Peer Support Training for Rural Residents – Sign Up Today for our Fall 2022 Session

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 October 25 and November 1 (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 of Peer Support Training

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 October 25 and November 1 (8:30am – 4:30pm PST, 10:30am – 6:30pm CST, 11:30am – 7:30pm EST, with breaks). 

Thanks to a generous grant from Pacific Blue Cross BC, this training only requires a $50 registration fee and is a $375 value per person.

Donations are always welcome! 

For more information and to register, please go HERE or email info@stigmafreesociety.com for more information.

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. 

The 3 Principles Youth Group

By: Sanjana Karthik

The 3 Principles of Psychology is a concept taught by Sydney Banks, a Canadian broadcaster and producer. This is a concept that is showcased across the globe; supporting more people in experiencing a richer life. The 3 Principles Youth Group is a free opportunity for youth to have meaningful conversations once a week about the 3 Principles. These conversations were introduced and facilitated by Shenan Charania, a Transformative Coach who works with executives, business owners, leadership teams, and other such groups to help them access more creativity, efficiency, and productivity in their work. He created the 3 Principles Youth Group to support youth’s understanding of their mind, and live an enhanced and enriched life. This program is designated towards supporting youth, as he finds that we youth are able to pass along these teachings, and learn with an open mind and heart: “The youth have a young and vibrant mind that is not bombarded by the social life of an adult. If they can be pointed to their own wisdom early on, they can have more chances of succeeding in their own lives. They can have healthy relationships with themselves and others, and have prosperity in every element of their lives: self-care, leadership, finances, health, and so forth.”

Ketan Notay, who is one of the members of the 3 Principles Youth Group, has been exploring this concept for 2+ years. He recognizes the concept to be “a way of living life to its fullest.” According to Felix Valariyil, who has also been studying the concept for 2+ years, it is a “manual to how our human mind works.” He elaborates, sharing how the 3 Principles refers to the “Mind, Consciousness and Thought”, which according to Shenan Charania provides “an understanding of the fundamentals that describe how our reality as human beings is created from the inside out.” Learning about the 3 Principles allows us to navigate our own minds; which is integral for our mind and body’s well-being, and the world we contribute to. The 3 Principles allow us to understand that we are all simply living in a thought-related world, where we experience our perspectives and not reality. Our perspectives and thoughts hence do not carry much merit with them. Our thoughts and perspectives also are what cause the feelings and emotions we experience, including stress, anxiety, depression, etc. Hence rather than attempting to change our thoughts, we can simply embrace them, allowing us to not act on our thoughts; allowing us to not define ourselves, our lives, or people based on that. The 3 Principles also help us recognize our intuition, higher energy, or what we may consider God. Through clarity, we are able to recognize the warmth that comes with our intuition and follow this gut feeling to help resolve our issues, as opposed to being stuck in our thought-related world and attempting to resolve things.

Furthermore, understanding The 3 Principles of Psychology can alter our overall outlook on our lives, and breed a sense of everlasting peace and clarity. Notay found the concept to “alter the image of the world he had in his head.” Through the Principles, we begin to realize we are simply experiencing our thoughts and not reality. These notions hold true for Valariyil as well, as the concept lends himself to feelings of curiosity, and self-reliance: “It’s taught me that I don’t need to seek things outside of myself in order to feel happy or content. The biggest thing I’ve noticed in my perspective changing was my curiosity. When you understand that a lot of what’s happening is happening inside of you and not on the outside, it allows you to put your guard down. Personally, putting my guard down has allowed me to explore many new things. I’ve explored many new hobbies and seen many new insights which I never had in the past before learning more about this understanding.”

Additionally, with regards to mental health, the benefits The 3 Principles of Psychology bestows us are tremendous. Charania states that the 3 Principles help him recognize that “[his] mental health is absolutely perfect, and always was – it just looks like it isn’t when I think myself out of the perfect mental health.” The Principles lend itself to an awareness of how our mind works. It allows us to experience life in a more meditative state of mind. We are permitted to simply let thoughts come and go, knowing that they are simply self-created and not the reality. Valariyil finds that the Principles grant the opportunity to “experience every feeling” and has shown him “that no feelings can truly bother you no matter how much they may affect you at the moment.” The 3 Principles allow us to explore concepts like grief and anxiety, without becoming the state of mind or becoming a victim of it. Valariyil then ends with how “having a clearer mind allows you to make better decisions in every way possible. This, in turn, made me have a much wider lens into seeing the world in neutrality.” ‘Intuition’, ‘wisdom’, ‘God’, or ‘Original thought’ automatically support us if we allow a sense of quiet and peace to take over us, which is what the understanding of The 3 Principles allows us to do.

Lastly, The 3 Principles also provide the opportunity for us to nourish better relationships through this simple and effective understanding and practice Charania states that “my relationships with myself and others have been enriched with more curiosity, love, intimacy, compassion – and I have been able to see others for who they really are, and not for their thinking patterns or behaviors they might temporarily display.” Notay has similar views on the impact of the Principles as he shares how this understanding enables compassion and forgiveness towards himself and others. Understanding that we are simply experiencing our intellectual thoughts, and not our wisdom/original thought/the reality of things, helps us understand that perspectives and thoughts about people do not define them, and vice versa. This allows us to feel more confident about who we are; recognizing people’s perspectives are not equivalent to who we are. It helps omit the labels, boxes, and categories we place people in and simply experience our relationships.

Overall, the 3 Principles as a concept has lent itself to a significant change in the members of the 3 Principles Youth Group. As shared by Charania “ The 3 principles Understanding – first articulated and brought to this world by Sydney Banks – gives human beings the opportunity to experience life again from their true essence, instead of their past experiences – which then allows them to live a life that is fulfilled with depth, meaning and truth. It helps people live and relate to each other with more value, inclusiveness, and understanding.” The introduction to the 3 Principles of Psychology has brought us the gift of life in itself; being able to experience all of the things life has in store for us with curiosity, light-heartedness, and security. In the words of Notay, the experience has taught us “the difference between existing and living.” We are truly grateful for the gifts this understanding has brought to us, and encourage more people, and institutions to adopt this understanding and support humanity through it

Resources to look at:

 3 Principles Global Community
Improved Mindfulness/Flow/Mental Health
Teaching Health versus Treating Illness
Using the Principle Based Model to Improve Well-Being in School

Mindfulness and DBT for Mental Health

Mindfulness and DBT (dialectical behaviour therapy) are two related and powerful practices that you can cultivate by following some simple self-care exercises.

What is Mindfulness?

Mindfulness arises from non-judgemental attention to the present moment. It involves tuning in to what is happening right now, both within yourself and in your external environment. Learning to slow down and cultivate this level of heightened awareness will help you to become happier and healthier.

Mindfulness Exercises

Connect with your breath – Take a few minutes to notice your breath, paying attention to the way that it enters and exits your body. Inhale deeply through your nose and feel your breath make its way into your belly, causing your torso to rise. Exhale through your mouth and feel your tummy and torso lower. Breathe in and out deeply 5 times, holding your breath for a count of 5
in between inhalation and exhalation.

Do a body scan – This exercise is an expanded version of connecting with your breath,
and it’s best to do this exercise while seated or lying down. While breathing deeply and
calmly, imagine your breath flowing all throughout your body. Guided by your breath, focus on
relaxing each part of your body in turn.

Ground yourself – Again, this exercise is one that you can do while seated or lying down. Turn your focus to your surroundings by working with each of your 5 senses in turn. Look around you for 5 things that you can see. Next, listen for 4 things that you can hear. Find 3 things that you can touch. Identify 2 things that you can smell. Notice 1 thing that you can taste.

Express gratitude – Make a list of five things that make you feel grateful. If you have the tools available, write them down so that they feel more concrete. You might consider making this a daily practice, either first thing in the morning or last thing before bed.

Compassionate self-talk – Check in with your thoughts and feelings. Recognize and affirm that your emotions are valid, even if they are difficult. Give yourself permission to simply be as you are, and hold on to a mantra that offers yourself compassion (e.g. “I am enough” or “May I love and accept myself just as I am”). If your situation allows for it, say this statement out loud.

What is DBT?

DBT (dialectical behaviour therapy) is a modified form of CBT (cognitive behaviour therapy). “Dialectical” refers to the synthesis or integration of opposites. When you practice DBT, you combine acceptance and change. This method of therapy focuses on bringing the rational and the emotional mind into balance: the wise mind. As with mindfulness, DBT requires you to work in an observant and non-judgemental manner. DBT can help you to manage difficult situations, regulate your emotions, and build strong interpersonal skills.

Use ACCEPTS to distract yourself from intense and unhelping feelings or situations:

A = Activities (do something that interests you to take your mind off the problem)

C = Contributing (focus on helping other people)

C = Comparisons (reframe your situation by remembering that it could be worse)

E = Emotions (find something that will prompt the opposite emotion – e.g. if you are feeling sad, listen to uplifting music)

P = Push Away (get distance from negative situations, possibly by using visualization techniques such as imagining them disintegrating)

T = Thoughts (turn your attention to other neutral or positive thoughts)

S = Sensations (engage with your physical sensations to forget negative feelings)

Separate feeling from acting – Remember that experiencing a strong emotion is not the same thing as acting on it. When you feel a strong impulse, pause and identify it. Then, decide whether this a feeling that you should follow, manage, or set aside.

Ride the wave – Work with the metaphor of the tide to manage your feelings. Although it may feel like a difficult emotional state will last forever, remember that it will eventually shift and change, just like the weather. Visualize yourself riding the wave of your emotions (or play with a related metaphor such as surfing, snowboarding, skiing, or skating, if these are experiences
that resonate with you).

Both mindfulness and DBT can be powerful tools to help you cope with stress and mental health challenges. A counsellor or therapist can also help you put these tools into practice. Remember that understanding the theory is useful, but putting in the practice is what will really make the difference!

Storwell Self Storage Offers a $2,000 Annual Bursary to Help Foster Children Pursue Their Post-Secondary Education

According to the Children’s Aid Foundation of Canada, right now there are approximately 63,000 Canadian children living in permanent care with foster families, extended family, or in group homes. Across the country, 235,000 children and youth have been identified as having experienced or being at risk of experiencing abuse and neglect. These children and youths often experience difficulties gaining access to adequate education opportunities, especially when it comes to post-secondary education. For every 1,000 youths in Canadian foster care, only eight go on to graduate with a post-secondary education. One of the largest barriers to entry for children in foster care is the financial burden that comes along with post-secondary education.

In response to the growing number of foster children and youth in care that struggle to afford post-secondary studies, Storwell has developed the Storwell Foster Children Bursary Program. For over a decade, Storwell has helped numerous students across Canada achieve their educational goals. The aim of the Foster Children Bursary Program is to provide foster children and youth in care with resources and opportunities that might be otherwise unavailable to them. With the proper tools, these students can work towards building a better life for themselves through the pursuit of higher education.

Another hurdle that foster children must overcome in their pursuit of post-secondary education is the stigma associated with growing up in the foster care system, which stops many students from reaching out and asking for the assistance that they require. Hopefully, as more initiatives like the Storwell Foster Children Bursary become available and education about foster care becomes more widespread, this stigma will begin to dissipate and foster children and youth in care will be able to receive the attention and support that they deserve.

Storwell offers an annual bursary of $2,000 to help foster children attend post-secondary schools and to offer a hand up as they make their way forward in life. The bursary application deadline is September 1st. Eligibility requirements and access to the application form can be found at: https://www.storwell.com/bursary-application

How To Talk To Your Child About Mental Health

Talking to a child about their mental health may seem like a daunting task, but one of the most critical aspects to managing mental illness is WIDE OPEN COMMUNICATION.

The more comfortable you are with talking about emotions, feelings and, if need be, illness, the more solid the foundation of trust you will build with a child.

Here are just a few tips on how to talk with a child about how they’re feeling:

Work on de-stigmatizing the language around mental illness in your own mind. Many adults have a difficult time even saying the words “mental illness”, never mind applying those words to a child. If you seem to stumble over those words, practice saying them out loud. Mental illness is nothing to be scared of, ashamed of or threatened by – so say the words out loud and practice using them. Normalize them as best you can in your mind before you speak to a child about this topic. Work on addressing your own stigma around mental health, so you don’t pass on the stigma to your child.

Be open and honest. As mentioned above, one of the most important aspects to helping a child, whether they will be diagnosed with a mental illness or not, is open and honest communication. Talking openly about emotion and mental health may be difficult, particularly if this is a new way to communicate, but the more open and honest you are about what you’ve noticed, how you’re feeling and your true desire to help, the greater and stronger your journey is going to be.

Don’t sugar-coat. Talking about mental health and mental illness with a child is a big deal and can be a very serious topic. It deserves to be treated as such. Try not to sugar-coat anything or talk to a child like they’re a baby (this advice is coming from an 11-year old boy diagnosed with
four mental illnesses). If you have noticed their behaviour has changed, you can almost guarantee a child has been feeling different. Having you acknowledge this change will most likely come as a relief to them. So be direct with your words and use language suitable for their age.

Try Talking While Doing an Activity: Sometimes having a conversation about mental health can feel overwhelming for you both. Here are some activities you can do for creating a relaxing environment that can help you both open up more easily to one another.

Be truthful, not hurtful. Mental illness and changes in mental health may have caused a child’s behaviour to change dramatically. It can be frustrating, nerve-wracking and daunting to address
behavioural problems, particularly if they are less desirable behaviours. As you begin to navigate along your journey, try to remain as honest and truthful as possible without hurtful or negative comments. Many of these new behaviours from a child may be just as upsetting for
them as they are for you, so helping them understand what you’ve noticed and how it makes you feel will go a lot further than telling them the behaviour is “bad” or “naughty” or “insert hurtful comment here.”

Be as prepared as possible for their response. You have no idea how a child will respond to initial conversations about how they are feeling with respect to their mental health and/or mental illness. They may feel relieved that you’ve noticed a change. They may feel angry that you’re talking about something that is upsetting for them. They may feel sad if they feel like they’re letting you down somehow. Try to be prepared for any reaction and validate how they are feeling.

The best way to do that? Stay kind. Stay compassionate. Try to be as understanding as you can possibly be. This advice holds true for your entire journey understanding a child’s mental health.

Amanda Sprayberry’s Story

Can you tell us a bit about yourself and how you use writing and blogging as a way of coping with mental illness?

I began writing in my early teenage years. I never felt like I could voice the emotions I was feeling, so writing was the outlet that I know many to understand as the transformative process of letting go and overcoming. I just recently felt brave enough to begin blogging and sharing some of my creative work. I’m still working on building the confidence to share my mental health journey and my recent discovery of my undiagnosed bipolar II and schizoaffective battle. This response entry will actually be my first, “coming out” of admission to many experiences in my life that have left me confused and disappointed. I hope this work provides some with the closure they need or perhaps helps others seek help.

You mention being discharged from the military because of self-medicating to ease your symptoms of bipolar II schizoaffective. Do you think mental health stigma played a role in both self-medicating/ using substances and the lack of support you experienced in the military?

Mental health stigma was an absolute deterrent for me to seek the care that I needed; there was a level of perceived inadequacy and shame about failing at managing your mental health as a commissioned officer in the United States Army.

I didn’t seek help until my husband called the military police on me after another rage-filled, physically violent fit that left our home destroyed. It was just the first time he was brave enough to do something about it. At that point, my seeking help was just paperwork and a prescription for generalized anxiety. My rage still existed as it was very deep, unrecognized, and unattended to; it surfaced in my early 20’s, but I kept it at bay with egregious and arduous exercise. And, I was quick to blame anyone that “made me” angry. This period of my life was heavy in partying so all of my behaviors were quickly brushed under the rug as just another cringe-worthy memory of a drunken stupor.

I never felt like there was a problem with my recreational drug use either, other than the fact that I was breaking both civilian and military law (UCMJ). I felt like my existence in the military was death; when I was able to take leave and party with my friends, I felt very much alive and in power again. It is difficult for me to share the extremity of my drug use at this time in my life. But I can tell you that I disappeared for a year in addiction; this part of my life still brings me great shame. I am not at a place where I am able to share it in a way that might help others. I believe myself to still be in recovery. I am 2 years sober, but I still battle with this daily.

To make a long story short, my time in the military ended due to my substance use. I was afforded three chances at this point in my career; and on the last chance, I found myself standing in front of a 2-star general, having just failed a UA, and then finding out I was pregnant 4 weeks later. He offered me another chance, but in my soul I knew that I would never be happy in the military. And I knew that I needed help that the military could not provide. I left the military under honorable conditions, with what little dignity I could muster. I dove deeply into my pregnancy, determined to use this gift from God as my second, but actually 100th chance at redemption.

My symptoms of bipolar existed during this time and they worsened around the time I turned 26. I lost family members due to my behavior. They will never speak to me again. One of my best friends asked me to never contact her again. And, I broke the heart of a man I was dating for 4 years under the guise of the perfect girlfriend that I pretended to be. Everything was coming to light, yet I was still in the dark about the severity of my condition.

I was so accustomed to disappointment and to blaming everyone else, I was so used to my cycle of behavior from periods of impressive accomplishments to periods of destruction. I hid my depression by disappearing for weeks on end or disappearing into someone else’s life, without a word to anyone. As long as I could recharge and return as the life of the party, the beauty, the bold, the desired… all of the things I so desperately clung to for dear life, as long as it would allow me to be. When I used drugs, it was an even more desperate attempt to maintain my façade of the fiercely confident lioness that I wanted everyone to believe that I was. As long as I “felt” alive, then I must be living. This lifestyle and thought pattern took me years to unlearn.

What are some of the most useful skills and strategies you’ve found for managing hypomania and rapid cycling?

I know some of my symptoms very well, at this point. Some behaviors that I used to believe were normal, were harmful to the well-being of my loved ones. For example, I know that when I begin incessantly picking or chewing (my nails and the insides of my cheeks) that I am experiencing “generalized anxiety.” If unattended to, this anxiety can quickly spiral into a hypomanic state in which my thoughts race and my actions match it tenfold. If I am rapidly speaking and demanding complete and utter attention from my loved ones, if my words are formed to seek their approval and support through all of my grandiose ideas and claims to pursue yet another unrealistic long-term goal that I hope to achieve hastily, we know what this is. I thank God for them, my mom and dad and the one sister who stayed through it all. I thank God daily for bringing me through all these trials just to land back in the arms of my husband with such safety and honesty that he can recognize my telltale signs of hypomania, too. That he saved me from the depths of suicidal ideations.

I have found my own combination of medications that have helped balance me completely through the 8-hour day. I am not experiencing the intense levels of psychosis at night thanks to the medication. I am not experiencing drastic mood changes, but I am still working through identifying my triggers so that I can react with less aggression. And, the medication has kept me afloat even through my most recent, brief week of depression. Rapid cycling is exhausting because I must be constantly aware of myself.

Structure and scheduling are paramount for me with rapid cycling. This allows me to measure the “why” behind my hypomania or depression. For example, I didn’t get a good night of rest, so my circadian rhythm is off, and that is probably why I’m incessantly picking and biting while planning the next 10 years of our lives with a goal of accomplishing all of it in 6 months, or why I am purchasing without foresight, or rapidly talking to anyone that will give me their ear. And all of that occurs because I didn’t sleep well. That is just one example.

It is exhausting, but I live and breathe through structure. Meal prep based on the recommended daily allowance of nutrients, vigorous exercise, time reading, time with my son and my family all provide me with the feeling of wellness that my condition requires. If I can balance these with sleep and hydration, then I am operating on all cylinders at a moderate and sustainable pace.

What inspired you to seek the support you needed? What did this support look like and what was most helpful?

My last hypomanic episode occurred before and during Christmas which caused many unnecessary confusing and hurtful moments for my loved ones. I was not able to manage my racing thoughts which I believe was spurred on the impending holiday demands. My desire to be the “impressive” wife and mother spiraled into a 48-hour house painting crisis in which I felt sleep was an inconvenience, and I neglected my son–leaving him in his playpen with the TV on for hours on end. When he wanted to nap, I was irritated at the interruption. When my husband spoke to me about my painting, I lashed out at him for not helping. This went on for about a week and then I fell quickly into a depression that almost took my life. This was the point in which he called a psychiatrist, got my intake packet and appointment organized, and demanded that I get help.

The most helpful medicine through the journey of finding the “right dose” was my increase in participation with scripture and prayer. I am a non-denominational Christian who found Jesus, again, when I became pregnant, just after my last failed urinary analysis. God was the first and foremost support that I sought through this journey. Combined with counseling, cognitive behavioral therapy, and medication management, I believe that I am capable of “handling” my mental health now.

How have your mental health experiences shaped who you are today? Can you talk about obtaining your Master’s Degree and working as an academic/ advisor and counsellor?

It is hard for me to say that my mental health experiences have shaped who I am today, because I believe that they are still shaping me. I can say that my life experiences, both good and ugly, have conditioned me to believe that we are all capable of change. And, we are all worthy of the forgiveness only God can provide. I believe that losing two of my sisters to my behavior, my closest friend, and harming the lives of most people that loved me have shaped me. These losses really chiseled me, forged me; I needed to lose them to understand myself more, to forgive myself, forgive them, forgive all of it. Perhaps, one day, I can say that my mental health experiences have shaped me, but this ongoing process has yet to come to that point.

I was able to obtain my M.S. degree during my pregnancy which was during the pandemic lockdowns. Between this mental stimulation and my pregnancy hormones, I believe this stage of my life was the happiest, despite the loss of my sisters from this experience. Becoming an academic advisor landed in my lap as the means to support my mental health journey.

As I write this response, I am sitting in my quaint, low-lit office with lavender essential oils nearby, drinking my coffee. This environment is exactly what I need to thrive and survive, calm and controlled. Working with the diverse population we have in rural Nevada, I feel that my life experiences allow me to provide students with the comfort and support they need. I provide a non-judgmental approach to tailor their academic plans to exactly what will help them thrive, grow and accomplish their goals.

Is there anything else you’d like to mention about your mental health journey, the lessons you’ve learned along the way, or any particularly helpful resources?

Take notes. When you feel “leveled out,” study this disorder. Becoming a student of bipolar has empowered me to feel more in control, rather than a victim of circumstance. Take notes on this but also take notes on your behavior. Rather than “getting through” the day, study it. What triggered you, and how did you react? Write it down. What upset you? What frustrated you? The more we learn from ourselves, the more we can improve for the next time. And, if we fail, we must learn from that failure. So, never stop taking notes and studying. It will empower you and help you show up as the person you and your loved ones need.

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