How are you today? I mean, how are you really? Are you content? Sad? Anxious? Happy? Do you have a headache? Upset stomach? Sore back, aching knees? Which of those maladies are you most comfortable addressing? Probably the physical ones, right? You’re not alone. Mental health is not something everyone is comfortable talking about.
My husband has a habit of answering “terrible” when asked how he is doing. It is quite funny to see the different reactions he gets. Most people are quite taken aback. They don’t know how to respond because it is much easier to nod and smile when someone says they are good. Even “ok” is acceptable. Anything less is a sure way to make people start to sweat.
Our mental health is just as important as our physical health, and we should be able to open up about it as we do with other aches and pains. I know it is getting a bit better, but our society is just not prepared to deal with all the things associated with mental illness. Almost daily, the media reports on how the system failed someone. For example, two years after the suicide of Samwel Uko, a public inquest is being held in Regina. Samwel, who was just 20 years old, drowned himself in Wascana Lake after being kicked out of the Regina General Hospital twice that same day. This still upsets me. Our system failed this young man, and it has failed many who have sought out help or those who didn’t bother because they didn’t think it would be worth it.
It is not a pretty subject, but suicide is also making the news a lot these days. Did you know that in Canada, on average, 11 people commit suicide every day? That’s about 4,000 deaths by suicide per year, and one-third of those deaths are among people aged 45 to 59. This number doesn’t take into consideration those who attempt suicide or have suicidal thoughts.
Suicide used to be something hidden away and not often talked about. My father took his own life 20 years ago at the age of 78. He was from a generation where mental health was definitely something you didn’t talk about, and it was more acceptable to self-medicate and stay quiet. Since his death, we have made inroads in bringing mental health to the forefront. Thanks to many celebrities stepping out and admitting they have mental health issues, Bell Let’s Talk and other initiatives, suicide and mental health are now talked about more openly. We still have a long way to go.
My friend Joanne recently shared an inspirational Facebook post from Lynne Harley. “Five years ago, on Father’s Day, as I pulled my kayak out of Pike Lake near my home, I received the phone call that no one wants to hear,” says Lynne. “My younger brother had been found dead. Craig was 58 years old and had struggled with mental health issues from the time he was a young adult. Fifty years ago, mental health was not a subject that was spoken of. This was a dark period for me; my mother had died only a year earlier, and I was caught in the undertow of grief as I tried to make sense of my brother’s life and death.”
Lynne’s brother became her inspiration. She now lives in Camrose, Alberta, and is a transformational life coach, speaker, and author. She has written a children’s book about a caterpillar with big dreams which will be available on Amazon at the end of June.
“The writing of my book “What If You Could?” was inspired by Craig’s journey. We know that a caterpillar has within it everything it needs to become a butterfly. This becoming is within us too, except we can “think” our way out of it. Every day we hear from the “voice” within us. Sometimes the voice is kind and loving and encourages us to believe in ourselves and grow beyond what we know. At times, there is a voice within that speaks loudly of fear, doubt, and worry.”
Lynne, now 66 years of age, is embarking on a journey to raise awareness of mental health and will ride 3,000 km from Pike Lake Provincial Park, Saskatchewan, to Montreal, Quebec.
Her dream is to raise $100,000 in support of mental health awareness for jack.org., a Canadian charity that trains and empowers young leaders to identify and dismantle barriers to positive mental health. Jack.org was created by the parents of Jack Windeler, an 18-year-old who committed suicide during his first year at Queen’s University.
“I believe that when we live with mental health and wellness, we are better able to discern and listen to the voice that lovingly guides us to believe and live into the best of who we are. This is what’s inspiring me to live into my “What If You Could?” and support Jack.org in their quest to dissolve the barriers so all can access the mental health support they need.”
Lynne’s journey is set to begin June 19th, at Pike Lake and finish in Montreal on Sept. 6. “This is not just my ride; it is everyone’s ride. Who among us has not been impacted by our own, or someone else’s experience of mental distress?” To read more about her ride, visit: https://jack.org/whatifyoucouldtour
Not everyone is able to cycle 3000 km, but there are other things we can do to make conversations about mental health and wellness more comfortable. Talk to your friends and family. Listen to your friends, your family. Sometimes, a brief conversation is all someone needs to come out of a funk. Sometimes it requires more intervention. I feel it is important to not make assumptions and we need to be observant and question unusual behaviour or patterns of withdrawal, especially among older adults. There are people who think once a person retires, life is a bed of roses. Yea, right.
“When you stop working after several decades, it naturally takes some time to adjust and figure out who you are in your new life. Giving yourself permission and the opportunity to feel the discomfort that comes with change will make it easier, “says Ginny McReynolds in her piece for Sixty and Me entitled How to Fight Back Against Retirement Anxiety and Find Your True Self.
And, yes, older adults are less likely than younger adults to experience major depression, and for many, retirement does end anxiety and depression, especially if they were unhappy in their job. Retirement also brings a loss of purpose, social contact, structure, and even identity, which can lead to poor mental health. So, it is important to keep things in check and work on self-awareness.
Above all, if you are feeling that something just isn’t right, reach out. Talk to your doctor. Make them listen to you. Trust your instincts and be right with yourself. You are enough.