As many of us begin to feel confident that we can see the light at the end of the tunnel, I would like to spend some time reflecting on one very important positive outcome from the pandemic – the enormous shift in awareness, understanding and appreciation for our personal mental health.
Mental health, like physical health, is something each of us experiences every day. As we move through our day many internal and external forces impact our emotional, psychological and social well-being and this affects how we think, feel and act. It also determines how we handle stress, relate to others and make choices.
The fact is that COVID-19 has had both positive and negative impacts on our mental health. For some it has created time and space to engage in healthy activities like exercise, pursue new hobbies and spend time as a family.
For others it has been isolating, has created financial challenges or has heightened the tension in troubled relationship.
For the vast majority of people the impact of the pandemic was not something they could avoid or deny. At the beginning of the pandemic an Ipsos Public Affairs Annual Mental Health Index survey commissioned by Children’s Mental Health Ontario and Addictions and Mental Health Ontario, showed that 74% of Ontarians were experiencing increased challenges with their mental health and addictions.
Locally, we saw a 42% increase in calls for support through the Here24/7 intake line.
So, what did you learn about your mental health in the last 20 months? On those days when your mental health was suffering how did that show up in your body, in your thoughts, in your mood and interaction with others? What did you find helpful?
Personally, in the early stages of the pandemic, I found myself using “self-soothing” techniques like a large glass of wine, comfort food and long baths. It didn’t take long for me to realize that although these self-soothing techniques created a distraction, they were not enough to keep the pandemic anger, the lack of focus for work and the general feeling of loneliness at bay. I needed more proactive, intentional strategies. I said goodbye to my wine and comfort food, began focusing on getting seven to 10 fruits and vegetables into my daily diet and begrudgingly started going for walks. I also reached out and made dates with friends and family online and when we could we planned outside walking dates.
Many people have admitted that they didn’t really consider the importance of being resilient before COVID-19. Being resilient means we can bounce back from the ups and downs of life, whatever they may be. Resiliency does take a lot of work. The pandemic has forced many of us to be more aware and to start to identify what works to support our mental health. As we navigate through the fourth wave of the pandemic, with more success than the first three waves, I encourage everyone not to abandon what you have learned, but to build upon it. These resiliency skills are beneficial for all of life’s challenges.
This year, Here4Hope, Wellington’s life promotion, suicide prevention project’s fall community campaign will focus on stories of resilience – Stories4Hope. We’re launching a podcast series called Stories4Hope beginning Nov. 12. The four-part series will drop a new episode every Friday, until Dec. 3. The podcast will be available at www.here4hope.ca/podcast on Spotify, Google and Apple Podcasts. Sit back with your coffee or take us with you on your daily walk or commute and listen to these powerful stories of resiliency.
I also invite you to follow us on social media during the week of Nov. 15 as we share the basics of resiliency with a playful visual vignette series. For those who prefer more traditional resources, the staff at the Wellington County library have curated a book list of titles that highlight stories of resiliency. Drop by any branch to pick up the November Library newsletter to learn more.
It is our hope that you will find these resources helpful as you navigate your personal journey. If you or someone you know needs help, please call Here 24/7 at 1-844-437-3247.
You are not alone.
Help is available.
Please reach out.
Cecilia Marie Roberts is the Suicide Prevention Project lead with the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington.