Talking about mental health

by Sylvia Leonard

Note: While the strategies we mention in this blog post are helpful tips for managing mental health, they are not treatments for depression or other mental health issues that can accompany MS. If your symptoms feel unmanageable, speak with your general practitioner or other healthcare professional about it as soon as possible.

What is mental health?

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), “mental health is key to our well-being.” We can’t truly be healthy without it. It involves how we feel, think, act, and interact with the world around us. Good mental health isn’t about avoiding problems or trying to achieve a ‘perfect’ life. It’s about living well and feeling capable despite challenges.”

Talking about mental health can be very difficult, sharing ones feelings may not come naturally to many people due to fear of being judged or stigmatized.  Campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk are doing important work in raising awareness and encouraging discourse of issues related to mental health. This year’s campaign featured Canadian celebrities Howie Mandel and Serena Ryder talking openly about their struggles with mental health; which was a big step forward to ending this stigma.

Good mental health begins with regular self-check-ins to determine whether you need help from a healthcare professional or your social network. You can informally check-in on your mental health, by using the CMHA’s Mental Health Meter.

MS and mental health

Based on research dating back to the 1960’s we know that depression, anxiety and other mental health problems can be a symptom of the disease, a reaction to the diagnosis, or a side-effect of a treatment. Mental health issues can also be a response to any other number of life changes caused by MS. These may include changes to; roles within the family, workplace or finances and interpersonal or social situations. Fortunately, there are a variety of treatments and coping strategies available to people who live with mental health issues.

Cognition

We’ve discussed coping with cognitive changes in a previous blog, but what about the impact of cognitive changes on mood, and vice versa? Someone dealing with depression may be more likely to have difficulty staying focused on a task or processing information, and may have more difficulty than usual planning and problem solving. Likewise, a person with memory problems may feel increasingly anxious about forgetting important events, or may become depressed because of their changing abilities. We encourage you to speak to your healthcare team about any concerns you may have about your mental health.

Talk about it

Finding people to talk to can be really difficult. Fearing judgment is a legitimate concern when it comes to opening up about something as personal as your health. Although it shouldn’t and does not need to be that way. Some people attend community based self-help groups to meet people with similar experiences. You can try MS specific groups, or mental health and mood-specific groups and see what works for you.

Employee EAP benefit programs are one way around the high cost of counselling services. University students majoring in psychology and social work sometimes offer reduced rates as they complete their degrees. There are also cognitive behavioral therapy resources online (like this, this and this one have all been recommended) that may help you to cope with symptoms of anxiety and depression between sessions, or in the absence there of. If these are not options for you, there are crisis centres available across Canada, all with 24 hour toll free phone lines.

Resources

The MS Peer Support Program is an online and call-in program for people living with MS. Users are matched with a mentor to guide them through the experience of coping with the disease. Whether newly diagnosed or just needing to talk, it can help to speak to someone who also has MS. Volunteers from across the country are provided with extensive training to ensure they have the skills to best support you!

Remember, we’re here for you. For information about counselling services available in your area email info@mssociety.ca or call 1-800-268-7582.

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