Kristiyana’s Mental Health Story: Becoming Your Own Best Friend

Kristiyana Yordanova is 24-years-old and is currently studying psychology and neuroscience at the University of British Columbia. She spoke to us about learning to manage her destructive negative thoughts and how to avoid toxic relationships to find greater self-compassion and self-esteem.

Can you please share a bit about yourself and your passion for mental health advocacy and destigmatizing mental health?

My passion for mental health directly correlates with my experiences in life, and my curiosity towards individuals and how their minds work. I believe that speaking openly about mental health is still considered somewhat a taboo subject, and we have yet to break barriers and boundaries in order to have those intimate conversations. I am driven by creating an environment where people can be educated and empowered by discussing different mental illnesses. Especially by being equipped with the proper tools to cope with their issues and to thrive. This environment will create a safe space, where those who may have been stigmatized by the constraints of society such as mothers, low income families and youth will be provided with a voice where they can freely speak up. I am especially interested in creating programs and workshops catered to women and how they can become successful while battling mental illnesses like depression and anxiety. I believe having the ability to carry out these vital conversations, will allow people to feel like they are not alone in their struggles and they can overcome hardships.

Can you share some insights that you’ve gained from coping with destructive negative thoughts and depression?

Since I was a young girl I’ve been struggling with destructive negative thoughts. I was my biggest critic. One thought made me spiral into darkness, and led me to believe that I was worthless. I have learned numerous things throughout this process. First off, it is important to have a strong self concept, and to truly know yourself. These destructive thoughts begin and end with you, so it is important to build a relationship with yourself. That relationship should be positive, where you see yourself as your own best friend. Ask yourself, how would I treat this person if she was my friend? Most of the time you would respond with kindness and compassion. That is the number one takeaway, regardless of the struggles you are facing, you have to try to be understanding towards yourself. Once you begin that journey, the negative self-talk begins to silence. Another lesson I’ve learned is the importance of a psychologist and sharing your internal issues. Professionals have an objective opinion where they can pinpoint the flaws in your logic and negative thought patterns. Once you realize the habits you are engaging in, it will be easier for you to change them. Lastly, you have to realize one thing: you are one of a kind. Accept yourself with both your negative and positive traits. Don’t try to fix yourself, be honest with who you are as a whole. Get to the point where you are focusing on how to enhance your positive traits. While for the negative traits; (your shadow) use them to your advantage. For example: If you know that you have a lot of pent up anger within you, use the anger as a powerful tool to get active, use it towards a sport or something else you may be passionate about. This way, you are not removing parts of yourself, you are learning to use the bad for a good purpose. Your relationship with yourself, and how you view yourself is the place where you should be putting most of your energy towards. The time you invest in yourself will be worth it. Remember it is all in your own mind, only you truly have access to change your perspective.

What are some of the most helpful strategies you use for managing these thoughts and feelings?

The negative thoughts and feelings can be managed by many different strategies. What personally worked for me was journaling every day. This exercise allows you to come to terms with your thoughts and feelings and makes you gain clarity. Next, seeking help from a professional, or a friend and family member will allow you to open up about your personal issues. This will make you feel like you are not alone, and to gain some understanding and perspective which will help you when solving your issues. Your thoughts and feelings are also quite influenced by your lifestyle, so you should try to keep a healthy balance. The pillars of health are being active, and eating a healthy, diverse diet. These small changes can contribute to a healthier mindset. Lastly, on my own personal journey, spirituality has made me realize how powerful you can be. Spirituality doesn’t necessarily mean to believe in god, it means to believe in a cause, or energy which is bigger than yourself. The way I practice spirituality is beginning or ending my day with meditation. Meditation has many natural benefits such as; finding the answers to your problems within yourself, gaining peace and serenity, and allowing yourself to be more present in the moment. These combinations of strategies have guided me to a higher quality life, and flourishing mental health.

You mentioned experiencing toxic relationships and their impact on your sense of self. Can you describe how toxic relationships impacted your mental health and identity and the insights you’ve gleaned from these experiences?

I believe many young women have been in relationships where their significant other becomes toxic and exhibits negative behavior towards them. This has many implications on how you see yourself as well as your self esteem. After being a victim to this numerous times, I began to notice patterns which I should be avoiding. In retrospect, toxic relationships are very powerful. It is hard to walk away, because usually there is a magnetic attraction paired with an addiction to the extreme highs and extreme lows. However, you will be more well equipped if you initially notice the warning signs. One of the most frequent warning signs is the love-bombing. Even though it may not be present in every initial stage, it is important to take notice. This occurs when someone is smothering you with love, neediness and plans for the future. While this may appear attractive at first, be wary if it continues. Toxic relationships are often difficult due to the predicament you are in. While you may love the person deeply, your partner often imposes rules and restrictions on you. They try to control you through emotional manipulation. You lose your sense of self in these types of relationships, because your self esteem is deeply rooted in the relationship. And so breaking up, or walking away seems like it will cause you to lose who you are. However, after you become aware of the repetitive negative cycles of the relationship, then you can begin the journey of detaching and ending the relationship. There are two very important lessons when it comes to toxic relationships. It is unhealthy to fully depend on another person for your well being. While you may share things with your partner, you should always have other things outside of your relationship which make you happy and passionate.Independence is key. The other lesson you need to be aware of how you deserve to be treated. You need to feel confident in yourself, and what you can potentially offer in a relationship. Make sure to be transparent with yourself, and even write down a list of things which you will not tolerate. This way, once you see the red flags you will feel confident and trust your own judgment when to end the negative cycle.

How have you managed to develop greater self-esteem and self-compassion?

It is consistently something I am working towards. It is the path I am choosing for a lifetime; building a deeper and kinder relationship with myself. In order to do this, I began loving myself fully. I accepted myself for who I am. Instead of being ashamed of parts of me that I disliked, I understood that everyone has flaws. I also spent many years actively working on myself, by watching TED talks, healing my trauma, and reading various self help books. I decided to seek peace, by resolving negative thought patterns and becoming aware of how I was harming myself. Ultimately it’s a choice, how you want to live your life. I choose to be my own best friend, to provide compassion even in difficult times. Once you invest so much time and energy into yourself, your confidence naturally blossoms. I believe everyone has the power to make this choice. The choice to make a change starting from this moment.

What has been the most helpful form of support you have received? Are there any resources you would recommend?

The most helpful support is to surround yourself with positive people, who truly want the best for you. That begins with your family, and friends. Once you decide to make a change in your life, it is vital that you know not everyone will be supportive. Many people will not be on your side, and with time you may also lose close friends. That is completely normal, it’s like a snake shedding its skin. Every time you endure suffering and pain, you come out of the experience and go through a metamorphosis. This will lead you to feel empowered and like you can conquer anything that comes your way. Like I mentioned earlier, psychologists or any professional can help guide you and support you through hardship. The last resource which I highly recommend is books, as they can educate you and make you aware of problems which may explain your destructive thoughts, or anxiety. To name just a few books which have made an impact on me:

The New Science of Adult Attachment and How It Can Help You Find—and Keep—Love by Amir Levine, Rachel S.F. Heller
Grit: The Power of Passion and Perseverance by Angela Duckworth
The Power of Habit: Why We Do What We Do in Life and Business by Charles Duhigg
The Power of Now: A Guide to Spiritual Enlightenment by Eckhart Tolle
The Alchemist by Paulo Coelho

Stigma-Free Faces Fundraiser Success

With the goal of supporting the growth and development of vital mental health programming, on May 26th, 2022 the Stigma-Free Society hosted the “Stigma-Free Faces Fundraiser.” The event featured inspiring videos and livestream interviews with diverse community members who have lived experience of mental health challenges and are advocating to stomp out stigma and discrimination in its various forms.

With a total of $107,220 raised, the funds will support Stigma-Free educational activities across Canada, the development of a peer support network for rural communities, and the provision of accessible mental health information, tools and resources for teachers, parents, and all Canadians. Stigma-Free Society President and Co-Founder Andrea Paquette affirms, “The fundraiser was a great success and a demonstration of increasing community support as we nearly tripled last year’s earnings. We are excited to move forward with the funding and continue to develop and deliver our programs to reach as many people as possible with mental health education and rural peer support training. As the Society scales nationally, the funding will help the Society deliver more school virtual presentations across Canada and to let people know there is always hope and always help.”

A Canadian registered charity since 2010, the Stigma-Free Society provides educational toolkit resources, strategies and toolkits for teachers, mental health professionals, caregivers and youth organizations. These vital tools raise awareness about how to discuss and support those experiencing mental health challenges. Around 3,000 people view and use our Student Mental Health Toolkit every month, totalling over 25,000 visitors since we first launched in Fall 2021. Over 8,500 young people will receive a Stigma-Free Presentation in their classroom this year. These unique and engaging school presentations are led by Stigma-Free Society presenters who virtually share their personal stories and offer knowledge on the topic of mental health and stigma.

The Stigma-Free Society has also ambitiously expanded to support rural and agricultural communities across Canada, a segment of the Canadian population afflicted with some of the nation’s highest rates of depression and suicide. Our Rural Mental Wellness Toolkit has brought education and hope to over 6,000 people in remote communities across Canada since its inception in Spring 2021. The funds raised will also support rural residents’ peer support training and virtual awareness events which are used to promote mental wellness among farmers, families and others in agricultural communities. “Our Rural Mental Wellness Toolkit has helped thousands since it was launched last year, and we intend to reach more as we grow nationally” says Stigma Free Society President Andrea Paquette.

The fundraiser highlighted community members courageously sharing personal mental health journeys and experiences of stigma, including messages of hope from Gerry Friesen, “The Recovering Farmer”, and others in the rural community. Additional guests of the fundraiser included Bruce and Geoff Courtnall of the Courtnall for Mental Health Society, Matthew Chow, TELUS’ Chief Mental Health Officer, Bruce Williams, CEO of the Greater Victoria Chamber of Commerce, and Maria Weaver, Manager of Regional Suicide Prevention at the Canadian Mental Health Association. Stigma-Free Society Chair and Co-Founder David Richardson shared a welcome message and was featured in a video sharing his compelling personal mental health journey. Andrea Paquette, President of the Stigma-Free Society, hosted a livestream event and answered questions about the Society and the incredible impact that programs have had in the lives of countless individuals.

 

We are so grateful to our community for your generous support in helping us provide mental health resources, education and hope across Canada. Special thanks to the Otsuka-Lundbeck Alliance for the kick-off donation and to the Dave Richardson Family Foundation for matching $50,000 in donations.

You can learn more about the Stigma Free Society and this fundraising campaign HERE.

Donations remain open, so you can still donate directly HERE.

How to Manage Re-Entry Anxiety

As lockdown measures lift across Canada, concerns about the aftereffects of the COVID-19 pandemic remain high. If you are experiencing anxiety about re-entering the workplace and resuming your regular habits, you are not alone! The good news is that there are proactive steps you can take to manage and overcome your worries.

Accept Uncertainty

You may be experiencing difficult and changeable emotions, and if so, that’s okay. Acknowledge and accept your feelings without judging them. These emotions are valid.

Respect Boundaries

Different people will have different responses to the processes of returning to work and social events. In your interactions with others, give other people the space and grace they need. At the same time, communicate your own boundaries with friends and colleagues.

Take it Slow

Ease into your regular routines by adapting the technique of graduated exposure therapy. Gently acclimatize yourself to the situation that is causing you concern. For instance, consider scheduling shorter days as you adjust to being back in the work environment.

Challenge Unhelpful Thinking

Be mindful about moments in which you may be experiencing some cognitive distortion. Are you thinking in black and white terms, overgeneralizing, making gloomy predictions about the future, or jumping to negative conclusions about what other people may be thinking about you? If so, ask yourself whether these thoughts are reasonable or helpful. Reframe your situation by recognizing that worrying won’t help.

Be Kind to Yourself

Focus on your own well-being, and remember that you are doing the best you can. Self-care is a daily practice, and it is not to be confused with selfishness. Treating yourself with kindness will help you to treat others the same way.

Reach Out to Others as Needed

Keep in mind that you are not expected to navigate this challenging time all on your own. Check in with your team-mates and co-workers regularly to figure out how you can help each other.

If you have concerns about workplace policies or needs for accommodation, address them with supervisors. Throughout your workweek, make time to talk with supportive people. There are a wide variety of supports out there, including Anxiety Canada, Headspace, and our own Stigma-Free Wellness Toolkit. It’s smart to turn to these resources when needed.

Building resilience is an ongoing project, and it is something that you can do with the help of a wider community. Re-entry anxiety may be complicated, but it can be managed. Embracing what you are learning from past and present challenges will help you—and all of us—become even stronger.

Understanding Borderline Personality Disorder

The Stigma-Free Society recently had an eye-opening and important conversation with a thirty-year-old woman who lives with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD). She wishes to remain anonymous due to the stigma that is unfortunately often associated with personality disorders.

For those of us who are unfamiliar with Borderline Personality Disorder (BPD), can you tell us what it’s like to live with this condition?

Basically, Borderline Personality Disorder feels like having no skin. When I was younger, I felt like I was getting poked really hard all the time by things that didn’t seem to bother anyone else. You feel things at such a high intensity, which is great when you’re happy, but becomes awful when someone hurts you. What’s frustrating is that people often don’t even understand why or how much it hurts, and you start walking around feeling like you’re crazy. Before I knew what was going on, I felt so lonely and misunderstood. When I felt sad, the sadness took over my whole body. When I was angry, I felt hot all over, especially in my head. But the worst part was it just hurt all the time and I never knew how to make it go away. The worst I ever felt was when I was a young adult in relationships, and I always picked guys who weren’t stable. I quickly became that mean emotional girl that they hated. Relationships were an all-encompassing whirlpool of confusion. I completely lost myself in them, and at the beginning it seemed perfect, but it wasn’t long before I felt that unbearable pain, that feeling of being poked constantly by everything someone says and does. It was awful and my stomach still aches when I look back on it.

Now that I know what’s going on and have found the right kind of therapy, I feel…softened? I think that might be the word. I still feel things much stronger than other people, but I’m getting better about learning how to soothe myself. I’m starting to build an identity that isn’t dependent on whoever I’m dating. Do I still have days when I feel completely overwhelmed? Days when I feel an aching emptiness? Absolutely, but I can cope with it now, and I know it’s going to eventually pass. Also, I think knowing that the way I feel emotions is about ten times stronger than anyone else makes it easier to be patient with myself and others. To be honest, I don’t think I would trade that part of myself for anything. But to this day, it feels like everyone else has this manual of how to get through life that I was cheated out of.

There are a lot of false assumptions and stereotypes about borderline personality disorder. Can you talk about the stigma you have experienced and how you’ve dealt with this stigma?

I can definitely speak to this. I still don’t talk about BPD to anyone except really close friends. Even my therapist, who I trust and admire so much, warns me to be careful about who finds out. And not because she’s ashamed, but she knows how people might react and that knowing I have BPD might make people look at me differently. It’s annoying, because basically I just have a hard time regulating my emotions, and it sounds so harmless when it’s spelled out like that.

When someone suggested I might be struggling with this disorder, I was in my third year of college. I wasn’t in a good place, so I went to the student counseling services center. They told me I should consider inpatient treatment and that I might have BPD. And of course, I googled it and basically had a nervous breakdown. There were all of these websites of men saying how awful women with BPD are, articles about therapists refusing to treat you, how treatment never works, how there’s no hope. I decided then and there I didn’t have BPD and let it go. If there wasn’t so much stigma, maybe I would have found the right help earlier. I can still remember sitting in my car and reading all those terrible things. My heart broke in half. I think with personality disorders, even the label is like saying your whole “you” is wrong. But even now I’ll be honest, even in the mental health field, a lot of people either refuse to treat you or cast judgment on this disorder. And it still stings. Recently, I had to reach out to our government access center to get medication for depression, and my therapist told me not to even mention BDP in my assessment.

What are some strategies, treatments and supports that have helped in your recovery?

My therapist saved my life, one hundred percent. Reading the right literature and Dialectical Behaviour Therapy (DBT) workbooks are great as well. The Borderline Personality Disorder by Kim Gratz and Alexander Chapman was probably my favourite book on the topic. I Hate You Don’t Leave Me by Kreisman and Straus was the first book I read that really helped me understand the disorder. The more I understand this disorder, the easier it feels to manage. But you need to read accurate and compassionate information and stay away from the stigmatizing websites. It’s better today, but some of them are still there. I also like to think of BPD as this dragon that comes out to try and protect me, but the more I can take care of myself and keep myself in a good environment, that dragon can rest. Also, this might be too frank, but date the right person. Relationships become so much easier to manage when you date honest, dependable, and stable people.

What do you wish people knew about borderline personality disorder?

I’m not evil or crazy, and I really wish there was a way to communicate just how painful it can feel sometimes. We’re not like the stereotypes, and I hate when people label us as manipulative. Oftentimes, a lot of what’s happening is due to trauma or learned behaviour when we’re young. It’s true we struggle with boundaries, and at the beginning of a relationship I want to be around someone every second of the day. But I can respect boundaries and back off. At the end of day, we’re just like everyone else trying to fall in love and be loved. Relationships are hard for everyone. And I’m a human not a monster, I’m just a human who has monster feelings.

What is the best way people can support someone living with borderline personality disorder? Can you describe a scenario where you received helpful support from a friend or family member?

I think the best thing people should remember is if someone with BPD is getting really upset or worked up, applying logic or arguments to the situation is the worst thing you can do. Just validate what they’re feeling and let people calm down. When the emotions get too intense, they take over and it’s like a tornado. The more you invalidate or disagree with what they’re feeling, the more it’s going to take over and feel all-consuming. Having a plan for when that happens is helpful. For example, I have a little rock my partner hands me that I can hold to help me feel grounded.

Also, read! The more you know about what’s going on, the less confusing it all is. The partner I’m with now knows a lot about what I’m dealing with, and we can talk about it in a very open and safe way. I had one partner that refused to read the book on BPD that I have, and it was so frustrating because he kept labeling me as crazy and unreasonable. But I can’t stress this enough, make sure it’s the right literature! A compassionate and accepting outlook makes all the difference

Peer Support Training for Rural Residents

In partnership with Robyn Priest LIVE YOUR TRUTH, the Stigma-Free Society is proud to announce our upcoming Peer Support Worker Training sessions, tailored specifically for rural residents in Canada. This two-day virtual course will be held on May 30th and June 6th (8am – 4pm PST, 10am – 6pm CST, 11am – 7pm EST, with breaks). This training will equip participants to facilitate peer support programs and become leaders in their communities. 

These sessions empower individuals with shared backgrounds to work together to develop wellness-related skills. Taking this training is a great opportunity to find and provide support for mental health, along with those who understand your way of life!

What is Peer Support?

 The Mental Health Commission of Canada describes peer support as “a supportive relationship between people who have a lived experience in common.” The benefits of this approach to emotional and social support have been proven time and time again.

One of the most reputable Canadian providers of peer support training is Robyn Priest LIVE YOUR TRUTH, an organization that offers online training for both individuals and families. This training focuses on holistic approaches to wellbeing and practical strategies for promoting empathy and communicating effectively. Robyn Priest emphasizes that “peer support isn’t limited to mental health or addiction issues. It can be about anything anyone is going through; about life.” As human beings, we have a deep need for belonging. In addition to bridging gaps in professional mental health services, peer support can help us to build the connections we crave.

Peer Support in Rural Communities

Recent publications from the Mental Health Commission of Canada have emphasized that those living in rural and remote communities face specific challenges when it comes to maintaining wellness. These challenges include a relative lack of professional support services such as psychologists or counsellors. In these contexts, peer support is a great option. Because peer support is easily done over video chat, it can be a highly accessible resource.

No one understands the life and struggles of those living and working in agricultural communities better than those who have that shared experience. Training as a peer support worker will help you to translate that empathy into compassionate action. 

Key Benefits

Participants will gain an understanding of peer support fundamentals, as well as how to apply them in the contexts of one-on-one support and group facilitation. They will also learn how to share personal experiences in ways that help those facing similar challenges, including tips about demonstrating self-reflection and vulnerability while still maintaining professionalism. 

The training includes discussion and reflection on the importance of self-care as a regular practice, along with strategies for incorporating it into your daily life. Supporting others can be an emotionally challenging task, making it all the more important to take an intentional and holistic approach to your own wellbeing. 

Overall, participants can expect to gain valuable knowledge and skills that will help them to do work that is nourishing, caring, and empathic—as a peer support worker or a support group facilitator, and indeed in all walks of life.

This rewarding work opens up many opportunities to cultivate strong and supportive communities. The possibilities are there for you to discover!

Training and Registration Details

Tailored specifically for rural residents in Canada, this two-day virtual course will take place on May 30th and June 6th (8am – 4pm PST, 10am – 6pm CST, 11am – 7pm EST, with breaks). 

Thanks to a generous grant from Pacific Blue Cross BC, this training is free of cost, with a $50 deposit required to secure your spot. Your deposit will be refunded once you attend the session, unless you choose to donate the $50 to the Stigma-Free Society. Donations are always welcome! Deposits for those who sign up and do not participate cannot be refunded. 

For more information and to register, please go HERE or email [email protected].

Spots fill up quickly, so register today! Don’t miss this amazing opportunity to build skills for cultivating empathy and understanding in your local community. 

Five Tips for Students to Support Their Mental Health

Written by Jill Jaworski

Students manage a lot: keeping up with classes, preparing for midterms and exams, making new friends and navigating the transition that happens after high school. The student experience is often stressful, and can feel isolating, as students learn to cope with new expectations and a demanding workload. This is exactly why it’s important for students to look after their mental health and to build good habits that will help them become more resilient in the future.

Here are five straightforward tips to help take care of your mental health:

Build a Support Network: Students often believe they have to “go it alone” because they feel that stress is just part of the student reality, but this doesn’t have to be the case. Even if you’re far away from home, technology makes it easier than ever to stay in touch with friends and family. Building in a routine Skype call, making a friends or family group chat, walking and talking on the phone, or setting up virtual movie or games nights are all ways you can sneak in welcome breaks from studying and maintain connections that you already have. School also opens up the opportunity to meet new people – whether you feel extroverted or shy, there are lots of ways to make new connections. Many schools have a directory of clubs and organizations, musical ensembles, fitness classes, intramural teams of all levels, book clubs and more – and of course, study groups are a great way to socialize and study at the same time.

Prioritize Sleep: All-nighters are almost synonymous with midterm studying, but sleep is important for concentration, memory consolidation and recall, and information processing. So, it’s a better idea to prioritize sleep over pushing back your bedtime to cram. Prioritizing sleep can also help you keep your energy levels up and stay productive. Sleep is also important for protecting your mental health as it helps you mentally recover, and a lack of sleep can make individuals more prone to depression and can exacerbate anxiety.

Focus on Exercise and Nutrition: Exercise not only helps you stay physically healthy, it can also help you keep your energy levels up, boost your mood, and stay social – all important factors for your mental health. Exercise is a great way to build your confidence and give you a routine feeling of satisfaction. Diet can also impact your mental health so make sure to skip the fast food, and load up on nutritious foods that will fuel your body and your brain. Many schools offer a fruits and veggies stamp card similar to coffee cards, which will help keep you healthy and stretch your budget at the same time. There are also plenty of suggestions online for healthy meals on a budget. Everyone needs a healthy mix of sleep, exercise and quality nutrition, and while it’s not possible to maintain perfect balance, it’s important that all these areas get your attention.

Take Time to Manage Your Stress: It’s important to set aside time to manage your stress, and this will look different for everyone. Whether you take a moment to reflect on a gratitude prompt, practice mindfulness, read a good book with a mug of tea, watch a few (a few!) episodes of a favorite show on Netflix, listen to music or enjoy watching sports with friends, finding what helps you take your stress levels down a few notches will help you protect your mental health. Again, exercise is a great way to help you manage your stress, and everything from yoga to walking, or swimming to lifting weights is effective. Talk about how you are feeling with your support network, and lean in to supports as you need them.

Make Good Use of the Resources Available to You: Many schools have health services and healthcare professionals right on campus that are covered through student health plans. These services are designed for students, so the professionals within these services know the student experience well and will be there to support you. If you feel like you would rather talk with a fellow student, many schools also have student-led support services with trained staff and volunteers.

Pay What You Can Peer Support

Pay What You Can Peer Support was founded by Daniel Cole, who kindly spoke with us about what peer support is and how this unique and easily accessible form of support can be a profound mental health resource. The Stigma-Free Society has recently partnered with Pay What You Can Peer Support to encourage all participants of the SFS’s Women’s Group to attend virtual groups at Pay What you Can Peer Support as SFS ceases offering peer support groups and moves into a new organizational model.

First of all, can you explain to us what peer support is and how it’s different from other types of mental health supports?

I’ll explain by what I think people ideally get from peer support: the realization that they’re not alone, and that there are others like them who suffer with what they suffer from. That there are others who have intrusive thoughts like they have, who have depression and anxiety, trouble getting out of bed, problems with their spouses, parents, children or friends. Who have feelings of insecurity, low self-esteem, eating disorders, childhood trauma, you name it. And from that realization they feel better about their plight and at least not so alone in it. To know that someone else is going through or has gone through what you have can be therapeutic, relieving, joyous and de-stigmatizing. “And it’s something you just can’t get with one-on-one therapy”

As the Founder of Pay What You Can Peer Support, and how did this service come to be?

The service began in May 2020, but it was a nugget of an idea since 2015 when I had been a regular attendee at an OCD Peer Support Group in downtown Toronto. That group was in person and ran monthly. I loved going, but it conflicted with my beer league hockey schedule, so I would only go sparingly. But I saw what it did for others—to have that place where you could be with your community who understood you and are there for you to listen and to relate. I remember a participant telling us she was on a waiting list for 6 months for her university counsellor’s office, reflecting how excessively long waitlists are common for mental health concerns. “My own therapist was costing me over $200 CDN per visit, so I felt so grateful for the group which was free.”

But I also saw the limitations, in that it was only in-person, only in Toronto, only for OCD and only once a month. Also, once Covid hit, the group was permanently shut down. In 2019 I built an insurance website on Wix for a lot less than I would’ve figured, and come 2020 when the pandemic happened and our taxes were deferred, I decided to put everything together and build Pay What You Can Peer Support. And here we are almost 2 years later.

What is the value of being supported by a peer who has gone through a similar (but not necessarily the same) experience? Do all the moderators have lived experience?

It’s invaluable to know someone else has gone through or is going through the same thing as you. It makes you feel like you’re not alone, like you’re not crazy, like you can share with someone who “knows”.

Not all moderators have lived-experience, but the majority do. The moderators each share the quality of wanting to give back, to help, to be of support to those who can’t afford or access mental health care.

How do the peer support groups work? Do people have to attend every session or is it drop-in style?

The groups are drop-in style and meet once per week over Zoom. Group limits are set at 10 participants and some groups are fully booked, so people often book their spots for weeks ahead. Some examples of the groups we offer are: Anxiety and Stress; Managing Bipolar to Live Your Best Life; OCD & Obsessive & Intrusive Thoughts; Support for Mental Health Workers; Depression, Boredom and Loneliness; Eating Disorders; Grief: Death of a Child; ADHD Peer Support Group; Healing From Recovery and Trauma; and many more found HERE.

Can you talk about some of the values within peer support (such as avoiding patient-expert hierarchies) and why they are relevant to mental wellness?

“I think the best groups are the ones where the moderators simply listen and move the conversation along.” They don’t give too much “expertise,” but I also do see on the reviews that expertise is welcome. I personally believe the best value comes from fellow participants’ stories and struggles and solutions. Many participants have expressed how the groups have helped them get out of their homes, have more confidence, or do that thing they always wanted to do. And that’s what we’re here for.

A Tribute to Janet Bisset – An Astounding Stigma-Free Champion

My name is Andrea Paquette, and I am the Co-Founder and President of the Stigma-Free Society.

I am writing today to share a personal tribute to Janet (Jan) Bisset who once was my Executive Assistant and Program Coordinator.

Janet Bisset

I met Jan in 2016 through her son Philip who is a good friend and colleague of mine, and he recommended his mother for this much-needed position at Stigma-Free. I met Jan at a coffee shop in Victoria and expressed how pivotal this role would be for the Charity because we were taking the organization to even greater heights. I needed a right-hand person, someone who I could trust, and a person who would commit to being my long-term assistant. I moved to Vancouver later that year and Jan and I set our sights on expanding the Charity on the mainland!

Over the past 6 years, there were countless moments of delight and joy as we expanded our Stigma-Free mental health programming for youth across BC with our astounding team. Jan led the charge on the expansion and administration of our programs and the leap to the mainland from Vancouver Island presented to be a daunting task ahead. Jan embraced the challenge and swiftly whipped out new school databases for program expansion, cold called schools for presentations, managed my increasing responsibilities, and kept the ever-growing team organized for success. She welcomed every new staff member with her genuine smile, positive demeanour and always shared her joy for working with Stigma-Free. We became close friends, which is something I try not to do with staff, but it was impossible not to become friends with Jan. She called me ‘kiddo’ once in the early days, and I eventually told her it would be better to call me ‘boss’. She always did from that day forward and it was our inside joke for over 6 years. 😊

I visited her for our Charity’s monthly cheque runs for years at her home, and she always had tea waiting for me while we chatted about tasks at hand. She was so smart, organized and became a treasured team member who contributed greatly to the success of the Stigma-Free Society. She touched my heart as she always told me with enthusiasm about how much she appreciated and loved working with our Charity, and always had kind words to say about my leadership. It was nice to hear I was a ‘good boss’ and she told me often, and it deeply inspired me in my moments of doubt as a leader. I sometimes left her home feeling moved with slight tears in my eyes because nobody ever made me feel so appreciated in my role.

Jan passed away today only 3 months after finding out she would be battling for her life. I kept in close touch with her while she was away from work and sent a big beautiful, knitted sweater from the Society to keep her warm. She said the sweater felt like it was always giving her a big hug. I will

always be giving her a hug in my own heart to thank her for her exceptional service to the Stigma-Free Society and for her tremendous heart that she invested in her work and to my life personally.

A Champion is someone who supports a cause with determination, vigour, and dynamism. A Stigma-Free Champion is someone who creates awareness, promotes understanding in the world and encourages us all to be accepting of ourselves and others. Jan will always be remembered as one of the most exceptional Stigma-Free Champions in the world as she dedicated so much of her life to the work of making the world a much more embracing and accepting place.

Thank you, Jan, for your contribution to the Stigma-Free cause. We will forge ahead without you in person, but will always have your passionate spirit in our hearts to bring our Charity to even greater heights. The Society would not be where we are at today without your dedication, passion, and love for Stigma-Free.
We will make you proud.

Our Charity team thanks you; I thank you and we will always keep your spirit alive in the work that Stigma-Free accomplishes forever.

Love You My Friend,

Andrea – Boss (Kiddo) xo

 

 

Fusing “The Best of the East and the West” in Mental Health Care

We tend to think that our understanding of mental health is only way to understand the mind, but learning about various cultural perspectives on health and mental wellness can benefit us all.

Dr. Arun Garg describes himself as “a global physician with a passion to lower the burden of chronic diseases, based on integrative thinking, which is the fusion of best of East and best of West.” Born in India, Dr. Garg left at nineteen and moved to Saskatchewan, where he met his wife and earned a PhD in Biochemistry. Amongst his many achievements and accolades, he co-founded the Canada India Network Society, a non-profit society in B.C. that strives to improve the health of people of India and Canada and aims to fuse philosophies of the West and East. His expertise and worldview are informed by both Canadian medicine and Indian philosophy, including yoga philosophy, giving him a unique insight into various aspects of mental health.

In the West, we tend to think of yoga as downward dogs and nice stretches to relieve stress and tone our abs. But the yoga tradition and philosophy are much more complex. As Arun says, “Yoga isn’t an exercise program of postures and movements, it’s a system used to reach the inner mind. All these physical stretches are really designed to take you into your inner self.” This mastery of the thought process is considered to be the foundation of mental wellness. “To understand who you are,” Dr. Garg elaborates, “you need to understand internally how you function, in the sense of internal knowledge. This is yoga, and it’s described in the context of the mind.”

In India, there are many different words for “mind”, so it’s hard to express all the nuances of just how complex this word is. For the sake of clarity, Arun describes the mind as the place where thoughts are generated. Yoga allows a person to have greater internal understanding and control over their thoughts and how they process everyday situations. “Mental wellness is related to your own thoughts,” he adds, and these philosophies allow us greater control over our thoughts and therefore over our mental wellness.

Dr. Garg believes that modern medicine is brilliant for giving us a detailed, reductive understanding of how things function in the body, and for providing what he calls “external interventions” such as medication, where the person is often more of a passive passenger in their health. Ayurveda is another example of an external intervention or system of medicine that originated from India. Yoga is one way of practicing an “internal intervention,” something that an individual must practice and understand themselves. Nobody can do this for the person, and answers are sought within rather than from experts or health professionals. This kind of inner awareness can be very empowering, as it allows people to master their thought process and feel confident in their own ability to support their health and wellbeing.

Arun says we need both external and internal interventions, especially when it comes to chronic conditions. “It’s not one or the other,” Arun asserts. Yoga philosophy, which is more about searching internally, can complement the medical approach to mental health challenges. Arun added, the “internal intervention is a process which empowers the individual to be self-reliant. To be self-realized, to not only do selfies but also practice self-care. And that only comes when there is an understanding from inside oneself.” But he observes that internal interventions such as yoga, meditation and mindfulness are more difficult as they “require discipline and practice, practice, practice,” made more challenging by our dependence on technology and instant gratification.

Of course, yoga doesn’t resonate with everyone and won’t necessarily prevent or manage mental health challenges. But the concept of applying both external and internal interventions, whatever that means to the individual, can foster agency and wellbeing. Both reaching out for help and looking inwards to find balance and self-awareness can be a powerful combination.

Why It’s Important to Address Mental Health in Your Children as Soon as Possible

Children are thought to be happy-go-lucky little people with no care in the world. They don’t have to worry about working, paying bills, or dealing with grown-up challenges. So, how could they have mental health problems? This thought pattern has caused children with mental health struggles to be overlooked. Lack of information on mental health and fear of stigma are factors that prevent parents from seeking appropriate intervention. Getting children the mental healthcare they need right away can positively change the course of their lives.

What Is Mental Health?

Mental health refers to the state of cognitive, emotional, psychological, and social well-being. It’s more than just an absence of mental disorders in your children. Their state of mental well-being affects how kids feel and behave. Mental challenges among children are recognized by serious changes in the way they usually behave, learn, or handle their emotions (cope). The changes cause distress and trouble getting through the day. According to the World Health Organization, 20% of adolescents may experience a mental health problem in any given year.

Signs of Child Mental Health Problems to Promptly Address

Young children and adolescents may show warning signs of affected mental health that are sometimes passed off as “a phase” they’re going through. They include the following changes that mental health experts say are more severe from when kids are faced with common challenges:

  • Your child’s mood or personality is drastically different
  • They have frequent mood swings
  • They appear sad, extremely worried, fearful, or withdrawn

Other signs of mental health issues:

  • Trouble controlling or regulating emotions
  • Extreme or out-of-control behavior, e.g., getting into fights
  • Risky behaviors that can cause self-harm
  • Eating too much or too little
  • Using alcohol or drugs
  • Trouble with concentration or learning

These signs can relate to disorders such as mood disorders, anxiety, depression, impulse-behavior disorder, and ADHD. Signs of mental health issues may show up suddenly and grow worse over time. When you are trying to determine whether the changes are something to be worried about, ask yourself whether the new/current behavior is a core change, problematic, persistent, and impacts your child’s ability to carry out daily functions.

Signs of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder

Youths who suffered trauma from events such as an accident, parental neglect, or abuse are more likely to act out or engage in substance abuse. Children may also show signs of post-traumatic stress. Common signs include trouble sleeping, nightmares, irritability, angry outbursts, persistent fear or sadness, and avoiding certain people or places.

When to Seek Immediate Help

Take signs of mental health challenges in your child seriously. Monitor worrisome and persistent changes in behavior and seek early interventions. Seek help right away for drug or alcohol use or if your child talks about self-harm or suicide. Your child’s doctor can conduct an initial assessment and refer the child for a mental health evaluation, intervention, or treatment by a mental health professional.

Types of Early Intervention and Treatment for Kids

Prompt diagnosis and early intervention by specialists positively impact the prognosis and future outcomes. Taking these steps can help prevent symptoms from worsening and can affect the future mental, physical, social, educational, and financial outcomes for children, teens, and young adults.

Intervention and treatment strategies can include:

  • Identifying unusual or severe behavioral problemsSpeaking with your child about problems or feelings affecting them
  • Monitoring children who appear to have trouble dealing with their emotions or everyday challenges
  • Facilitating a doctor’s assessment
  • Getting them mental health or substance abuse counseling
  • Following up with recommended mental health therapy, e.g., cognitive-behavioral therapy
  • Getting involved in family therapy

Treatment ought to be family-driven and child-focused to achieve the best possible outcome. Counseling and therapy can teach your child problem-solving and coping skills. During family therapy, you will receive guidance on how to support your child.

Risks of Delaying Intervention or Treatment

Nipping things in the bud is crucial for improving your child’s quality of life at home, school, and in the larger community. Delaying treatment for children who are clearly having difficulties coping or who receive a mental disorder diagnosis is denying their fundamental human right to health protection. The right extends to timely and appropriate health care, including care related to mental health.

The risks of delayed treatment can include poor outcomes in the areas of physical, cognitive, and mental health, and emotional and social well-being. Children who do not receive professional help for their challenges may face lifelong mental health or substance abuse struggles and an increased risk of suicide. Timely interventions can have a significant positive impact.

Give Your Child the Gift of Good Mental Health

Any child can start having trouble with mental health regardless of the home they’re raised in. Nourishing your children’s mental health from infancy and providing a safe, nurturing environment can lower their risk of developing mental disorders. If you are concerned about your child’s mental well-being, promptly get them the help they need. Children deserve the dignity of receiving effective services that allow them to lead healthy and productive lives.

 

Tasnova Malek, MD, graduated from Bangladesh Medical College and practiced as a primary care physician for six years in Bangladesh. After moving to the USA, she worked at Emory University Hospital in Pulmonary and Critical Care Medicine and Hospital medicine research. During COVID-19, she worked as a crisis counselor in Florida Corona Virus Emergency Response Team. Currently, she is working in the National Suicidal Prevention Center as well as a medical reviewer for Sunshine Behavioral Health.