An overview of mental health in Saskatchewan and resources for self-help

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Is awareness doing what we’re wanting it to? /Pixabay

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The Bell Let’s Talk campaign has ignited mental health awareness and advocacy all over the country for the tenth year in a row. #BellLet’sTalk has been growing in popularity and the conversation around mental health has glaringly shifted from where we were as a society 10 years ago. But, with all this awareness what sort of action has taken place?

In Saskatchewan, many people argue that all the talking needs to turn into action. The Saskatchewan Government committed 30 million dollars in the 2019-2020 budget primarily focused on investment in beds and care providers for severe mental illness and addictions treatment. The largest commitment to mental health in the history of the province, over $400 million dollars were committed to mental health services in total.

In 2014, the provincial government committed to a 10-year plan that targeted seven categories for improvement: (1) enhance access and capacity to support recovery in the community; (2) focus on prevention and early intervention; (3) create person and family-centered efforts; (4) respond to diversities; (5) partner with First Nations and Métis people; (6) reduce stigma and increase awareness; lastly, (7) transform the system and sustain the change.

Now for the opinion part that you’ve been waiting for: I had a conversation with a colleague and it led to the forming of my opinions.

With all the awareness and openness with mental health, sometimes the conversation can go too far and the regression back to mean will begin to start. I won’t argue that this is the beginning because my ego is not that big and I’m not into hot takes. However, when normal human behaviours and emotions are pathologized problems begin to happen. It’s an easy to follow a slippery slope when we have a couple difficult weeks and label ourselves as depressed, or succumb to our anxieties a few too many times and see ourselves having a clinical anxiety problem.

Obviously, these are gross generalizations and I’m not saying it’s everyone, however when these types of conversations are only going one direction, it is easy to fall into this trap. We all want everyone to have overall mental wellness, so if a friend thinks they are depressed after a rough few weeks, you want to support them, but this can be a difficult conversation to navigate if you think that person might be hyperbolizing.

With social media headlines, clickbait, and the like being so prominent, hyperbolic language becomes normative, which can create communication problems for both the helper and the person seeking help. Clarity around what is pathology and what is not can be difficult, especially when the first point of contact is typically a GP who knows very little about depression. They give out a 15-item questionnaire and make a decision based on that result rather than taking a conversion approach to treatment and considering environmental factors. Not every situation is created equally, but GPs are stretched thin enough and their backlog of patients is a priority.

The problem has compounded as the increased pace of society has permeated into medicine and mental health treatment. There is simultaneously a growing demand for integrated technology and a growing demand to make a quick buck by providing well-being products. This results in a lack of evidence-based technology in a high-demand market. In other words, we have a fuck ton of apps to help you in your wellness journey, if you pay a relatively moderate amount of money.

So, instead of shelling out $150-250 dollars per session with a trained psychologist people will pay $5 for an app to help them,that may not actually have any evidence to support its use and makes erroneous claims in the name of science. To be fair, there are some helpful apps out there, but they take truly a remarkable commitment.

I study mindfulness and it can be true that mindfulness and meditation-based practices can help increase well-being. But the evidence is unclear if truly only doing 5-10 minutes per day consistently has any impact long term on well-being outcomes. There is however evidence to suggest if you dive deep into meditation and commit yourself to reshaping the way you think about and interact within the world that can have lasting significant changes. Fundamentally how you do that may not make a difference, but the commitment to changing the way you think about and interact with the world is no easy task.

Many of the significant changes in brain structure come from years of practice and many thousands of hours. Even still this evidence of brain structure change cannot be causally linked to meditation. There are many other factors including genetics, environmental influence, and any predisposition to being open to beginning mindfulness in the first place that could theoretically contribute to these altered brain structures.

While there are no shortages for meditation apps, I personally pay for and use Headspace, and I have found that it can be a useful tool especially when beginning. The Waking Up app is also another one I highly recommend and is also offered for free if you truly cannot afford the cost. The Waking Up app also comes with podcasts made by Dr. Sam Harris, who is an excellent resource when it comes to information on this topic.

Furthermore, if you want to dive deeper into how mindfulness can change and alter the brain and the benefits that have been observed, I recommend Altered Traits, a book by Richard Davidson and Daniel Goleman. If you want to learn where to acquire even more resources please email me at carillonsportseditor@gmail.com.

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