In follow-up to last week’s guest blog about perinatal mental health, I thought I’d provide some tips that I found on children’s mental health, involving play.
This is from the Canadian Public Health Association (cpha.ca):
5 Key Findings on Unstructured Play & Mental Health:
Promotes positive feelings: When children engage in unstructured play, they report feeling joy, thrill and competence. When they don’t, they report feeling bored, sad and angry.
Builds resilience: When children experience the uncertainty of challenging or risky play, they can develop emotional reactions, physical capabilities and coping skills that expand their capacity to manage adversity. These skills are important for resilience and good mental health in childhood and into adolescence.
Improves concentration: Unstructured play is associated with improved attention span, especially in children who have trouble focusing for long periods of time.
Helps develop & maintain healthy relationships: Evidence indicates that unstructured play can provide the opportunity to improve social competence. This means that children can improve their problem-solving skills, emotional intelligence, and ability to empathize. Children can become more self-aware and are better able to compromise and cooperate.
Improves undesireable behaviours: Studies with schools report fewer problems with undesireable behaviours like bullying when unstructured play is increased. When children lead their own play, they can engage in social and emotional learning, such as the ability to control aggression and regulate feelings of anger and frustration.
Never undervalue the importance of unstructured play-time for your child. Perhaps this has been one advantage of COVID, without many organized activities, there has been more time for unstructured play.
BIO: Firstly, Nancy is my friend and colleague at The Royal. She is also a Peer Specialist/Mental Health Worker in Women’s Mental Health at the Royal. Nancy has a Master’s in Social Work and is the proud mom of three teens.
Most people have heard of postpartum depression. Not as many people have heard that you can experience anxiety, bipolar disorder or psychosis for the first time while pregnant and after giving birth. Depression is not the only type of mental illness that can emerge during the perinatal period.
Before the pandemic, 1 in 7 perinatal people would have a mood or anxiety disorder. We know these numbers are higher for black, indigenous, people of colour, LGBTQIA2+ people and people who have experienced trauma.
Although I could not find an exact percentage, one Canadian study reported a significant increase in depression and anxiety during the pandemic compared to pre-pandemic numbers. COVID and physical distancing has really changed the way people experience pregnancy, birth and postpartum.
During COVID, formal and informal support for perinatal people has been impacted. Pre-pandemic a person who gave birth would go to their midwife or doctor’s office for an appointment and they would sit in the park with others. Their parents, friends or relatives would drop by to chat, hold the baby or do a small chore. With physical distancing and COVID regulations, these meetings and supports diminished, if not altogether disappeared.
New parents are also concerned about the physical safety of their baby and this can lead to stopping visits with friends and family. Participants in the peer groups that I co-facilitate have told us that in addition to depression and anxiety they are also experiencing loneliness and isolation.
During the pandemic, pregnant people have had to give up their expectation of an in-person baby shower and spending time with relatives while they are pregnant. Birthing people would have limitations imposed on the number of people who could be present at their baby’s birth. There would be restrictions on coming into and leaving the hospital while their partner is labouring.
In Women’s Mental Health at the Royal Ottawa Health Care Group we recognized that pregnant people and people who have given birth, would need support during the pandemic. We were not able to offer in person services so we moved to online delivery. At the Royal, in the Women’s Mental Health program we have peer facilitated groups that include: Journaling as a Wellness Tool-Perinatal version, Life with a Baby and 2 Wellness (virtual) drop-ins. Our groups are built on peer support principles: we don’t try to fix anyone and we believe that people are the experts of themselves.
The reason I am interested in supporting pregnant and postpartum people is because I also struggled with mental illness during my perinatal period, years ago. When I was pregnant and after I gave birth to my son, I thought it was normal to be sad all the time, crying, worried about the safety of my baby and having intrusive thoughts of dying and my baby dying. This is not a normal part of pregnancy and early parenthood. After the birth of my twin daughters, I again stopped sleeping, felt unreal and began to hear voices. I was hospitalized and moved towards wellness with medication and informal peer support from people who had similar experiences.
I knew I wanted to use my lived expertise to help other women experiencing mental illness during pregnancy and birth. I wanted to show people that it is possible to have a mental illness and then feel better. You can get pregnant, give birth and be a mother/parent/caregiver with a mental illness.
To register for one of our virtual groups you can email me at: email@example.com
In honour of Labour Day, I thought I’d quote some statistics.
– Just 50% of Canadians would tell friends or co-workers that they have a family member with a mental illness, compared to 72% who would discuss a diagnosis of cancer and 68% who would talk about a family member having diabetes.
– 64% of Ontario workers would be concerned about how work would be affected if a colleague had a mental illness.
– 39% of Ontario workers indicate that they would not tell their managers if they were experiencing a mental health problem.
– 40% of respondents to a 2016 survey agreed they have experienced feelings of anxiety or depression but never sought medical help for it.
– 46% of Canadians thought people use the term mental illness as an excuse for bad behaviour, and 27% said they would be fearful of being around someone who suffers from serious mental illness.
If you are in a leadership position in the workplace, what are you doing to create an inclusive and healthy environment for everyone? Do people in your workplace feel comfortable talking about their mental health, without feeling it would be a career limiting move?
I would love to hear from you all in the comments.
In follow-up to last week’s blog about “Things my mother taught me…”, I’d be remiss if I did not list all the things my dad taught me.
In January of 1995, when I was 4 months pregnant with my second daughter, my dad died of cancer. My world came crashing down. I was only 30 years old and he was my confidante, my hero and he loved me unconditionally. I miss him terribly, but I’m comforted in the feeling that both my mom’s and dad’s spirits are watching over me.
So here, in no particular order, are the things my dad taught me, to help form the person I am today:
“Everything in moderation” (I’ve passed this onto my children)
How to present a business case. (It started at the age of 13, when he’d said “convince me”)
Be prompt. (Notice the double dose of this – mom and dad – thus, I’m usually early!)
Think like a leader. (He was a manager and would share stories of how he handled difficult situations)
How to write.
“Always vote in every election. Know the issues.”
How to raise concerns to a higher level. (He would often type letters on his old Smith-Corona, to his MP, MPP, etc. if he thought his voice should be heard. Then, he would get me to read it over before he mailed it. This lesson has helped me on countless occasions over the years.)
How to compromise.
He modeled how a good husband treats, respects, loves and honours his wife. (Mom and dad always held hands when they walked together.)
How to be patient and kind.
How to carefully listen to others points of view and to respond respectfully.
How to love unconditionally. (He didn’t always “like” me, but I knew he always “loved” me.
How to manage money and to invest.
How to drive a car.
How to ride a bike.
How to read a map (and to fold one– a real talent!)
The importance of a routine.
A strong work ethic.
How just sitting there quietly, just being there, is showing support and love.
Although he did not personally teach me, he paid for (and my mom registered me): swimming lessons, downhill ski lessons, cross country skiing, tennis lessons, soccer team, summer community pool membership. Yes, I do realize how privileged I was. He would also drive my brother and I to a ski hill, 1 hour and 45 minutes away, and sit all day, waiting for us to finish (since he did not ski — he had a bum knee). Now, that’s commitment!
I am truly blessed to have had the upbringing that I did. As my husband says, I won the adoption lottery!
In December 2013, at the age of 87, my mom passed away from cancer. I was 48 years old. I miss her dearly and often wish I could pick up the phone to share some exciting news. My mom died peacefully, on her own terms. She had a strong faith in God and was anxious to be reunited with her husband, my dad.
I had a wonderful mom and dad. My husband, Ron always says, “you won the adoption lottery”. It is true, I did!
I decided to make a list (certainly not exhaustive) of all the things I remember my mom teaching me. Here they are, in no particular order:
“Be a leader, not a follower.”
“Always say your pleases and thank yous. Be polite.” (How to write thank you notes and address an envelope).
A strong work ethic.
Volunteerism and giving to those in need.
How to knit and sew.
“Patience is a virtue.” (One that I have had to work on my entire life).
“Don’t worry about things beyond your control.” (I’ve only recently got a handle on this one.)
How to entertain (and with that, how to cook and bake)
“Be respectful and honest.”
“Be thrifty.” (always look for the sales)
Always buy a good, new mattress and new, comfortable, and stylish shoes. Never go second hand on these two.
Be stylish on a budget.
“Only spend what you can afford.” (I used to be known for my champagne taste on a beer budget)
“You’ll be lucky if you can count true friends on one hand.”
Sing out loud!
The importance of a daily routine.
Make your bed every morning as soon as you get up.
Brush your teeth and floss regularly.
“You’ve got to give credit where credit is due.”
“Relationships are 50/50. If they don’t work out, it is never only one person’s fault.”
Through my mom’s belief in religion (Catholicism) and God, I became spiritual. (Which I am now told will help me with my recovery– yes, I am still in recovery!)
My mom modeled smiling at strangers.
“Be friendly with neighbours.”
How to be a good, loving, caring and nurturing mom. (Sadly, for many years, due to my illness, I was unable to be all of these things to my two daughters. They do tell me that I am making up for lost time now, though.)
“Where there is a will, there is a way.”
“You can lead a horse to water, but you can’t make them drink.”
Not too long ago, my friend and I were out on a walk and she mentioned to me that she always listens to John Tesh (www.tesh.com), and heard him say that “if you want to maintain a healthy marriage, it really is the little things that count.”
This hit me, and I stopped in my tracks exclaiming, “isn’t that the truth!” Both my friend and I are on our second marriages to absolutely wonderful men. We both agreed that we’ve got it right the second time around and that we both found that in our respective marriages, there is a mutual give and take.
I know that I’m frequently doing “little things” for my husband like giving spontaneous hugs and kisses, offering encouraging words, picking up some favourite treat, or baking for him, cooking meals he’ll appreciate, and so on. But, my husband does the same for me, taking me out for dinner, offering to prepare and deliver cups of coffee or soda water (regularly), cleaning up around our home, buying me a favourite piece of jewellery or perfume, etc.
My friend said it is the same with her and her husband.
John Tesh says, “what really separates happy couples from the unhappy, is the 5 to 1 ratio. As long as there are five times more positive feelings and interactions than negative ones, the marriage is likely to be stable. That’s because we tend to remember the negative more so we need more positive experiences to outweigh the bad ones. If it was one for one, all we would remember are the bad times.
But (he continues) don’t think one large positive experience will make up for a bunch of bad ones. A big positive, like a weekend away, doesn’t have as much impact on the brain as frequent small good experiences like going to a favourite restaurant every Sunday.”
So, in your relationships, do your best to think of the small things to do for your partner. They really do add up to creating a loving and happy marriage.
Who’s watching the Olympics? What an absolute thrill to see so many Canadians winning medals– and I cannot help but mention that 99% of them are women! What incredible heroes– all of the competitors, not just those who arrive on the podium.
Of course, we cannot talk about mental health and the 2021 Olympic games in Tokyo, without mentioning Simone Biles. This 24-year-old gymnast from the U.S. made a brave and courageous decision to not compete in the women’s team final.
Unlike what some trolls are saying, Simone is not “a quitter” or “letting her country down”, she is being honest about her mental health by saying “the mental’s not there”, after losing her spatial awareness in a twist that she’d done thousands of times before.
Simone Biles has proven to be the utmost mental health advocate and is a great role model for other Olympians and aspiring athletes around the world. She knew she was not ready to compete for fear of injury (have you seen what those gymnasts actually do in competition?), so she spoke up and stood on the sidelines (at the Olympics, when she’d been training her whole life for this moment!) cheering on her teammates.
What a hero, and what a champion to advocate for mental wellness on the world stage.
My former sister-in-law, Olympic Silver medalist in figure skating (Calgary 88), Elizabeth Manley says it best in her recent video on Instagram. Follow her @lizmanley88 and check out her video on Simone Biles.
Mental Health is, and should be treated the same as physical health. If Simone had broken an ankle on that twist, we would not have expected her to compete. Why then, do some people feel she should compete when she is not feeling mentally fit?
In other good news, I just heard today that Simone will return to compete in the balance beam final tomorrow. (Update– she won the Bronze medal!) I know that I will be cheering her on, as well as most of the world — save for a few mean-spirited trolls.
Take care of your mental health folks! You are worth it!
The health of your gut plays an absolutely massive role in how well your brain functions, how your body produces hormones, neurotransmitters, vitamins, minerals, and other compounds critical for keeping your mood and mental health balanced, and keeping anxiety far, far away.
But, and this is a big but, gut health isn’t just important for mental health. The gastrointestinal tract is home to trillions of bacteria that play a major role in how well (or not well) your body functions. Good gut health is the cornerstone of your entire body’s function and I’ll go so far as to say that you can’t have a healthy body without having a healthy gut (and I know I’d get backed up on that one…). If you’re experiencing chronic pain, look at your gut. Headaches, look at your gut. Fatigue, poor sleep, poor digestion (obviously), look at your gut. It’s where everything traces back to and you can’t have one without the other.
So you can see just how important gut health really is, take a look at what can happen if you have what is called dysbiosis (imbalanced gut microbiome):
● Inflammation ● Poor digestion ● Joint and muscle pain ● Autoimmune diseases ● Immune dysfunction ● Cancer ● Metabolic dysfunction ● Mental health conditions
That doesn’t cover all of it, but you can see how each of these categories is the umbrella for several other conditions. So, if your gut isn’t a healthy place, the risk of developing any number of these conditions increases exponentially.
I’ve dealt with my fair share of gut health imbalances and it’s led me to really hone in on helping women fix up their gut and hormones through foods and holistic lifestyle practices. Through countless struggles, experiments, and a whole ton of research, I’ve learned about the incredible and crazy strong link between gut health and mental health. This is why cultivating a healthy and balanced gut is the cornerstone of my practice. I work exclusively with women with anxiety and you cannot have mental health without gut health.
Here’s a quick explanation of the link I’m talking about.
If you’re trying to eliminate anxiety, you have to look at two things–neurotransmitters and hormones. When balanced, they lead to a balanced mental state, but when imbalanced, they can lead to disaster in the form of severe anxiety and other chronic health conditions. But where anxiety is concerned, your gut shines.
That’s for a couple reasons: ● More than 90% of serotonin (your happy neurotransmitter) is produced in the gut by your gut bugs, so you need to keep your gut bugs happy! ● Dietary protein provides essential amino acids for forming neurotransmitters (serotonin, dopamine, GABA). You need enough stomach acid to properly digest and absorb protein. ● Dietary fat is the building blocks for hormone synthesis (estrogen-progesterone balance is key for regulating mood and neurotransmitter synthesis). You need a well-functioning liver to properly digest and absorb fat.
And that doesn’t even touch on inflammation. If your gut isn’t healthy, chances are that you are struggling with some semblance of leaky gut, which means that the gut lining that should be completely sealed and impermeable develops small micropores that allow food particles to leak through. Because your body doesn’t recognize these food particles that aren’t in their simplest form, it sets off alarm bells and your immune system responds by triggering the inflammatory cascade.
Inflammation of the gut stresses the microbiome through the release of cytokines and neurotransmitters, and when coupled with intestinal permeability means these inflammatory molecules can now travel systemically and interfere with the permeability of the blood-brain barrier. Release into the brain influences brain function and leads to mood disorders and imbalances like anxiety, depression, and memory issues.
That’s a pretty simplistic way of looking at it, but it all stems from your gut. When there are imbalances present, it interferes with your entire body function, not just your brain. And it’s why for me, getting my clients gut health under control is the key to eliminating their anxiety and any other existing health conditions.
I’m tired and stressed out about many things, including taking the elevators in my building. I really dislike being “that person” who says “sorry, no, you cannot get on the elevator.” (Public Health rules state: “one person per elevator unless you are from the same household”). Too often, I encounter some very rude and upset people who are in a hurry to get somewhere, and they say something nasty.
But, having had both vaccines… and with restrictions moving into Step 2 in Ontario, I’m beginning to feel hopeful. Just yesterday, I received a photo of my friend’s family up at her cottage. There, sitting on one couch, all together, were: my friend (in her fifties), her 95 year old mom, and her son and his pregnant wife– sitting tightly together with big smiles on their faces and — no masks! WOW! What a great picture! For me, it represented hope! They had all been double vaccinated.
On July 1, my husband’s birthday, we will be gathering as a family of 4 (from 3 different households), and depending on the weather, we may all be indoors. Imagine – indoors… with family, sharing a meal, without masks! WOW! It has been a very long time.
Businesses are starting to open up, patios and soon restaurants will be open for indoor dining and — live music!! This is all very exciting and hopeful. The more people get vaccinated, the more freedom we’ll have.
Let’s not mess this up! Continue to follow public health guidelines by wearing a mask in doors in public areas and staying 2 meters apart. Continue washing your hands with soap and water (while singing happy birthday — twice). I’m sure that all of you, like me, do not want to go backwards with restrictions at any point in the future. I know that I am very much looking forward to getting on a plane to visit my new grandchild. Please, follow guidelines so that we all will be free to travel and resume a somewhat normal life.
This is our shot! Get vaccinated! Wear a mask! Stay 2 meters apart and continue washing your hands. Now is not the time to be lax with any of these measures.
The vaccine is like a dose of hope for our future.