Mental Wellness: A Lifetime Journey

Senior holding the shoulder of man to support each other

Each and every one of us has our own mental health journey, and in light of all the major changes we’ve had to adapt to, it can be difficult to invest time to take care of ourselves. After all, there’s school re-openings, a provincial election, and a worldwide health crisis. When we do finally sit down and take a breather, we may not even know where to begin!

Mental Illness Awareness Week from October 4 to 10 and World Mental Health Day on October 10 reminds us of the significance mental wellness plays in the overall quality of our lives, and what we can do to challenge the stigma behind mental illness and become healthier as a society.

Mental wellness is defined as a state of well-being, where we have a sense of purpose and we’re thriving, while still managing stress. Mental illness is described as disturbances in thoughts, feelings and perceptions that can impact our daily lives. While we all have our mental health to take care of, multiple factors can impact us.

Factors that protect and enhance our mental wellness include regular physical activity, food security, strong social connections, emotional resilience and stress management. However, getting access to and maintaining these protective factors are further influenced by other factors such as housing and income.

To illustrate, a person who has access to quality education, stable housing, job security, and an income that matches or exceeds the cost of living will have the knowledge and means to afford healthier foods, and the time to engage in physical activity and interact with friends.

The social determinants of health highlight these key areas that contribute to our health – such as early childhood development, income, education, and affordable housing. Any deficit in these areas can negatively impact a person’s overall health and quality of life. For instance, people with serious mental illnesses face many barriers to accessing education and employment, which in turn increases their risk of poverty, and poverty is known to exacerbate poor mental health.

Mental wellness is so powerful that it can even protect against chronic disease; however, this also means that poor mental health can contribute to chronic disease. In our province alone we’re still seeing a large gap between the healthiest British Columbians and those with the poorest health. And with COVID-19, this is becoming more prevalent.

According to Canada’s Centre for Addiction and Mental Health national survey, more than a quarter of Canadians engaged in binge drinking, while 20% felt lonely and depressed due to the pandemic. Moreover, less than 5% of youth met physical activity behavioral guidelines during COVID-19 restrictions, which in turn can negatively affect overall mental health. British Columbians need strategies to protect our mental wellness as the pandemic restrictions continue by addressing the social determinants of health.

Research has shown that food security and access to nutritious foods can be improved through public policy that addresses and improves financial situations of low-income households. We also need equitable access to stable income, affordable housing, and quality education, as those factors heavily influence our abilities to make healthy choices. While these recommendations highlight important systemic changes that will take time to implement, we can also make progress on an individual level.

Engaging in regular physical activity can be an accessible and fun opportunity for individuals to increase mental wellness and protect against chronic illnesses. Local recreation centres and sports teams are opening their physical and digital doors for folks to get physically active. We can also get creative and organize digital walking groups with friends to physically distance while socially connecting.

Mental wellness can also look like setting aside time for our own hobbies, turning off distracting digital devices for an hour, or even brewing a hot cup of tea to start off our day. Mental wellness is a lifetime journey and it can take time to discover what works for us and what no longer does. Ultimately, what matters is that we do invest in ourselves.

The worldwide pandemic we’re all experiencing only further highlights the need to make these changes. It’s been over 30 years since World Mental Health Day sparked conversations on this stigmatized topic all over the world, but now more than ever we need to transform these words into real action at the political level and at the personal level. We need to take time for our own wellness journey.

Post a comment