Mental health a balancing act

Bell Let’s Talk Day was held recently. That’s where we were asked to join in the conversation about mental health with friends, family, and co-workers, to start breaking down the stigma around mental health issues. I’m all about anti-stigma, but I’d like to address the symptoms and not throw a band-aid on it. It is nearly impossible to have solid mental health nowadays.

The Canadian Mental Health Association says that “Maintaining our mental health means striking a balance in all aspects of your life: social, physical, spiritual, economic and mental.” I can’t say that I know anyone that has achieved this balance. I’d hazard a guess that most people feel off-balance and many even describe a void in their lives.

That should be no real surprise to anyone, after all in my generation alone I’ve seen the destruction of the family; the abandonment of the church, community and the outdoors; the introduction of the electronic babysitter/false idol; an increase in insomnia; and overarching policy that values collection of goods over connections with people. All have disastrous consequences to our mental health.

We’ve lost touch with what is important – so how can we hope to achieve balance?

Lets’ look at these items regarding balance starting with the social. Who has time to get together with friends and family? We’re too busy working longer hours, and when we get home we’re too tired to plan anything, the best we can do is send a text or make a quick telephone call. We know we’ll feel better if we do get together with loved ones, but hunkering down in front of the television is easier.

Our social fabric is torn. There are fewer community gathering places than ever before, isolating people to their houses. Neighbours often don’t know neighbours, nor do they care to. We have learned not to rely on anyone else. It’s a “me” generation.

Regarding the physical, who has time to exercise? Especially as a parent, who has time to build in 30 minutes of exercise for ourselves, let alone the 60 minutes a day our children need. We know that we feel better after we exercise, and every time we do exercise we ask ourselves why we don’t do this more often, but the answer is the same. We have no time. We have no energy.

Spiritual balance has become more tricky as well. A debate rages between religion and spirituality. People have turned their backs on the church. There is little faith in anything or anyone anymore. Also, with so many faiths and so much political correctness, we are even wary of celebrating what we do believe in as it may somehow offend others.

An economic balance is also nearly impossible giving media and political messaging. We are in a downward cycle where we isolate our families in homes that are bigger and more expensive and need two incomes to support them. Our children’s formative years are spent in daycares and schools, not with their parents (but that’s good because it creates jobs – right?). We lavish our children with gifts (excellent – more consumer spending), because we’re at work not with them; and the message is clear — “things” will make you feel better.

The last of those pillars of life, mental, is in big part how we deal with the aggregation of the former issues, and that puts us on a continuum of “normal”. How do you achieve “mental balance” when the rest of the elements are so out of whack? Any given day we will feel better or worse able to deal with certain issues in life. There is no normal. Ask any statistician and they will tell you that the average describes no man.

Types of mental illness include mood, anxiety, eating, personality, substance abuse, and attention deficit disorders along with schizophrenia and dementia. Funnily enough, it is often systemic issues that exacerbate many of these issues.

Television and magazines show us that we are too fat. Video games, the Internet, and digital cameras give us such instant gratification that we seek constant stimulation. We are grooming a generation to have eating disorders and ADD. With an aging population, dementia will also be on the rise.

We need to talk about mental health, but we also need to look at the system grooming us to all seek counselling and/or medication.

Join me in giving yourself a pat on the back today and saying well done for doing the best you can with what we’ve been dealt, then think about how you can get off the merry-go-round to find your balance.

And now, back to the balancing act.

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