You’re not Alone: Stress is on the Rise

The Mental Health Commission of Canada released the first phase of indicators that identify and report on the mental health of Canadians. The objective of the project is to show the state of mental health in Canada as accurately as possible. The report highlighted areas of good performance, areas of some concern, and areas of significant concern. The 4 areas of highest concern included caregiver stress, self-harm among college students, recovery, and suicide.

According to the preliminary report, 16.5% of Canadians providing care to an immediate family member with a long-term health condition are experiencing very high levels of stress. Due to the number of ageing Canadians with dementia and other chronic illnesses, it can be expected that there will be rise in the number of individuals requiring family care, leading to an increase in the number of family caregivers experiencing excessive stress.

Signs that you may be experiencing caregiver stress include: feeling tired most of the time, feeling overwhelmed and irritable, sleeping too much or too little, gaining or losing a lot of weight, and/or losing interest in activities you used to enjoy. What can you do if you believe you are experiencing care giver stress? Join a support group (i.e. Alzheimer’s support groups (for caregivers) are available in Edmonton). Seek social support and do not be afraid to accept help. It’s important to remain connected to family and friends, and let other people care for you when things get overwhelming. Focus on what you can provide – instead of trying to be perfect. You are doing the best you can, and that is enough? Caregiving often comes with guilt, but you can combat this by giving yourself a break and accepting that it’s okay if things aren’t just the way you want them to be. Take care of your own health by setting personal health goals (i.e. time to be physically active) and see your own doctor regularly.

In the last 12 months, according to the report, 6.6% of Canadian College Students reported engaging in intentional self-harm, which is a sign of significant emotional distress. Deliberate self-injury includes cutting, burning, carving, or harming oneself without the intent of suicide. Many college students have not honed the skills and coping mechanisms needed to deal with stress in a healthy way, and end up turning to other means, including self-injury. The majority of individuals engaging in this behavior do not seek medical attention, even if the injury is of a level requiring it. Coping strategies can be taught and practiced, and it is possible to find alternative ways of dealing with emotional distress.

Only 1/3 of Canadians with common mental health conditions report very positive mental health. This is alarming, as good mental health is a key factor in recovery. Mental health, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association, is a positive sense of well-being, and a capacity to enjoy life and deal with the challenges we face. Mental health is influenced by a range of factors including life experience, work and home environments, and social and economic conditions. It is important to take time to rate your mental health and have a ‘mental health check-up’, much like you would have a yearly physical with your doctor.

Among Canadians who die by suicide, a large percentage have a history of mental health problems. In 2011, 3,728 Canadians died by suicide. According to the Canadian Association of Suicide Prevention approximately 11 people will end their lives by suicide in Canada today. Awareness is essential to changing this behavior. The Mental Health Commission of Canada has put together a 2 day training called Mental Health First Aid, which discusses a number of mental illnesses and how to provide first aid for them – including suicide and deliberate self-injury.

If you are experiencing stress, anxiety, engaging in self-injury, or having suicidal thoughts, it would be helpful to talk with a psychologist. It’s important to seek help, get information, and become educated about your own mental health. If you are in crisis and need immediate help call 911.

If you would like to meet, or if you are interested in setting up Mental Health First Aid Training, please contact me.