.

I believe this may help to explain why our psychiatric treatments are so often ineffective.  In the case of depression, for example, only one third of patients receive sufficient benefit from their first treatment.  I have been struggling with a depressive episode of my Bipolar 2 disorder for nearly two years now and have tried multiple treatments and combinations of treatments with no relief of my symptoms.  Just as  an antibiotic won’t help my runny nose and cough if the disease is actually viral, the various treatments I am trying for my bipolar depression may not actually be addressing the disease underlying my illness.

That isn’t to say that there are no objective disease states that underlie psychiatric syndromes – I think that there are.  Before we had microscopes to observe viruses and bacteria, every cough and sneeze was the same as any other.  I believe it will take significant medical and scientific advances to identify the disease states underlying psychiatric syndromes, but we aren’t starting from scratch. For example, research has identified the bacterium that causes neurosyphilis and the misfolding proteins in the brains of those with Alzheimer’s disease.  Brain-scanning technologies and even blood tests are currently being developed.  We are closer now than we have ever been to understanding the diseases related to psychiatric syndromes.

Until then, though, the best we can do when experiencing the unpleasant symptoms of mental illness is to take care of ourselves the best we can, get lots of rest, and seek medical help when symptoms worsen, or new ones emerge.  We need to continue to do good science and not lose hope.  It is possible – even probable – that medical science is uncovering another psychiatric disease and transforming our understanding of the causes and treatments of the psychiatric syndromes that cause so much suffering.

In the meantime, though, my chicken soup and lemon tea are getting cold, and my pillow is calling.  Any suggestions for shows I can binge? 

Jessica “StigmaCrusher” Ward-King

Jessica “StigmaCrusher” Ward-King has a PhD in experimental psychology from the University of London, England, and a bachelor’s degree from McGill University with a BSc (hons) in psychology.  Jessica also has living experience of Bipolar II Disorder, a chronic mental illness that she has lived with since she was a teenager. 

Jessica works tirelessly to crush the stigma of mental health and mental illness as a keynote speaker, author and YouTube creator.  

In Canada, at least 1 in 3 adolescent students have reported being bullied and almost half of parents have reported having a child that is the victim of bullying.  Yet, in most cases, bullying stops within 10 seconds when peers intervene, or do not support the bullying behaviour.

Kids who are bullied are not the only ones affected. Those who witness it as well as the bullies themselves can be seriously impacted. Kids who are bullied are more likely to experience negative outcomes:

  • Depression and anxiety, increased feelings of sadness and loneliness, changes in sleep and eating patterns, and loss of interest in activities they used to enjoy. These issues may persist into adulthood.
  • Low self-esteem and difficulty trusting others
  • Health issues
  • Decreased academic achievement

Bullying is preventable. Research shows that kids can develop traits that are correlated to better outcomes when faced with bullying:

  • solid self-esteem
  • assertiveness
  • strong social skills
  • healthy friendships

Kids with these traits are not only less likely to be targeted by bullies but also are better equipped to deal with bullying if it does happen. Some kids appear to come by these traits naturally, but the fact is that kids can develop effective coping skills such as emotional resilience. 

There are many ways we can help kids to develop resilience. Here are a few:

  • Self esteem
  • Positive thinking
  • Feelings management
  • Problem solving skills
  • Self-discovery opportunities

Preventing bullying is everyone’s responsibility. One easy way to start is to inform yourself. You can find a wealth of information and tips about bullying online but it’s always a good idea to be careful and get your information from trusted sources. Check out some of the links in this article to learn more about bullying from some of the experts.

Despite the increasing number of schools adopting bully prevention programs, their effectiveness has been shown to vary. Some of the more successful approaches focus on the root causes of bullying behaviour while teaching social and emotional intelligence.

Social-emotional learning involves developing self-awareness, self-control, and interpersonal skills.  Parents, family, and peers can help kids to build these skills that will not only help to prevent bullying, but will lead to success at school, at work, and in life.

By Nicole Chevrier

Nicole Chevrier
Nicole Chevrier

Nicole Chevrier is Marketing and Communications Manager with the Mental Health Commission of Canada. Mental health is one of her passions.
Nicole is an avid writer and photographer. A first-time author, she recently published her first children’s book to help children who are experiencing bullying.
When she isn’t at her desk, Nicole loves to spend her time doing yoga and meditation, ballroom dancing, hiking, and celebrating nature with photography. She is a collector of sunset moments.