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Tag Archive for: mental health

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O-Tip of the Week: Take a Break!

Our O-Tip of the week series delivers valuable “OT-Approved Life Hacks” to provide you with simple and helpful solutions for living. 

For the month of September, a month of back to school and back to reality, our O-Tip series will provide you with OT-approved ways to put the focus back on you.  This week’s O-Tip can help to improve your mental health in a matter of a few minutes each day.

Though working through lunch or breaks sometimes seems like it could help you get more done, it actually is counterintuitive.  Breaks are necessary and can help to boost mental health and productivity, especially in the workplace.  However, breaks aren’t just for the office, but for household activities as well.  Some great ways to make the most of this break to boost your mood include:

  • Taking a walk
  • Heading outside for a breath of fresh air
  • Conversing with co-workers (non-work related)
  • Reading a book
  • Meditating
  • Stretching
  • Desk-ercising (try these fun ideas to work out at work)
  • Doing something artistic or creative (try bringing a relaxation colouring book and some pencil crayons in your work bag)

Remember it’s important that we take frequent breaks to reduce stress, improve focus and to take care of ourselves.

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One in Five Youth Struggle with Mental Health Problems – Do you Know the Signs?

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

I was recently reviewing my daughter’s school handbook and noticed the section on child and youth mental health.  According to this (and the Canadian Mental Association) 1 in 5 children and youth struggle with mental health problems.  While great strides have been made over the last several years to destigmatize and demystify mental health problems in both adults and kids, I feel this remains generally misunderstood.  In my practice, I still see the common misperceptions that people with anxiety don’t leave the house or appear nervous and anxious in public, or that people with depression sleep all day, don’t attend to their appearance, and sit around crying and feeling sorry for themselves.  The truth is that mental health is a spectrum, or a continuum if you will.  It can vary and no one’s experience will be the same.  In children, mental health problems can present differently.

As per the handbook I was reading, the signs might include:

·        Anxiety and fear that does not go away

·        Frequent crying and weepiness

·        Loss of interest in activities that were a source of pleasure in the past

·        Difficulty concentrating

·        Lack of energy or motivation

·        Problems at school with falling marks

·        Withdrawal from family, friends and school activities

·        Increased school absences

·        Loss or increase in appetite

·        Sleeping too much or too little

·        Increased irritability, anger or aggression

·        Neglect of personal appearance

·        Frequent stomach aches or headaches

·        Increased alcohol or drug use

In general, parents should be able to monitor most of these and overt changes might be obvious (suddenly disconnecting from friends, drastic changes in grades, behavior change at home, quitting enjoyed activities, not eating food or participating in meal times, etc).  But like with the continuum of mental health in adults, some of these might present some days and not others, or be so subtle that they deteriorate very slowly over time.   As parents of teens we need to be the barometer for our kids as they may lack the ability to relate some of these signs to mental health or internal struggle.

Luckily, in Southern Ontario anyway, I see the mental health problems of kids being taken seriously and there are publicly funded community supports available.  But getting your child connected with these can be the challenge.  It can be hard to convince a teen to do anything they don’t agree with, let alone getting them to the myriad of appointments with doctors and clinicians that can help.

Occupational therapy plays many roles in helping kids and teens address issues with mental health.  While some occupational therapists are trained to provide psychotherapy, others use meaningful and enjoyable tasks to help with mood elevation, reactivation and reengagement.  We are skilled at looking beyond the obvious to get a better sense of what might help at home, school or in the community to get your child or teen on track.  Sometimes it is as simple as helping them to reorganize their school work, create a process for managing assignments and tests, teaching them how to study in a way that works for them based on their learning style, or even looking at how their week is managed to make changes.  Occupational therapists tackle things like sleep / wake schedules, eating and diet, activity participation, grades and school success, managing friends and relationships, motivation through engagement, and dealing with negative pressures that create more stress and anxiety.

My advice if you are concerned about your child?  Start with your family doctor and discuss your concerns, even if your child won’t attend with you.  Involve the school in your concerns to get their support and guidance, after all your child spends several hours a day in their supervision and care.  Teachers can be a great resource and form of support as well, but you need to open those lines of communication.  Don’t expect the school to come to you – often they don’t.  If your child is in crisis, call your local Crisis Outreach and Support Team (COAST) and ask them for help.  They can (and should) also connect you and your child to other community programs.

If you have coverage for mental health treatment for your teen (extended benefits, other insurance funding, out-of-pocket), including occupational therapy, consider enlisting a private therapist.  Private therapy often provides a larger scope of service, is more specialized, and can be provided over a prolonged period if appropriate.  Any good private therapist will try to work themselves out of a job by getting your child on track as quickly as possible and they will want you to immediately feel the benefit of their involvement.  Also, if you have private dollars or insurance coverage, I would suggest a psycho-educational assessment.  These are extremely thorough “brain tests” that look at all aspects of how your child processes information, manages cognitive tasks and addresses the complicated relationship between our brain and our emotions.  The outcome of these assessments can be extremely helpful and will provide both you as a family, and the school, with suggestions for how to best help your child to succeed.

I have always said watching my kids grow up is the best and worst part of parenting.  It is especially heart-wrenching if your child is struggling.  Watch for the signs, talk to your child and get them (and you!) support if they need it.

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Blue Monday and Beyond — How to Beat the Winter Blues

Julie Entwistle, MBA, BHSc (OT), BSc (Health / Gerontology)

I made a comment after the Holidays that I was slowly recovering from Christmas Affective Disorder.  For me, Christmas is stressful, hectic and challenging.  I struggle with it every year.  After the seasonal rush, it takes me days, or even weeks, to get back to my normal equilibrium.  However, really, winter despair is not a joke and for some, can be debilitating.

In fact, some research suggests that up to 15% of people in Ontario experience the “winter blues”. These leave you feeling tired, groggy, and maybe even sad or irritable.  While this causes discomfort, it is not incapacitating.  However, a more serious form of the winter blues, known as Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), can be.  While occurring less frequently at 2-3% of the population, the symptoms can prevent individuals from leading a normal life.  Symptoms of SAD include decreased energy, changes in appetite, especially leading to cravings for starchy or sweet foods, oversleeping and weight gain, among other things.  If you feel this is you, talk to your doctor and have your symptoms investigated.

The problem is not always the blues, but how these create a negative behavior cycle.  When you feel down, you revert, avoid, or change habits.  This leads to feeling worse and the cycle continues.  Occupational therapists (OTs) recognize the importance of being engaged in activities that are meaningful, active and productive, and understand how these contribute to health and well-being. In fact, one of the best treatments for beating the winter blues involves just “keep on keeping on” by doing what you normally do every day.  Some tips include:

  1. Use behavioral activation to keep your normal routine.  Make the bed, have a shower, prepare a decent breakfast, walk to the mail box.  Don’t change habits that are ingrained just because it is winter.  Never underestimate how damaging it can be if you avoid even small things that ultimately add up to a productive day.  Gradually try to get back to those important tasks if you have found that your daily behaviors have become unproductive.
  2. Stay active. Those that love the winter do so because they get outdoors.  Walk, ski, skate, toboggan – something to help you appreciate how wonderful a change of seasons can be.  This is best facilitated by proper clothing that will keep you warm.  If exercise is tough for you, build it into your day by default – park farther from the door, use the stairs, make a few trips from the car with the groceries to get the blood flowing.
  3. Consider light therapy. Sit by the window at lunch, get some fresh air when the sun is out, or consider purchasing an artificial light for your use at home.
  4. Up the nutrients. When some bad eating habits creep into your winter these can be hard to break come spring, and only contribute to further mood declines.  Shop in the fruit and veggie isles, and avoid the isles that house the bad foods you seem to be eating too much of.

Finding ways to help you do the things you want to, need to, or enjoy, is at the heart of occupational therapy. While the winter months can be long, dark, and cold, ultimately how we adapt to the seasonal change is up to us.  If moving or going south is not an option, consider some of the above tips to make the winter bearable, or dare I say, even enjoyable?

 

Resources:

Seasonal Affective Disorder. (Canadian Mental Health Association, 2013) http://www.cmha.ca/mental_health/seasonal-affective-disorder-sad/
Beat The Winter Blues (Readers Digest, no date) http://www.readersdigest.ca/health/healthy-living/beat-winter-blues
Kurlansik, SL & Ibay, AD. (2012).
Seasonal Affective Disorder. Am Fam Physician. 2012 Dec 1;86(11):1037-1041.
10 Winter Depression Busters for Seasonal Affective Disorder (Borchard, no date) http://psychcentral.com/blog/archives/2012/12/30/10-winter-depression-busters-for-seasonal-affective-disorder/

 

Previously Posted January 2017

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With PTSD Every Day is Remembrance Day

Tomorrow, November 11, is Remembrance Day, a day where Canadians pay respect to the men and women who have fought and continue to fight for our country’s freedom.

On this day we remember those who lost their lives and have suffered injury and/or illness fighting for our country.  One of the largest illnesses afflicting our veterans is Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD).  It is estimated that, in the military, one in six are reported to experience PTSD as a result of their service.  The following article care of Global News discusses how for those who suffer from PTSD, Remembrance Day can be one of the most difficult.

Global News:  Remembrance Day a time of anxiety, stress for some veterans

Learn more about PTSD:  its causes, symptoms and treatment strategies in our post PTSD and Occupational Therapy.

 

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Mental Health at Work: How to Seek Help

While minor accidents are common in the workplace and quickly addressed, higher instances of stress, mental illness, and workplace bullying are being seen across all industries.  If you are suffering where do you go to get help?  If you see signs of mental distress in a fellow employee, how can you help?  The following from The Globe and Mail discusses how and where to seek help if you are concerned.

The Globe and Mail:  Where to get help when you’re concerned with your mental health

Learn more about strategies to improve mental health in the workplace in the following episode from our OT-V series:

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13 Reasons Why NOT to Watch

The new Netflix series 13 Reasons Why has become a popular topic of conversation for both adults and youth, both online and in person.  Many kids will watch this before their parents even know that they have.  Yet, parents beware because the content in this is apparently both graphic and at times, disturbing.  In fact, the content is so concerning that school boards and even the Canadian Mental Health Association have issued statements cautioning viewers of this series:  CMHA National Statement Responding to Netflix Series: 13 Reasons Why

Personally, I take no pleasure in watching gory or graphic content of rape and suicide and do not see the value in sensationalizing this for the youth of today.  However, others argue that this series aims to deter suicide by showing how disturbing this can be.  At the least, know what your children are watching and heed the warnings.  Mental Health and Suicide are very sensitive topics – not to be taken lightly.   

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How To Improve Mental Health at Work

When it comes to health and safety in the workplace, we are often quick to think of work-related musculoskeletal disorders and other physical injuries, but just as with health in general, we also need to make mental health in the workplace a priority. Nearly half of all Canadians experience some form of mental health concerns at work. Mental health issues are the number one cause of short term and long term disability leave.

The following video from our OT-V series discusses the ways an Occupational Therapist can work with employees, employers and medical teams to help employees overcome mental health stressors at work in order to be more productive and miss less time from work.