Strategies to calm the anxious brain.

This is part of a series looking at micro skills – changes that employees can make to improve their health and life at work and at home, and employers can make to improve the workplace. The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell have created the Employee Recommended Workplace Award to honour companies that put the health and well-being of their employees first. Read about the 2017 winners of the award at

Does your mind sometimes create thoughts – ones that make you anxious or worried – that you’d rather not have?

When our unconscious brain provides a random thought like this – if we’re not aware – we can become overly focused on these thoughts that can negatively impact our mental health.

This micro skill introduces a concept called cognitive defusion – a strategy we can use when we need to become untangled from our thoughts.

By learning how to defuse unwanted thoughts we can remove their power over us. Those thoughts can be as simple as our mind telling us there’s a difference between what we have and what we want. The thought is nothing more than a warning light. What we do with this thought defines our thinking and emotions.


When an automatic, unwanted, negative thought comes to the top of your mind, doesn’t feel good, and is distracting, the first step is not to fight it or hide from it. Acknowledge it as being present and a source of information. By “thanking our mind” for this thought without fighting it or judging we position ourselves to defuse its intensity, allowing us to use the information for some healthy action.


Dr. William Glasser, author of choice theory, suggested that we may not have 100 per cent control over our thinking, but we have 100 per cent control over our actions. Where our body goes, our mind follows. By changing our focus from troublesome thoughts to an action we enjoy, or by giving our mind an opportunity to engage in something we find interesting, we can leave the negative thought at the curb and take control of our thinking. This is not hiding from the negative thought; it’s moving past it. There may be nothing to do now, and there’s no value in focusing on negativity that’s distracting.


Persistent, negative thoughts that refocused attention doesn’t curb may require more action. Negative thoughts can be like weeds; they can multiply and take over our mind.

Cognitive defusing is about helping gain perspective so that we don’t give negative thoughts power to grow. “See thoughts as what they are, not what they say they are,” advises Steven Hayes, a professor at the Department of Psychology at the University of Nevada. Meaning a thought is just a thought – nothing more less.

Accept thoughts by name without any judgment – If negative thoughts are hanging around after you’ve engaged in an activity to re-direct them, this is fine. Stop for a moment and acknowledge the thought by name, like you would when meeting a new person. For example, “So it seems there’s anxiety, because I’m having thoughts that are due to my concerns about money and work.”

Redirect your mind – Take charge of your mind. Unhelpful thoughts are projections of some past or future concern that aren’t happening right now, so re-direct your mind in a non-judgmental way to something more positive. For example, “I get that this thought is providing me information and isn’t as helpful as it could be. Thanks for the anxiety, but I think I’d rather be calm.”

Focus on the now – We live in the now, not the future. Take a deep breath, focus on the now, and recognize that the unhealthy thought has no connection with what’s happening in the present; it’s just a thought. Practice focusing on the now, accept the thought and redirect your focus “since this isn’t happening now and there’s no danger, I’ll focus on getting my planned work done, then get to the gym for a good workout.”

By practicing cognitive defusion you can learn to look at negative thoughts as not being bad, just words and images in your mind that you can shape, process and release. The benefit is that this micro skill can teach you how to accept negative thoughts as information only; they don’t need to dictate your actions or feelings.

Bill Howatt is the chief research and development officer of work force productivity with Morneau Shepell in Toronto and creator of an online Pathway to Coping course offered through the University of New Brunswick.

This series supports The Globe and Mail and Morneau Shepell’s Employee Recommended Workplace Award.

This award recognizes employers who have the healthiest, most engaged and most productive employees. It promotes a two-way accountability model where an employer can support employees to have a positive workplace experience.

You can find all the stories in this series at this

The Times You Live In.

It’s been a chaotic few weeks to say the least. I’m grateful for having had the chance to get away for my reading week and take some time to focus on something other than school.

I guess I would say the past couple weeks have been filled with a lot of anxiety and recurrences of my depression. Coming back into school to find out half my courses are cancelled because of a provincial wide strike was a bit much. I pay to learn and I pay to gain experience but yet half my courses including my clinical have been shut down until an agreement has been reached between the two parties. It’s a pretty crappy feeling to not be able to do something you love. It’s even worse when you come across articles pointing out the strike will be ‘protracted’ and previous strike have been 3 weeks +.

I guess I shouldn’t complain too much because I have at least my science courses to focus on and i’m grateful for what the Faculty has done in moving our classes to off campus locations across the city. I also can still attend my community placement which is also always a treat. I think the more I work with kids, the more I enjoy what I do.

Aside from that I can finally say I have recovered from strep throat. I’m usually not one to go see a doctor but even that was rough, who would think a sore throat could cause THAT much misery over three days. It got to the point I realized ibuprofen, lozenges, and my throat spray were not doing anything that I decided I needed to make a visit to the doctor. After sitting in a lecture and half way through googling the nearest walk-in clinic because I had chills and was literally in the most pain i’d ever experienced. I have a lot of respect for people that get it often, it was terrible.

But obviously bad news comes in threes….lucky me. Last week also saw my first car accident happen. Physically I was okay but emotionally I was shaken (or ‘shook’ as the youngin’s say). It was an experience and it still gives me anxiety if I think to hard about it but it’d definitely a learning experience and luckily the car can be fixed and my health is okay. I would say i’ll be more on edge driving now and I choose to walk more to do things rather than drive, but in time my confidence will grow again for driving but for now it’ll be one step at a time.

Aside from that, life is moving forward and i’m just trying to focus on making it through this term. The past couple weeks i’ve found myself in a rut where i’m not feeling motivated but then stress myself out because I don’t feel motivated. A vicious cycle. I guess it’s exciting to think I may actually have a long Christmas break this year (permitted everything goes smoothly) finishing around mid-December. Hopefully will also hear some positive news in regards to the results of my Master’s dissertation in the coming weeks.  Hopefully the new year will see me heading to London to collect my degree and see some good friends :).



Chapter Closed.

Ah, finally I can sit in peace and focus on writing a blog post. I can’t believe i’m already back in schools ready for round 2. Summer seems like a blur and it’s probably because of all the schooling and work I had to undertake to get caught up.

I’m proud to say i’m finished my Master’s (at least until Results day in November). All 14,998 words. I must say finishing my physiology course and having to jump straight into finishing my dissertation was a rough go. Why I thought it was a good idea to work 40-55 hours a week is beyond me, but somehow I did it. To but it into context, it took me 2 DAYS to sort through all the footnotes, citations, and bibliography and organize it all. While it’s now finished I have not yet had the courage to go back over and look at the hard copies I had printed out of fear knowing there will obviously be mistakes. While I realize work at the Master’s level does not have to be publishable, the perfectionist in me would go bonkers knowing it’s there. So to not throw myself in a downward spiral of total despair i’ve decided to withhold looking (plus i’m over writing it and thinking about it for the time being).

I think the one things i’m grateful for having done medical ethics as my Master’s is for the expansion in the way I think about things. To understand ethical decision making models and work through it. There’s no right or wrong answer in every case and going into clinical practice I know there will not always be things that line with my personal values. It’s how I can hopefully align those two differing values that will work to prevent increasing my own moral distress and prevent burn out. I also want to help my patients walk through difficult situations where things aren’t always clear and help them work through their own ethical dilemmas.

I must say while i’m excited for problem-based learning this year (largely because of it’s focus on ethics!), I am weary of pathophysiology, pharmacology, and bio-stats. It’s a bit hard to fathom how I made it knowing 30 people (our of a class of 120) were not able to move forward into second year because of failing courses by such a small margin in most cases (1-2%). I know I worked my butt off to be in the position I am, but at the end of the say all of us came into this program as highly intelligent individuals. I also knew when to ask for help when I was struggling whether seeing accommodation for my depression and anxiety, seeking out additional tutoring sessions to understand biochemistry, or even buying additional resources to bulk up my knowledge, but I also realize I was fortunate in having had previous undergraduate experience. In any program failure happens, but I think on some level it’s a wake up call to know that failure does happen and sometimes its not the smartest people that advance but those that put in the work, but its hard not to feel anxious when it is a reality.

I think of the thoughts that has been on my mind most recently have been the concepts brought up in the book ‘Lean In’. I’ve been thinking a lot about where my nursing journey will be taking me, particularly where my interests lie. I’ve found myself to always be interested in maternity, but lately due to my community placement i’ve really enjoyed working with kids. I know in my heart clinical nursing isn’t always something I will be passionate about, shift work can be incredibly draining and not conducive to raising a family, which is why I think clinical ethics will be one option I am eager to explore.

I want to make a difference. I want to lead. I want change. I want to succeed.  Those are my mantras in life. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how growing up as a female I’ve seen young males groomed to be in positions of leadership. Yet i’ve noticed females have always lagged behind. A clear example that comes to mine was having someone so close to me tell me he “could never be with someone that made more than him”. As in the male always had to be the bread winner, keep in mind this is the same person that felt emasculated having a female choose to not change her last name to his. To be honest, having read ‘Lean In’ I can say i’ve been put in a positions where I felt I could not advance myself because I was a female and had to ‘follow’ these societal norms that seem to exist.

Its incredibly distressing to see the number of female students pursuing post-secondary education but yet is not reflective of the board room. How as a female I am penalized for choosing to have children, even though in most cases its a decision made by both the male and the female and because of this I lose out on the same opportunities that would be extended to my male colleagues. To be fair, it’s also unfair that males are also looked down upon to take advantage of paternal leave to spend time with their children and raise them in an equal manner.

I think another thing that irks me is when people think that females are bossy for being assertive but when males act in the same manner they are seen as “leaders”. I’ve ALWAYS been ambitious and motivated to improve my self and make a difference at some level.  Yet, i’ve noticed sometimes people can find me intimidating because of a number of factors whether it was my upbringing, my education level, or even my goals for the future. On some level, I used to let that control me and it destroyed my self-esteem, making me question my values, goals, and self-worth. It’s taken time but slowly i’ve found myself returning back to normal and feeling excited about where the future will take me. I realize now RN positions in Ontario are limited, particularly in places I want to hopefully live, but I also know Canadian nurses are so highly regarded that the world is really my oyster and with so much to explore I sometimes find myself not knowing where to start.

I’m grateful to have had many great mentors along the way who have helped guide me down this path and shaped my goals for the future. It wasn’t until recently that i’ve reach back out to some of my most notable mentors and thanked them for the opportunities they provided me and the guidance and support they showed me in pursing my Master’s and for peaking my interests in nursing. I’m incredibly lucky to have had an enriching undergraduate experience in being well supported by a caring academic advisor (who i’m still in touch with), my fourth year practicum supervisor, my professional ethics professor, my profs in the UK, and the director of the health studies program who have all played important roles in who I am now. I think one of the most important things as not only a female, but also a person, is to find someone you look up to and connect with them and don’t be afraid to reach out to people in areas your interested in. It’s important to have that support and to know that while all our paths may not be the same, having someone in your life in that position can make a huge difference on days where you may not feel capable of reaching your goals (ie. working through pathophysiology).

My path to nursing school has not been conventional and i’ve hit many bumps along the way (ie. my battles with depression and anxiety), but I hope my journey can inspire other young people to know that life is full of funny twists and turns. It’s also helpful to know someone else feels the same way sometimes and that we aren’t alone in our journeys. In some ways its therapeutic to read about the experience of others when a lot of the resources out there for mental illness are inadequate in meeting the needs of an individual seeking help.

In time I hope to be more open about my experiences throughout nursing school and clinical practice in helping to fuel passion in other individuals whether it be in medicine or any other field, particularly in girls where opportunities to lead are not always high on the list. We need more people seeking to lead and make a difference in a world where we have people like Trump in power and in this regard we need to encourage and teach females that we can’t let someone with such disgusting views limit our visions.  I want to be part of the movement that encourages and evokes positive changes. We need to empower people to think, we need to promote opportunities to those disadvantaged, and we need to spark innovation, creativity, and entrepreneurship in a world where technological advances are taking opportunities away from people.



For some students, the transition to university can be hard on mental health.

In a few weeks, more than two million students will step onto postsecondary campuses across Canada, roughly one-quarter of them in Toronto. It’s both an exhilarating and terrifying time for young people full of big hopes and even larger expectations.

Many thrive and revel in their new-found independence. But others struggle and too often they struggle silently, because they’re afraid – or ashamed – to tell their parents, friends, or teachers that they’re anxious, depressed, or deeply unhappy.

Seven years ago, Eric Windeler launched to educate young people and their families on how best to advocate for their own mental health. It’s named after his eldest son Jack, who died by suicide in March, 2010, during his first year at Queen’s University.

Windeler believes the transition to a new life after high school and out of the family home is “one of the most exhilarating and also the most traumatic and dangerous, experiences of your life. It’s also the time that the onset of mental-health problems typically happens.” The inevitable rite of passage in a young person’s life is often fraught with stressors that both parents and their children don’t identify and can lead to a wide array of mental-health issues, including anxiety, depression, bipolar disorder and, sadly, suicide. Katie Edmonds and Nolan Anderson are among’s 2,500 student leaders who speak in Canadian schools about their own postsecondary struggles.

Edmonds, 24, was a straight-A student and competitive dancer in high school who deteriorated emotionally and physically during her first year at the University of Western Ontario in 2011, ending up hospitalized with a severe eating disorder.

Anderson, also 24, was a well-rounded athlete and solid student. He thrived during his first semester at McGill University, but fell apart in his second term.

Both have loving families, but that wasn’t enough. Parents and children have to be attuned to warning signs, they say, such as staying isolated in dormitory rooms, avoiding friends and becoming increasingly withdrawn.

How postsecondary school started

“My parents were worried about me before I went,” said Edmonds, who grew up in Courtland, Ont., close to London, and has a twin sister with whom she is very close. “There was no high-school drama. I had a good group of friends. But I’m very hard on myself when it comes to school. Good marks are never quite good enough.

“I was losing weight my last year of high school,” she said. She was going to the doctor regularly and now recognizes that she was already coping with anorexia nervosa. “My parents wanted me to go to university because they knew that’s what I wanted. But at the same time, they would have felt better if I had taken a year off.”

Anderson grew up in Mississauga, Ont., and was on his high-school student council. Going to McGill was a long-time goal. “Grade 12 was a bit of a struggle,” he said. “I was starting to have trouble keeping up with all the demands I’d put on myself and my time. I started to struggle with depression.”

His parents noticed and eventually took him to a psychiatrist. “They helped me help myself,” Anderson said. “But when I went away, I didn’t have them there.”

What happened in first year

Edmonds decided to major in biology and science, with the goal of becoming a dentist. Her roommate was her sister and she began to get marks below her usual 90s. “In first year, they were in the low 80s … not good enough for me. Everyone around me was top of their class, too. It was very hard to keep up and I lost my confidence,” she remembered.

She visited home every weekend, where she would study until 3 a.m. and then wake up at 7 a.m. “My parents were really worried. I would always say to them, ‘This is normal. Everyone is stressed.’ And I did think it was,” said Edmonds, who did confess to her sister how hard of a time she was having.

“My first semester was really positive,” said Anderson, who played varsity soccer and had a busy social life. “But it’s still a big change and it took some time for me to learn how to manage myself.”

In second semester, he began to get homesick and started skipping classes and soccer games. “I was sleeping a ton and watching a lot of TV. I thought maybe it was the winter blues, but it stretched into weeks and then months,” he said. During a visit, his parents set him up with a psychiatrist, but he missed those appointments, too. “I talked to some of my closer friends, but it’s not something you want to share too widely. It’s just awkward. I didn’t reach out to the school. I didn’t know what resources were available.”

The crash

“I weighed 100 pounds when I started at Western, and when I left, I weighed 70,” Edmonds, who is 5-foot-6, said. “I was hospitalized for five weeks, and ended up taking a year off. I saw a lot of doctors and went through a lot of different programs.” As she dealt with anxiety and depression, it was difficult to figure out what doctors – and what treatments – would help.

Around exam time, Anderson said, his mood went from depressed to manic, and he stayed up for two nights trying to make up for all of the classes he had missed.

“I wrote the exam, but after, I didn’t come down. I still felt the excitement, the adrenalin rush. And that was a huge sign I was unwell,” he said.

“For the first time in a long time, I felt really good. But I was too social. I was talking excessively. My friends finally reached out to my parents. They came and got me. They were trying to tell me I was sick, but I wouldn’t listen.”

Where they’re at now

In September, 2013, Edmonds transferred to the University of Toronto. “I wanted a fresh start,” she said. First year went all right, but by second year, she began to struggle again with balance and with her weight and mood. “I started to get very obsessive about school again in second year. I started to isolate,” she said. “So I ended up dropping a few courses and taking on a lighter coarse load to focus on myself again.”

Then, a friend invited her to a summit. “I realized there were other people out there that I could talk to,” she said. “So many of us feel we have to keep it in, which only makes it worse. Talking is the best coping mechanism for me.” She is currently enrolled in a master of biomedical engineering program at U of T.

Anderson was diagnosed with bipolar disorder and also transferred to a school closer to home: U of T’s Mississauga campus.

“I got my four-year degree in psychology in five years – due to my circumstances, it took as long as it needed to take,” he said. “There is a stigma with that, too, but that might have been self-imposed. I was my own worst critic.” Now he works full-time as a constituency assistant for an MPP.


How to avoid a mental-health crisis at university

Eric Windeler of said his basic message to parents is simple: Talk to your kids. Encourage them to speak to their friends. And start the conversations about mental health earlier – “long before Grade 11 or 12.”

Here, he and some spokespeople from his organization share some other advice.

Don’t isolate yourself

“As soon as I started to get out more – see friends and family, do volunteer work – I actually started doing better in school and my marks improved,” said Katie Edmonds, who is starting a master of biomedical engineering program at the University of Toronto

Avoid perfectionism

“Instead of putting myself down, I use it to motivate myself,” Edmonds said.

Talk as much as you can

“You don’t have to be as public about your problems as I have become, but you do have to share with people who have your best interests at heart,” Nolan Anderson said. “You need to focus on your relationships, and not with Facebook friends, but with real people that you can have real conversations with.”

Two weeks after his son Jack died by suicide, Windeler, founder of, drove to Queen’s University to talk with students in his son’s residence. “I wanted to make sure they weren’t feeling bad,” he said.

“I got talking to them and they didn’t understand that being less social, or not going to class, can be a sign. In fact, it most likely is a sign.”

Learn about mental health

“My wife and I were average in our understanding [of mental health when Jack died],” Windeler said. “If only we’d been better educated. We felt, literally, that we were the happiest healthy family out there. Our kids seemed to be thriving. After we got the phone call from the police, we couldn’t figure out how this had happened.’

Reposted from:

Ph.D. students face significant mental health challenges.

Approximately one-third of Ph.D. students are at risk of having or developing a common psychiatric disorder like depression, a recent study reports. Although these results come from a small sample—3659 students at universities in Flanders, Belgium, 90% of whom were studying the sciences and social sciences—they are nonetheless an important addition to the growing literature about the prevalence of mental health issues in academia. One key message for scientific trainees that are struggling with these types of challenges, write co-authors Katia Levecque and Frederik Anseel of Ghent University in an email to ScienceCareers, is that “you are not alone.” Beyond that, the authors encourage Ph.D. students to appreciate how important it is to take care of themselves. “Mental health problems can develop into serious threats to one’s wellbeing and career, and can have detrimental consequences in the long-term,” they write. So, if you’re struggling, it’s important to “[s]eek professional help or seek help in your personal environment, even if you think it’s probably a temporary thing.”

According to their survey, 51% of respondents had experienced at least two symptoms of poor mental health in recent weeks, indicating psychological distress. Moreover, 32% reported at least four symptoms, indicating a risk for common psychiatric disorders, which was more than twice the prevalence among highly educated comparison groups. The most commonly reported symptoms included feeling under constant strain, being unhappy and depressed, losing sleep because of worry, and not being able to overcome difficulties or enjoy day-to-day activities. The greatest predictor for experiencing mental health challenges was having difficulty taking care of family needs due to conflicting work commitments. High job demands and low job control were also associated with increased symptoms.

On the plus side, having an inspirational supervisor partially offset these risks. So did interest in an academic career, even among students who thought they had little chance of ultimately making it. Seeing a Ph.D. as good preparation for a nonacademic career and an added value for employers was also beneficial. “When people have a clear vision of the future and the path that they are taking, this provides a sense of meaningfulness, progress and control, which should be a protective factor against mental health problems,” the authors explain.

According to Nathan Vanderford, an assistant dean for academic development at the University of Kentucky in Lexington who also studies mental health in academic trainees, “[t]he study underscores what has long been presumed; that work conditions and career outlook plays a key role in the mental state of PhD trainees,” he writes in an email to ScienceCareers.

“[I]nstitutions, departments and PIs have long ignored the systemic mental health issues among PhD trainees,” Vanderford continues. “Data such as this should make the issues irrefutable and should, for ethical and moral reasons, force the hand of these entities to take on the responsibility of helping to provide PhD trainees with the support they need to navigate the very stressful journey of earning a PhD.” Levecque and Anseel point out that small steps such as facilitating work-life balance or “offering PhD students clear and full information on job expectations and career prospects, both in and outside academia,” could have a significant positive impact.

One message for PIs is that “investing in their own leadership competencies could really make a difference” for Ph.D. students, the authors add. They encourage PIs to take the issue seriously and learn how to spot signs of potential emotional distress. Gail Kinman, a professor at the University of Bedfordshire in the United Kingdom who acted as a reviewer for the paper, agrees. “PIs should look out for students who isolate themselves, who seem anxious and withdrawn, who are not meeting deadlines. Nobody would expect a PI to be able to diagnose mental health problems but they should be able to spot changes in their students and have the knowledge required to refer them for support,” she writes in an email to Science Careers.

Although the survey is specific to Flanders, many of the characteristics of working toward a Ph.D. are similar around the globe, making the findings generalizable, the authors argue. They hope the study, which has generated conversation on Twitter, will help break the silence around mental health issues in academia. “[I]t is a public secret that fear of stigma, retaliation or the expected negative impact on one’s future career often inhibits people suffering from mental health issues to make it public,” they write. This lack of visibility is problematic because feeling isolated can cause students’ mental health to deteriorate even further. It also means that there is less pressure on institutions and people in power to tackle the issue.

Rather than demonizing academia, action should be taken, the authors emphasize. As academics, “[w]e have had our share of struggles and challenges to overcome, but still think this is one of the most rewarding and meaningful careers one can have. So, if there’s a problem, let’s do something about it and make this a great place to work again. For everyone.”

The Aftermath of Bell Let’s Talk.

I think this is an insightful perspective into the impact Bell Let’s Talk day has on the mental health movement. I have to admit it is one of my favourite days on social media, it’s incredibly inspiring to see so many people open up for the first time and share their experiences or words of positive encouragement for those going through mental illness. However, it’s also incredibly sad and frustrating at the same time to see so many people suffering in silence and unable to find the resources they need to lead a meaningful life.

Mental health treatment is expensive. Trust me, I know. I was fortunate to have the support of my family in paying for a psychologist (not covered by OHIP), which would set me back about 110 dollars for every one hour appointment. At one point I was going 3 to 4 days a week for almost 4 months at my lowest point 3 years ago. Waiting for a psychiatrist (covered by OHIP) took almost 2 months to get an initial appointment and even so most of the time they just give you medication and direct you to other resources such as cognitive-behavioural therapy or other forms of talk therapy. For most people many of these resources are simply unaccessible and unaffordable. Even on campuses across Canada, there’s often long wait lists to get into counselling on campus. I was told to explore options off campus to gain faster access and because I was covered by insurance outside of the school, meaning I could try my luck and get covered somewhere else but it was unlikely.

Your brain is apart of your body. I don’t understand why people face so much discrimination to get a “check up” on their brain. We get yearly physicals for the rest of our body, why should someone feel ashamed to talk about what’s going on in their head. I mean any pain someone feels is subjective, so why is it any different on thought process. When we feel “sick” whether it be the flu, a cold, or even a migraine, many of us stay home to “rest” and feel better and don’t face any shame in doing so. But as soon as someone says I stayed home because my anxiety was too high, that’s when people’s perspective starts to change.

It’s great to see a national conversation and even international to some extent, but it is simply not enough to talk about it for one day. We should be talking about it every day until it’s normalized. But more importantly we need to hold accountability to our words. We say we want to remove the stigma and make care accessible, but yet people seem to stop talking about it as soon as the day is done. We need to do more than just talk, we need to take action. Whether it be advocating at your school to encourage more funding into mental health or encouraging and lobbying our politicians to integrate more funding into mental health resources. Mental health should play a bigger role in the renewals of the provincial health accords both in terms of primary health care but also in health education. Many mental illnesses begin in childhood, if we can find ways to remove barriers when children are young, train teachers and other child educators to recognize signs early on, we can save many people from going down a long road of recovery and give them the resources early on to cope later on in life.

The conversation shouldn’t stop today. We should be holding people with power accountable for their words of wanting to make changes to our mental health care system. PM Justin Trudeau wants to be part of the movement remove the stigma surrounding mental illness, so let’s hold him accountable in creating dialogue with our provinces and territories in allowing people to access the care and supports they need to feel right again.

Don’t stop the conversation.



Today is #BellLetsTalk day. It’s supposed to reduce stigma around mental health by getting Canadians to talk about. It also helps raise money for mental health initiatives and programs. Aside from the fact that mental health awareness gets coopted by a massive corporation for one day, I have other qualms about throwing my support behind the movement.

Bell Let’s Talk assumes that one of the major keys to fighting mental illness is simply by talking about it. By sharing my experience on social media, I’m supposed to be on my way to feeling better. By tweeting “Let’s talk, today and every day!” I’m supporting others dealing with depression, anxiety, and other issues in a way that’s helpful and meaningful.

But mental illness doesn’t work like that. And it certainly doesn’t work like that in Canada.

Last year, I went through a tough time. I spent days in bed crying. It was hard to feel motivated to bathe, feed myself, let alone venture outside. I wanted to disappear.

I was really lucky that my manager and workplace understood and gave me time off to deal with what I was going through. But many working Canadians aren’t that lucky. People who are paid hourly lose pay for missing work. Even salaried employees can be reprimanded, demoted and fired for having to deal with mental health issues. Each year on #BellLetsTalk day, a number of former Bell employees come forward with their own stories of how Bell doesn’t actually care about their mental well-being.

Eventually, I started therapy. It was expensive, but because I had a job and some savings, I was able to afford it. I also have health benefits, but it covers psychiatry not psychotherapy. Psychiatry tends to be more expensive, so $500 of insurance only gets you around two or three sessions. Plus, do you know how long the waitlist is to see a psychiatrist in Canada?

Once a week, I’d leave work early to make it to my therapy appointment. Again, my manager was amazing and never made it a big deal. I feel so lucky. I was never docked pay or asked to produce a doctor’s note. Many Canadians aren’t afforded the same luxury.

Months after starting therapy, I found that no matter what I was doing to help myself, I still couldn’t shake off feelings of sadness, panic and anxiety. It was difficult to imagine a future, let alone plan a week ahead. I felt anxious whenever I had to see people or be in social situations. I couldn’t focus on work or anything. No matter how much I exercised, I couldn’t feel confident or the jolt of endorphins that used to come to me so easily.

So I went to my doctor. I’m pretty lucky that despite moving to a new city, I was able to secure a family doctor by recommendation. Most Canadians don’t have access to a regular, family doctor and rely on walk-in clinics, which require waiting around for hours, missing work and other responsibilities.

My doctor prescribed me an antidepressant. I knew that giving it a try would be the best course of action, but it was still difficult for me to accept this reality. I kept wondering what was wrong with me? Why couldn’t I just feel like my old self again? I felt like a failure.

After thinking about it for a week, I filled the prescription. My pills are expensive, but my health insurance covers nearly the entire cost. I’m lucky that as a full-time employee, my workplace provides health insurance coverage. I can’t imagine having to pay for these medications otherwise. No wonder so many Canadians are never able to get the help they need.

At first, I felt just about every negative side-effect my doctor had told me about – drowsiness during the day and insomnia at night, heart palpitations, dry mouth, nausea and dizziness. But after about two weeks, those feelings went away, and now I can say with certainty that my medication has really helped me. I’m lucky to have found something that worked so quickly.

I still go to therapy and I don’t expect to be on antidepressants forever. But If I do, that’s ok, too. Mental health, however, is so much more than just talking about it. It’s more than a hashtag and getting Canadians to open up about it for a day.

It can be an extremely lonely experience. It can feel frustrating and seemingly inexplicable. I’ve found it helpful to talk to my friends about it, but I’ve also found comfort in online movements like #TalkingAboutIt, which is used 365 days of the year – not just one – and support groups like the Bunz Mental Health Zone on Facebook.

But to truly make a difference on the mental health of all Canadians, we need to be doing so much more. We need the government to step it up and make mental healthcare, including therapy and medications, available and accessible to everyone.

We need workplaces to get on board and really listen to and care about their employees. We need mental health days to be seen as just as important as regular old sick days. We need to start talking about it, normalizing it and letting kids know that it’s okay to feel sad, angry, anxious and depressed – and then provide actual help.

A few months into my therapy, I said to my therapist, “I can’t believe it took me so long to come here. Therapy should be as normal as going to the doctor or dentist for annual checkups. It’s like a check-up for my brain.”

I want other Canadians to be able to get the help they need – and not just talk about it for a day.

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Learning to Fail.

Today I arose from a deep slumber (perks of being sick) to the frantic texts of someone I care about, let alone to seeing them cry when I FaceTimed them.

It turns out they got a C+ on their one exam, when on their others they received a B and B+ respectively. While a C+ isn’t the greatest mark, it’s not the worst mark either. Upon trying to come up with a way to console them I decided the best way to go about it was to be honest and realistic. I’m not going to coddle someone and tell them life is all peaches and roses or even that life is always going to go how you expect it to, because in truth life has many unexpected bumps and blips and you can’t control that.

Marks don’t define who you are. Some of the most successful people in this world did not go to school or even if they did they did not complete their education, take for example Bill Gates, Mark Zuckerberg. Steve Jobs, Elton John and even  Thomas Jefferson. These are all notable people who made significant contributions to our society who performed somewhat poorly in school but used their intelligence, passions, and tenacious ambitions to crush it in the real world and will leave a lasting legacy.

In the real world, your grades don’t matter, as a nursing student I know this. You also can’t change what has happened in the past, especially when it comes to exams, papers, assignments, or even presentations. What you can change is your mind set and how you look at failure. School can be quite hard and takes a lot of time and effort. However, that doesn’t mean that an individual isn’t ambitious and full of talent. We all choose to apply ourselves differently and to different things and in an ideal world that is how we would be measured. Not by the letters on a piece of paper from our time in school. In university, it’s all about grades. In the real world, it’s about experience, balls and drive. Because once you get past the first job, no one is ever going to ask you about your final GPA or how you did on that exam you bombed back in third year.

As a lawyer you are not going to win 100% of your cases, as a doctor you are not going to save every single one of your patients, and as a nurse you are going to miss signs and symptoms that could have potentially saved a patient from dying. But you know what? We are all human at the end of the day, mistakes happen, failure happens, and uncontrollable events arise. What we can work on is reflection, a concept i’m so glad has been emphasized early on in nursing school. We need to reflect on our experience, on our failures, and understanding what we did wrong or why something did not go to plan. It makes me angry to think that society has put such a negative stigma on things like bad grades or even failure in general. We shouldn’t be afraid to fail because success is really the ability to pick yourself back up from setbacks and how to we learn to improve things.

We can cry about menial things like not doing as well as you had hoped on an exam or a paper, but it doesn’t change anything. One exam is not going to decide your whole fate. As I pointed out earlier, marks DO NOT define you or what you know. They are often used as a gauge to see where you lie in comparison to your peers, but it doesn’t factor in some people can be better test takers or can simply read a textbook and not understand concepts deeply.We know now that there are is a variety of intelligences and grades only measure a select few, and do so poorly. A exam or paper does not measure a person’s emotional intelligence, nor does it measure their leadership ability, it does not necessarily measure their ability to think outside of the box and solve problems. It does nothing to evaluate a person’s ability to predict the needs of society, patients, or consumers. It does nothing to illuminate the ability of an individual to work with others and find middle ground in standoffs or conflicts. All of these things are vitally important to an individual’s success in the real world and in life in general and ironically almost none of them are measured by grades.

I’ve experienced failure many times, my first paper in my Master’s was 100% of my mark, I received a 48%. Was I crushed? Hell yeah, I was devastated, but the more I cried over it the stupider I realized it made me look. What I needed to do was understand why I got the mark I received, understand where I went wrong, and learn for future reference what I needed to improve upon. Turns out, I didn’t actually fail in the end upon talking with my supervisors about it and reviewing my paper to understand where and what I did wrong, but it gave me the grounding and fuel I needed to be successful on future papers in which I got a number of Merits and Distinctions. But what I took out of this situation was that a) in the moment I couldn’t change anything I could only change things going forward b) my mark did not define who I was as a person or speak against my intelligence (I was already in one of the top schools in the world) and c) failure is a part of life and in order to be successful you can’t take it personally and d) if you’re afraid to fail you are never going to grow as a person. I can honestly say i’ve learned more from my failures than I have from my successes and i’m so grateful i’ve had the opportunity to fall on my face because that allowed me to pick myself back up, learn, and move forward and into an even better spot.

What we can change and have control over is how we push forward and use our failure to better ourselves and learn! Life is all about learning and improving, there’s no point in sitting and crying over spilt milk. Use your failures and stumbles to become better, faster, and stronger and use it as fuel to reach what it is you want. What matters most is the ability to pursue your goals and dreams and having a sense of purpose. Learn from your mistakes as the cliche goes.


You Are Not Weak.

Byline: Just because I look okay doesn’t mean that I am I suffer (that is the absolute best term to describe it) from anxiety and depression. I don’t choose it. I don’t want attention for it. I don’t wish it upon my worst enemy.

Do you want to know the worst part about it? Most people would never even know I had a problem. With many diseases and disorders, you can see the visible marks it has left on a person. You can visibly see the suffering they’ve experienced.

A mental disorder can go completely unnoticed. A day in the life of someone with anxiety: From the moment I open my eyes, I think about my checklist for the day. What do I need to accomplish? Will I get it all done? Is my boyfriend happy? Will I have time to workout? I worry that I am not being a good friend, or a good daughter. I think about bills that are due three months from now.

Did I blow out that candle I left burning?

And that is just the start.

I first noticed something was wrong my freshman year of college. It was my first “big” transition in life, and it hit me hard. I worried about everything. I missed my family and my own bed. I hated the change. I lost weight. I couldn’t sleep or eat. I thought I’d never be happy again. It felt like the weight of the world was on my shoulders. I couldn’t describe why I was feeling that way, but I knew it wasn’t right.

After accepting the help from a therapist, I got on a small dosage of the anxiety medication Lexapro. All of a sudden, the fog cleared and I felt like myself again. It was crazy to me that a small pill could make all of those worries disappear. I got off the medicine about six months later when I felt “better.” This awful feeling happened once again after my parents announced their divorce my sophomore year of college.

This time, I chose to deal with the pain by controlling my eating. I developed anorexia and fought it for a year and a half. I pushed aside the fact that I was depressed, and replaced it with an eating disorder. After getting back on medication, I gained back the weight and once again felt like myself.

Without the consent of my doctor, I got back off the medication my senior year. I remember thinking I didn’t need medication anymore. I felt like I could finally handle life on my own.

This last time that the feeling happened, I denied it. Again. I didn’t want to accept the fact that this wasn’t something I could just “get over.” I felt weak. I felt like I wasn’t as strong as I should be. I felt like a failure. “I have done this so many times,” I thought to myself.

Once again, I was in the doctor’s office. My doctor said something to me that I will never forget. “If you have high blood pressure, you take medicine. If you didn’t, you would get extremely sick. It’s the same with this.”

Up until that time, I never looked at my mental disorder as an actual medical condition. I looked at it as a phase. I looked at it as a weakness.

The truth is, this is something I have to manage for the rest of my life. I have accepted it. It is my truth.

I still struggle on a daily basis with my mental disorder. I have had days where I don’t want to get out of bed. I have had days where standing in a crowded area makes my chest feels like it is being wrung out like a wet towel.

I have days where I don’t think I’m good enough. And I have days where counting calories seems like the only way I can gain some sort of control. I want people to know that just because someone looks OK, they might not be. It’s is so deceiving, because those who suffer have become masters in covering up their symptoms.

It is the masked disease, as I like to call it. You are not weak if you need medicine to handle your anxiety. You might hear that a thousand times a day. But let me remind you. Because sometimes I need reminded myself.

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