Change is slow but forward progress is forward progress.

Canadian Mental Association’s Mental Health Week is May 6-12 and while there seems to be an increased and concerted effort to talk about mental health and it is now part of our consciousness, the understanding still needs some work. 

The theme for this year’s Mental Health Week is “#GetLoud about what mental health really is.” Seems simplistic but it is true. Talking is beneficial, but it is only the first step in understanding what mental health truly is. Even if you do a quick google search, one has to do a double take because Canadian “mental... week” is in October. That is mental illness awareness week. Yes, there is a difference, a major one.

One can only guess how much the first annual Mental Health Week in 1951 has changed to today now in its 68th year. The goals, the methodology and the attitude of the public is much different. However, one area where there is still some ugly remnants is the term “mental”. 

Growing up, saying the word “mental” was a derogatory noun to describe someone’s specific actions or who couldn’t control sadness or anger.  Mental health and mental illness seem to be intertwined in one ball of derogatory adjectives, half truths, presumptions, mistaken definitions and fears. First they are separate things and second, mental illness is like any other medical condition, it needs treatment. 

Canadian Mental Health Association’s explanation: “Many Canadians confuse the terms mental health and mental illness and use them interchangeably—this confusion contributes to the stigma of mental illness; it divides people into those who experience mental illness and those who don’t. When people understand that mental health is something we all have, they realize that mental health is everyone’s issue—we all benefit from celebrating, promoting and acknowledging the role that good mental health plays in living a full and meaningful life.”

Some people may think talking about mental health has done overboard and generally causes more trouble than it’s worth. 

The CMHA says “diverse evidence from across Canada and around the world indicates that there are six common features of good mental health to put mental health into everyday language”: 

These illustrations express in real terms what mental health looks like to them: 

• (A sense of self) I don’t worry too much about what people think of me. 

• (A sense of purpose) I feel like I’m reaching my potential. 

• (Of belonging,) I feel like I belong. 

• (Contribution,) I make the world a better place. 

• (Enjoyment ) I enjoy my life. 

• (Resilience) Knock me down and I’ll get back up again. 

The difference between now and 1951 is that there is awareness. People are willing to speak up about and there are resources and knowledge to help. It is far more than making a pill and making everything all better in regards to mental illness. 

Sometimes, mental illness can be eliminated as a matter of preventative medicine that doesn’t need any chemical fixes.

It takes a little work with lifestyle and attitude changes, but sometimes it is being surrounded by understanding - doesn't have to be sympathetic - people. Sometimes it’s getting exercise, walking, a change to a healthier diet, reading, staying away from negative social media. 

But it also involves working at it, not only by those around a person, but by the person themselves.  That’s preventative. And that’s what maintaining and fostering mental health is; it is not mental illness. Illness needs professional help either through counselling and/or medication. 

Mental health may need that temporarily, like any other kind of medical issue, but mental health is far more about living right, living health for the mind, heart and soul. Mental illness is a lifelong battle due to chemical imbalances which cause thinking and attitudes which need to be redirected or fixed.

You don’t have to have issues or an overabundance of negative thoughts to be astute about mental health wellness. Everyone who has knowledge about it can make the world just a bit better and more open and welcoming place by assisting or empathetic to others and most importantly, to themselves. As the cliche goes, it all starts with you. That attitude is a positive step and something to get loud about.

For more see: https://mentalhealthweek.ca/

(Ryan Dahlman is the managing editor of Prairie Post East and Prairie Post West)

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