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Published on February 19th, 2015 | from CAMH

The Maple Leafs Shoot… And Score with Mental Health Awareness

By Dr. Donna Ferguson, Psychologist with the WSIB Psychological Trauma Program

Mental health advocacy initiatives are important in spreading awareness so that people feel more comfortable talking about mental illness. It’s important for people to be able to come out and admitting they have a mental health issue, so they can reach out to attain appropriate help and resources.

Earlier this week, I was fortunate to be involved in one such initiative – the NHL’s Hockey Talks campaign. I was invited by the Toronto Maple Leafs to speak about mental health, stigma, stress, and awareness at the Air Canada Centre during the TML Talk segment in the morning. While I’ve done media interviews before, my experience doing this media interview today has been a powerful one, particularly to help raise awareness and stop the stigma around mental illness within a demographic who may not be aware of its prevalence in society or who may feel uncomfortable raising the issue.

Here’s a quick recap of what I discussed with the hosts.

Discussing Stress

Stress in particular is a very interesting topic for anyone, including professional athletes. Of note, almost a quarter of Canadians suffer or report high levels of stress.

It is important when talking about stress to first define it. Stress is the body’s reaction to a change that requires a physical, mental or emotional adjustment or response. Stress manifests when we feel that we can’t cope with pressure, which comes in many shapes and forms, and triggers physiological responses. These changes are best described as the fight or flight response, a hard-wired or innate reaction to perceived threats to our survival.

Acute Stress vs. Chronic Stress

Knowing the difference between acute stress and chronic stress is also important. Acute stress results from specific events or situations that involve novelty, unpredictability, a threat to the ego, and leave us with a poor sense of control. But this can be good stress, helping the mind and body to cope.

Chronic stress results from repeated exposure to situations that lead to the release of stress hormones. This type of stress can cause wear and tear on your mind and body and trigger medical problems such as; heart disease and diabetes as well as mental health problems such as depression.

The Stress-Depression Connection

Stress lead to overactivity of the body’s stress-response mechanism. Sustained or chronic stress, in particular leads to elevated hormones such as cortisol, the “stress hormone,” and reduced serotonin and other neurotransmitters in the brain, including dopamine, which has been linked to depression. When these chemical systems are working normally, they regulate biological processes like sleep, appetite, energy, and sex drive, and permit expression of normal moods and emotions.

How Do we Manage Stress

  • Identify Stressors
  • Work/Life Balance
  • Take Time for Yourself
  • Don’t be a perfectionist
  • Don’t use maladaptive (poor) coping strategies
  • Exercise
  • Relaxation Techniques
  • Sleep Hygiene
  • Friends and Family Support
  • Diet
  • Prevention
  • Avoid people who stress you out
  • Focus on areas in your life where you have control
  • Learn how to say No
  • Be more Assertive
  • Manage your time Better
  • Focus on the big picture/put things into perspective
  • Reframe Problems

Being able to identify the signs early and getting connected to tools and support is the most important way to prevent problems from becoming worse.  But if things do become chronic there are some resources that might be helpful. For example, going to your family doctor, a referral to a psychiatrist and/or psychologist, ConnexOntario, distress line, and/or a trusted friend or family member.

We ’re fortunate that mental health is starting to be considered just as important as physical health, and organizations are taking an active role to promote awareness and education. It takes time to change perceptions, and it can be difficult to reach certain audiences. But thanks to organizations like the NHL, we are able to spread awareness around mental health. And that’s a winning goal.

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One Response to The Maple Leafs Shoot… And Score with Mental Health Awareness

  1. Reframing ( problems)is currently an overused word. It is in vogue and pretty meaningless in the context. Are you talking about trouble or mental illness? Serious mental illness surely is a very ‘physical’ condition. Perhaps you would discuss this. Issues are not the same as illness in my view. Often the inability to manage time is part and parcel of having a mental illness surely. Focusing on the big picture is pretty hard to do when afflicted with a serious mental illness. Real accessible treatment should be offered as a top priority.

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