October 10 is World Mental Health Day.
Mental Health is something close to my heart. I’ve had my own experiences with depression and have had to support family and friends that have experienced or are experiencing it now.
My Own Journey
The first time I encountered depression is during my parents’ separation and while my younger brother was going through his treatments and appointments for his Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy. At that time I did not have the ability to express myself and besides a few sessions with a family counsellor at Holland Bloorview Kids Rehab, I suffered in silence in my room not knowing what was going on for days. To this day I’m still unsure how I overcame that, but I woke up one day and all was fine.
My second encounter was after my first breakup in high school and this threw me into a spiral, again for days I would be in a deep dark place. This time I was fortunate to have caring, loving and patient friends that stayed by my side and also a leadership program coordinator that gave his time and patience to listen to me and give me his kindness and compassion.
The third encounter was after graduating from university and completing my contract with the university. I remember having difficult times during my transition and even though I was actively running a non-profit with my former girlfriend at the time, I still struggled emotionally and I’m thankful for her patience being by my side throughout.
Today through explorations of my self, practices of yoga and meditation and circles of friends and leadership groups that provide me with a safe space to express I am much healthier in all areas of my life. Do I still have good and bad days? For sure. I am just more aware of the comings and goings of these sensations and thoughts.
I am forever grateful to my friends for being by my side along the way.
It’s been over ten years since my grandmother and uncle died by suicide. At that time I had limited knowledge of mental health and it was painful to see both my grandmother and uncle suffer so much before death. As a Chinese Canadian, mental health and suicide is a very taboo subject and during that time the only conversations were based on superstition of evil spirits entering the body and that this is only temporary and would go away.
What made it more difficult was not being able to speak openly as a family after the events occurred to grieve and to make sense of it together. This may have been due to cultural sensitivity as the Chinese culture of “saving face” is very important. Instead, each of us had to find our ways of coping and making sense of it on our own, which at that time I was university while my cousins and brother were still in elementary or secondary school and didn’t have the appropriate mechanisms to help us understand and process what had happened.
I would have to say I wasn’t able to properly grieve for my grandmother and uncle for over ten years until my grandfather died at the age of 94 June of this year.
Torrance just turned 30 years old this year and lives with Duchenne Muscular Dystrophy (DMD). DMD is a muscle degeneration disorder. Two of our uncles lived with it as well and died in their early 20s. My brother is the strongest person I know and has overcome so much adversity while growing up, such as spinal fusion surgery, DMD experiments, appointments for new exercises and leg braces, regular bloodwork where he watched and laughed while my face would pale with the thought of a needle. And after all of that always coming out with a huge smile on his face. He was known as “Smiling Bob” at one of the summer camps we attended together.
That all changed in November 2015 when a respiratory therapist suggested him to test out a full-faced BiPAP mask, which he uses to help his breathing during sleep caused him to bloat. Even after switching back to a nose-covered BiPAP mask his bloating continued. On April 2, 2016, while downtown Toronto, Torrance had a panic attack resulting in difficulty breathing and was admitted to the ER unit and over three days of further testing the results were inconclusive. After that incident, his anxiety increased with fears of going beyond the home for his own safety. The lowest point came in November 2016 when he consumed very little food or supplements and lost over 10 pounds in 2 months. He is now facing major anxiety and thoughts of suicide for the past year and a half.
This has been a time of tough conversation as my family talks about mental health, end of life planning and death with Torrance. We have been fortunate over the past few months the support of many health professionals of all kinds to see if they can help reduce his anxiety and suffering.
With this happening, it also created a space for our family and friends to speak openly about mental health, suicide and death.
What Can We Do?
As family, friends, colleagues and strangers we are at the front line and need to be aware, learn how to communicate and take action for others that may be faced with a mental health issue. To better equip myself I found several applicable resources and training programs much like First Aid and CPR training is available for mental health and suicide:
- Mental Health First Aid training developed by the Mental Health Commission of Canada. I completed this with St. John’s Ambulance and there are many training companies that offer it.
- SafeTALK and ASIST training developed by LivingWorks to learn how to support persons with thoughts of suicide. I’ve completed SafeTALK which is a 3-hour session and ASIST is an in-depth two-day session.
- Mental Health Helpline supported by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care provides a 24-hour helpline where if you are facing mental health or addiction issues or as a family, friend or colleague wanting advice can call 1-866-531-2600 to speak with a nurse practitioner.
- If you or someone is in immediate need, you can call the Distress and Crisis Centre hotline in your region and of course 911 if the crisis is urgent.
- Talk about it in the workplace! My friend’s at CivicAction has a wonderful assessment and knowledgebase called MindMatters, especially useful if you are in a leadership or management role.
- Talk about it everywhere! The Bell Let’s Talk campaign also has a set of wonderful resources to help you talk about mental health at home, with friends and at the office. I’ve used their facilitation kit for my team when I was at Bombardier. Did it make my team members uncomfortable? Sure did! Was it valuable to share? Sure was!