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Mental Health Week: GetReal about emotions and loneliness

Cheryl DeCooman for Progressive Dairy Published on 30 April 2021

May 3-9 is the Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) 70th annual Mental Health Week. This year’s theme is a continuation of last year’s #GetReal campaign, which encourages Canadians to understand their feelings and to name it, not numb it.

If you have children in your life, you may have heard about or watched the movie Inside Out. This is a Disney Pixar movie that personifies the emotions of the 11-year-old lead character. The personified emotions are: joy, disgust, anger, sadness and fear. The goal of the movie is to teach viewers their feelings and emotions are valid, and it is OK to have them and experience each one. There is often a misconception in our society that we have to be happy all of the time.

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When someone asks you how you are doing, we often automatically answer, saying “I’m fine.” But what do you do when you are not fine? It is important to talk to a close friend, spouse or trusted loved one, and it is OK to be honest with them and yourself about how you are truly doing. It can be difficult to know what to say or how to respond in these conversations, especially when you are not used to having them.

Remember, you do not always have to have the answers, and if someone comes to you to share their feelings, they may just be looking to get it off of their chest and not for you to come up with solutions. Simply respond, “It sounds like you are going through a difficult time right now. Thank you for sharing this with me.” Part of the human experience is wanting to be heard, understood – and validating a person’s feelings is part of that.

So how do you recognize in yourself or with your loved ones that they are struggling with mental health? The American Psychiatric Association lists a number of signs such as: mood changes; appetite changes; withdrawal socially, physically and emotionally; changes in sleep patterns, etc. Especially with a loved one you interact with often, you will notice that they are just not themselves over a period of time or there are changes in their overall behaviour.

Mental health experts were already raising concerns about the loneliness epidemic before the COVID-19 pandemic, which has only intensified because of the public health measures necessary to protect people’s physical health against COVID-19. Loneliness does not necessarily mean being physically apart from others – a person who is experiencing loneliness might interact with multiple people in a day, whether it is family, friends or co-workers, but they still feel isolated. Loneliness, while being a difficult thing to measure, is about the level of social support a person perceives they have. An American study found that experiencing loneliness can have detrimental physical effects on the body. The study suggested that feeling lonely has an equivalent negative impact to the body as smoking 15 cigarettes per day.

At a time where physical distancing is a critical piece of public health safety, it does not mean we have to be emotionally distanced or isolated from others. Based on your Public Health region’s COVID-19 measures, figure out ways to interact with others. For example, hosting virtual game nights with friends or going for a socially distanced walk with masks on can make a big difference in a day.

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As shown in the movie Inside Out, even though it may not feel like it sometimes, emotions and feelings do not last forever. Just because you might not have a solution right now for yourself or a loved one does not mean there will never be a solution. Continue to be honest with yourself and others about your emotions and recognize that it is OK to feel that way. See the list of free resources on this page you can access for support. There is also always the option of private practice counsellors and therapists for individualized support. end mark

Cheryl DeCooman, CHRL, can also be reached at (519) 532-2508 or on Twitter and Instagram.

Cheryl DeCooman

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Free mental health resources

Canadian Mental Health Association. The CMHA also have provincial- and municipal-level branches with specific resources and programs for their areas of service.

Do More Agriculture Foundation. The goal of Do More is helping Canadian producers with their mental well-being.

Crisis Service Canada. The resource page has lists of local resources, distress centres and crisis organizations depending on your area.

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Connex Ontario. A free mental health, addiction and problem gambling information referral service that provides resource information to individuals in Ontario.

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