Mental Wellness Pt. II

When you have horses, a lot goes into it – it’s not just about riding. Caring for a horse can add to a person’s productivity. Photo by Wildrose Imagery.

This blog is a continuation from our Embracing Mental Health blog. If you’re struggling with mental health, you’re not alone. The pressures added to society due to Covid-19 are two-fold. Here, we get some meaningful advice from Psychologist Vanessa Goodchild, for navigating the world we currently live in.

THE ELEPHANT IN THE ROOM
Depression looks different in every person. Sadly, many men who suffer from anxiety or depression don’t always get noticed.

“Society expects females to cry and share our emotions. Yet still in today’s day and age, society expects men not to share feelings of sadness or overwhelm, etc. Therefore, many men kind of withdraw and bottle up their emotions – they feel like it’s a sign of weakness or they are a failure if they show emotion,” Goodchild states.

She goes on to say that sometimes men don’t even realize depression is a “thing” because there is so much dishonour in society surrounding it.

“We need to slowly reduce that stigma,” she says. “With men , depression or anxiety can show up as aggression or irritability. It’s like an iceberg – on the surface there’s just a little piece popping up out of ocean. This is what we all see – the aggression or irritability. But underneath the water is a larger piece of the iceberg. Underneath there is sadness, guilt, blame, self-doubt, loss and grieving, hopelessness and from my experience in speaking with many male clients, it stems from the belief that they are not good enough and they feel like a failure…”

The psychologist says the reason this happens so often is because of the expectations many men put on themselves.

“They want to be the rock of the family and when challenges or stressors arise , they bring sadness and fear, but also, shame. Men may feel like they are letting down their family. They don’t think they can open up to anyone. It’s not expected in our culture. The pain gets heavier and heavier, until they can’t deal with it anymore,” she explains.

For men, depression or anxiety can be silent and harder to recognize – therefore making it more difficult for them to reach out for support. And according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), “…among Canadians of all ages, four of every five suicides are male.” As such, the CMHA are calling it “a silent crisis.”

“Men are more likely to commit suicide, compared to women,” explains Goodchild. “Women will attempt it but often fail. It’s not a sign of weakness or failure, it’s an actual illness. And it’s not something we can deal with a quick fix. People with suicidal thoughts cannot just ‘Get Over It.’ Even medication can’t just fix it – but there are tools to help people struggling,” the psychologist states.

If you’re someone already strained by a mental health issue, the stressors of 2020 have done little to calm the stormy seas of uncertainty. In fact, the year has exposed many more troubling mental health vulnerabilities. On June 25, 2020, the CMHA put out a press release that stated, “The pandemic has caused intense stress and disruption for all people in Canada, and is causing pronounced mental health concerns, including suicidal thoughts and feelings, in various subgroups of the population, including parents, those with existing mental illness or mental health issues, Indigenous people and those with a disability or who identify as LGBTQ+.”

Goodchild echoes this sentiment. “With Covid, many people with mental health issues have had their coping mechanisms taken away from them. Things like going for coffee, getting away, going on vacation, etc. I’m seeing a lot more anxiety and depression these days.”

“If you don’t feel there’s someone out there you can really open up and talk to, consider seeing a psychologist,” advises Goodchild.

“We’re trained specifically to treat mental illness. We know the research and we’re a compassionate ear. We can walk alongside people as they heal and become better versions of themselves.”

If you are someone who may need to reach out for help, consider this: the more people who come forward and find support, the more the stigma will be erased.

“It’s unfortunate there’s so much stigma associated with ‘mental illness,’ says Goodchild. “Because with an illness, it might be something you can fix! There’s hope. Mental illness might just be a condition where a lot of stressors / difficulties have come up and it’s way too much for one person on their own. It’s more common than we think – but it is treatable. You can learn how to overcome it. We can show you tools and strategies to use, to help you get back to where you were or want to be.”

WHAT CAN BE DONE
If you notice someone close to you may need support, the first step is to check in on them or call them . Don’t pity them, Goodchild advises.

“Reach out to them because it’s harder for them to reach out to you. Show them you care. Find out if they need to talk. If they do feel they can open up to you, listen! Listen without the intent to respond right away and just be there, with them and for them.”

Goodchild says that often it’s human nature to want to solve the other person’s problems and try to fix it for them, but that doesn’t always help.

“They just might need to know that someone cares about them and they can benefit from a little distraction for the time being. Humour might be good. A kind, caring mindset is good. Be compassionate but not belittling to that person.Ask them, ‘What can I do for you?’ Whether it’s cooking a meal, recommending a funny movie, or just somehow maintaining that connection between you – it can all help,” says the psychologist.

Depression and anxiety can happen when a person becomes so numb, so detached, that they don’t know what to do. In some cases it might be helpful to book that person a therapy appointment.

“Help them look up a psychologist in the area,” Goodchild suggests. “But help them confidentially. Learn about depression! Some people think it’s not even a thing – they think a depressed person should be able to snap out of it, but that doesn’t work.”

She says that it’s frequently helpful to learn what depression and anxiety are, what the signs and symptoms are and recognize if someone close to you is showing those behaviours.

“If that’s case, then you may have to impede a little more – if it means saving their life. Looking up signs of suicidal behaviour in people may be good knowledge too. Things like sending a text out of the blue, a goodbye call or letter, or tying up loose ends.

And know that sometimes we don’t see the signs either…” she stresses.

Above all, try not to “fix” that person. Avoid certain statements that are blaming and shaming. Think before you speak and always ask yourself, “Will this be helpful?” before you say something to someone who is in genuine pain.

“For example, don’t say things like, ‘Everyone gets sad sometimes…’ You don’t want to minimize the situation, nor criticize it either.”

Instead, Goodchild recommends saying things like, “You haven’t seemed like yourself lately.”

“Show them gently that you see them and hear them, but you’re still not blaming nor criticizing them.”

She says there can a heavy burden for caregivers living with someone with mental illness or depression. If they really rely on you, you have to ensure you set yourself up with emotional boundaries.

“It can affect the caregiver greatly too,” Goodchild explains. “Our nervous systems do tie up with the people around us. Therefore, we must be in check with ourselves too. Honour our own needs. We have to make sure we’re still exercising and seeking support. Because otherwise, this can lead to burnout.”

As stated, support can be extremely helpful and can be found in numerous, different ways. Especially in big cities. However, rural people may need to look at more online outlets. Sometimes there are helpful tools online, things like support groups for people with chronic pain. Psychologists are an essential service, so rural people can still find ways to do video conferences or telephone calls for help, if distance is a factor.

“And if you are dealing with abuse or there are people in your house that you don’t want to hear your conversation with a psychologist, go for a walk while doing a phone session or sit in your car for more privacy,” Goodchild states.

Remember, there are always ways around perceived hurdles. Suicide help lines or distress centres are available in every region, with 24/7 help. Or a person can call 911 or go to the nearest hospital.

Holistic health measures may be beneficial for finding balance. It’s also important to keep a check on our emotional health. These days we all need to ask ourselves – are we taking on too much? If so, what can be done to prioritize? How are we coping? Can we provide ourself some comfort? Do we do that by reading a book? Or by going horseback riding?

If you need help, speaking with a physiologist can be valuable. However, it’s also important to do the things you love to do. Try a new recipe or paint. Get outside, movement is huge! Listen to music. Watch a funny TV show. Have a bubble bath. Garden. Pet some horses. Take care of yourself.