Supporting yourself and others through mental wellness

You are the star of your own movie. And in that movie, you are going to have the worst sh*t happen in your life. You’re going to constantly go through struggles, and you’re going to have to overcome them,” says Durham College part-time nursing student Bushra Khan.

Khan has struggled with mental health for many years.

When in high school, Khan didn’t believe it was necessary to think about college or a career because of a mindset that included suicide.

Khan is diagnosed with a dissociative personality disorder. A dissociative disorder is a much more severe form of getting lost in your thoughts. It’s the complete disconnection “in a person’s thoughts, memories, feelings, actions, or sense of identity,” according to WebMD.

For Khan it’s the sensation of spiralling.

One in five Canadians experiences a mental health illness or addiction problem, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).

For some, mental illness creeps up on you, passed down from the genes of your parents or relatives. For others it could be one, or multiple, traumatic experiences that bring to surface mood disorders.

Regardless of how it started, or how old you were when it did, mental health creates hurdles that may cause one to trip up and stumble through life without the proper support.

“You sort of lose touch with reality…time doesn’t really mean anything. You’re just sort of existing, you’re just sort of there,” says Khan. “You’re so busy spiralling…or being numb, you don’t notice that things are happening around you. While the rest of the world is moving on, you’re sort of staying in the same place.”

Three million Canadians 18 years and older claimed to have a mood disorder in 2013. Suicide is the leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds.

It’s hard to find the support you need when you’re mentally ill. Khan understands everyone is fighting their personal battles, and can’t provide endless reassurance.

“Everyone is busy and they have things going on in their own lives and need to take care of themselves,” says Khan. “You don’t really see it as that when the thing that you need is for people to reassure you.”

The most important thing when it comes to support from friends and family isn’t so much that they are there for you at every moment you are depressed, but that they will remain patient and understand you will always need reassurance from time to time, according to Khan.

“We have these feelings and we want to be reassured that you’re there for someone, and that you understand that they’re going through something painful. And that you want to be there for them,” says Khan.

Getting the help and support you need isn’t easy when mental health is stigmatized.

Kathy Bryers, Durham College’s receptionist for Student Academic Learning Services (SALS), supported her son who, for many years, struggled with a mental illness.

According to CMHA, 70 per cent of mental health illnesses spark in childhood or adolescence.

Bryers noticed a behavioural problem in her son at a very young. He would lash out and become very angry. It took many visits to the doctor, only to receive diagnoses that didn’t explain what her son was going through. For a long time Bryers wasn’t getting the advice and help she needed to help her son.

According to CMHA, people with a mental illness are thought to be violent and dangerous.

“There was the stigma; he didn’t want anyone to know,” says Bryers of her son. “You don’t tell anybody you have a mental health issue, because you can’t see it. And it’s like, ‘you should be able to control it, just snap out of it.’”

Forty-nine per cent of those who suffer from a mood disorder do not seek medical attention, according to CMHA.

“There are too many people like my son who fall through the cracks. They can’t get the help because there are just not enough people for it,” says Bryers.

Mental health and physical health are often viewed as separate conditions. A broken bone is something you can see, so it’s easy to explain and mend. But mental health is a silent and invisible killer. It is often times not taken seriously.

Bryers was living with her own depression while supporting her son. She also feared backlash from revealing her illness.

“If you’ve got cancer, or you suffer from migraines, that’s a physical condition and people are more respectful of it,” says Bryers. “But if you say I need a mental health day, it’s like you’re being lazy, and they don’t respect it the same. It’s not easy working with a mental illness.”

According to the World Health Organization, there is no physical health without mental health, and vice versa. Those who experience chronic pain are also likely to develop a mood disorder.

Mental and physical health are linked. Approximately 50 per cent of cancer patients experience a mental illness, more commonly depression or anxiety, according to CMHA.

When Kahn was younger, mental health wasn’t taken seriously at home.

“My parents would laugh, ‘you don’t know what pain and suffering is, we’ve given you everything. You’re fine, you’re just sad or you’re just stressed,’” Kahn says. “It wasn’t taken as ‘okay, well something’s not right here. We’re going to see what we can do to make you feel supported.’”

Khan’s mom is slowly starting to understand depression, and she is trying her best to provide support. But Khan’s father doesn’t believe mental health is a real issue, but will support his child with whatever is needed.

“He still sort of thinks depression isn’t real, and that I’m not depressed and not suicidal,” says Khan. “That’s a mindset he’s probably going to have for the rest of his life. But he hasn’t actively stopped me from going to therapy and taking antidepressants.”

 Bryers believes you need to check in with your own mental health when supporting a loved one experiencing their own mental health issues.

“You’ve got to take a little more care of yourself, so that you don’t burn out,” says Bryers. “Be willing to take that help from somebody else. Don’t try and do it all yourself.”

 As tough as it has been for Bryers and her family, her advice to families supporting a loved one through mental illness is to just keep pushing through.

“Just keep fighting and demanding that you get the help and support that you need, don’t take no for an answer,” says Bryers. “It gets very difficult, and you feel like a broken record. But keep doing it… You’ve got to be there and you got to just keep pushing and pushing and pushing. Be the advocate for your [loved one].”

Khan’s movie would not have been satisfying if it ended before Khan saw the credits roll.

“That ending is not going to be so sweet if you give up,” says Khan. “Giving up means you’re potentially sacrificing a future in which you get all the things you’re looking for.”