You Think Good Health is Only Physical?

Mar 28, 2017

worried-girl-413690_640Written by Barb Higgs and Neil Wallace

“This is a sickness, not a weakness. It is not a reflection of my inner strength. It is not something I willed upon myself – it is an illness.”

These are bold words from Michael Landsberg, media personality, depression sufferer and advocate for mental health. But bold words are what’s needed to balance the widely held notion that being healthy means only being physically well, because it’s just not so.

The problem is that it’s often invisible. That is until the symptoms intrude on daily life. And no one is immune. Think of the many times we’ve seen Olympic athletes, the epitome of physical perfection, holding press conferences about their struggles with various mental illnesses. We’re surprised every time and we shouldn’t be.

The flip side of that widely held notion is equally true: To be unhealthy includes not only physical but mental illness. 

So what does good mental health look like? It’s actually fairly intuitive when you see how the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health in Toronto defines it: the ability to enjoy life and deal with the challenges you face every day. Whether that involves making choices and decisions, adapting to and coping in difficult situations, or talking about your needs and desires.”

Simply put, it’s when you feel there’s balance in your life between the mental, physical, and emotional and spiritual aspects. Of course, most people have felt sadness and grief when a loved one dies, or felt overwhelmed with demands at work. But we are vulnerable to mental illness when these feelings lead to an inability to function over a significant period of time.

Erasing the stigma of mental health is a hot topic…even a visiting Royal spoke recently about the mental health challenges in first responders. So while there is improvement and growing awareness in Canada many sufferers still feel they don’t get the same kind of compassion as those with a physical illness. Say if someone at work is just diagnosed with diabetes and had to start using insulin, most of us would sympathize and share a story about a friend or family member who’s going through a similar experience. But sometimes it’s not quite so easy with a mental illness. The specifics are vaguer and perhaps difficult to explain. So what can be done?

First, managers need to check their own biases at the door and not assume the worst. No employee with equal abilities and experience should be turned down for a project or a promotion. Everyone has the right to work free from discrimination and harassment. Managers have significant influence and authority with a number of tools at their disposal. They can set the tone by bringing in a mental health advocate or an educator to run workshops and by simply not tolerating any casual joking, harassment or bullying. Finally, understand they also have a duty to accommodate and to ensure there is no discrimination. We all do well to remember this because unfortunately, mental illness IS all about equal opportunity and it doesn’t discriminate.

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