Mental HealthScience & Tech

No Easy Answer

Very rarely do we get the opportunity to question professionals anonymously. With something as personal as mental health, many people do not ask questions for fear of being judged. The questions in this article were asked anonymously via a dropbox at McMaster University. 

Sari Isenstein is a PhD candidate at McMaster University studying mental health. Her mother, Marcy Isenstein, is a social worker with 30 years of job experience dealing with at-risk youth. I thought the mother-daughter team would be the perfect duo to answer these questions. One is on the forefront of scientific research, and the other is equipped with a lifetime of real-world experience.

Like most people, sometimes I feel sad and anxious. How do I know if this is a normal amount of sadness or anxiety?

Marcy: A normal amount is situational sadness, the occasional blues resulting from a negative event that one recovers from relatively quickly.

Sari: Sometimes people experience anxiety when they contemplate certain events occurring that will have a negative outcome. If either anxiety or sadness diminishes your daily functioning, this may be a sign that you should seek out a consultation with your family physician or a mental health professional.

Why do you think we don’t talk about mental health issues in school?

Sari: One of the main reasons, historically, that mental health has not been addressed is due to the stigma attached to it, and lack of understanding.

Marcy: In recent years, mental health has become a topic that is more readily addressed in the media and popular culture. It should be part of a health unit in our public school system, for prevention, early detection, and treatment purposes, and to increase awareness and understanding and to overcome the stigma.

Are there any resources that you recommend? What has personally helped you?

Marcy: For anxiety and depression specifically, you can check out the following books:

1. From Panic to Power by Lucinda Bassett

2. Mind Over Mood: Change How You Feel By Changing The Way You Think by Dennis Greenberger and Christine Padesky

3. Feeling Good by David D. Burns, M.D.

There is also a website called www.HelpGuide.org which provides information on anxiety and depression, together with a variety of other mental health issues. Additionally, www.connexontario.ca, is a health services information website. It provides information on community resources that address mental health, drug and alcohol addiction and gambling addiction issues.

A good starting point for any mental health concern is a family physician, the mental health unit at one’s local hospital, or a community mental health centre. Personally, I try to live a balanced life between work, family and friends. I also try to maintain a healthy lifestyle with regular exercise and sleep and a balanced diet.

How can I help someone if I think they are in need?

Marcy: Encourage them to see their family physician, which is always a good place to start for any mental health issues.

Sari: You can also lend them your emotional support by listening to them, and checking in on them periodically. Even the small act of calling them to say “Hi, how are you?” can go a long way. Also, if they are currently attending university or college, you can encourage them to go to their school’s health centre, which likely offers mental health treatment options.

What’s a common pet peeve/myth you want to debunk?

Sari: One main myth is that mental illness is something one can snap out of. The nature of mental illnesses are complex. Some illnesses are lifelong, although can be treated and managed well enough for that person to live a relatively normal life. For others, full recovery can take longer than anticipated. The road to improved functioning is often a personal journey.

Although it is natural to feel nervous asking mental health professionals questions, all interviewees agreed that there are no bad questions. They were all more than happy to answer, and hope that the stigma behind mental health issues wane. I urge those with questions to ask and seek answers. Reading the books and articles mentioned in this article is a good starting point, but I encourage you to continue in your journey by finding your own resources as well. Just remember, don’t be afraid to ask questions, because you deserve answers.


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