I hope all are keeping as warm as can be during these beautiful but cold Saskatchewan winter days. My response when weather comes up (and it seems we talk about it a lot here in Saskatchewan) is remember—we have the best summers in Canada! Sometimes I add that the best thing about when I lived in Halifax was that you could be guaranteed summer would start by August 1!
A number of events and comments in the last few weeks have reminded me of the importance of mental health, and the work that needs to be done to support the mental health of ourselves and our families, friends, learners, staff and faculty.
First, we saw “Blue Monday” come and go, a popular urban myth without objective evidence. Of course, Seasonal Affective Disorder is a real mental health problem, and if the concept of Blue Monday encourages us to think about those around us that may be suffering, it may not be all bad. On the other hand, many myths about mental health are much more harmful.
This leads me to the next reminder— Bell Let’s Talk Day on January 31 saw 145,442,699 digital interactions and $7,272,134.95 raised. I will declare no conflict of interest and I will say the initiative to encourage discourse is great, but we must strive more to move to action on mental health.
Bell’s initiative has four pillars: anti-stigma, care and access, research and workplace health. Of course, all are relevant to a medical college. All of this reminds me of the very first public event I attended after arriving at the CoM in June 2014. I was at a banquet at the Bessborough. It was a lovely evening to be at an outside event but due to a thunderstorm quickly rolling in, the event was moved inside. Clara Hughes (Olympic medalist in both speed skating and cycling) spoke on mental health. I particularly recall her comments on the stigma associated with mental illness. Stigma is the number one reason why many people do not seek help.
The mind-body divide is well entrenched in western ways of knowing and contributes greatly to the stigma many of us attach to mental illness. There are more holistic ways we can think about health and mental wellness, and we can learn so much from Indigenous colleagues and learners in this regard. For example, “The medicine wheel represents the alignment and continuous interaction of the physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual realities.” (Source of quote/more information) In terms of the medicine wheel teachings, I acknowledge there are many teachings and many interpretations associated with the medicine wheel.
Concerning stigma, Bell Let’s Talk outlines five things that we all can do to end stigma: language matters; educate yourself, be kind, listen and ask, and talk about it.
And that leads me to the last event I participated in this week on mental health, which hopefully ties together some of the thoughts in this blog. I was fortunate to attend a banquet on Thursday night with Scott Livingstone and colleagues from the Saskatchewan Health Authority at Whitecap Dakota First Nation. The Saskatoon Tribal Council organized the event in support of the Walking Together Youth Gathering, an initiative on supporting Indigenous youth.
The keynote speaker was Jordin Tootoo, the first player of Inuk descent and first player from Nunavut (Rankin Inlet) to play in the NHL (four teams from 2003 to 17). He is also celebrated for his contributions to Canada’s silver medal team in the 2003 World Junior Ice Hockey Championships. Jordin provided a powerful and inspirational talk about his journey from his childhood to present with a frank description of the trauma he endured and the challenges he suffered from mental health and addiction to alcohol. His talk was painful, tender and yet hopeful. And at the end he told some great hockey stories for all the Canadians in the room.
I will leave you with the following quote from Jordin that resonated powerfully with me:
“We all fight a fight nobody knows about – It’s all about kindness.”
So be warm out there, take care of each other, and as always, I am always open to your input and feedback.