What does recovery mean to you?

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I was recently speaking with some people who work in the mental health field just as I do, and someone asked me the question, “what does recovery mean to you?” My first thought was that mental health recovery will look different for everyone because no two people will follow the same path while they work towards positive mental health. I stumbled through an answer touching on my own experiences of depressed mood and anxiety.  I can say that I have recovered from depression and anxiety because I now feel that I have enough self-awareness and self-compassion to recognize when I am struggling, and because the coping skills and support network that I have developed over the years allow me to feel confident that I can face my concerns head-on. That doesn’t mean that I am not susceptible to future periods of depression and anxiety, and so, I have accepted that I will always have to be vigilant and proactive when it comes to my mental health.

The question about recovery got me thinking, and I started wondering about how other people and agencies define recovery. The Mental Health Commission of Canada answers the “what is recovery?” question like this:

” The concept of “recovery” in mental health refers to living a satisfying, hopeful, and contributing life, even when a person may be experiencing ongoing symptoms of a mental health problem or illness. Recovery journeys build on individual, family, cultural, and community strengths and can be supported by many types of services, supports, and treatments. 

Recovery principles, including hope, dignity, self-determination, and responsibility, can be adapted to the realities of different life stages, and to the full range of mental health problems and illnesses. Recovery is not only possible, it should be expected.”

Because mental illnesses vary greatly in severity, duration, and presentation, recovery cannot be narrowly defined as the absence of any symptoms of the illness. While someone who has experienced an episode of depression may go on to never experience the symptoms of clinical depression again, someone with a diagnosis of schizophrenia (for example) will most likely live with some symptoms of the illness throughout their life. However, if we look at the way recovery is defined in the quote above, the person living with an illness can still recover because they can become empowered to live a satisfying life. Therefore, a person who is living with a mental illness can also be a person with good mental health.

The recovery model of mental health service recognizes the importance of looking at mental health holistically while supporting people with mental illness to create their own recovery plans, set their own goals, build on their strengths, and engage with the communities in which they live.

Perhaps recovery is best thought of as a process or even a practice. It is a journey rather than a destination. To everyone who is living with ongoing mental health concerns and who is practicing recovery, I hope that you will find the path towards wellness that is just right for you.

By Polly Guetta

 

 

Self-Talk: A Powerful Self-Help Tool

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Each day tens of thousands of thoughts stream through our brain. Some of them deliberate, some automatic, and many completely random. However, many of the thoughts we have act as a running dialogue, which we call self-talk. When this self-talk contains negative of self-deprecating messages, it can have a big impact on how we feel about ourselves. For example, if our self-talk is telling us “I’m not good enough” or “I’m incapable”, it can result in self-doubt and leave us feeling depressed, anxious, and defeated. These messages often can start to play on repeat and get stronger the more that we say them, a process called rumination. Our brain may also seek out information in our current or past experiences that provide evidence to support.

So, what can we do to reduce the impact of negative self-talk?  The good news is there isdont_believe_everything_you_think_1 plenty we can do to intervene with the negative messages we are relaying to ourselves.  One of the most powerful way to do this is to re-shape and replace our self-talk through a process called thought restructuring.

Steps for Shifting Self-Talk:

  • The first step in the process is to recognize our negative self-talk in the first place. Often our negative self-talk happens quite automatically, so it can be helpful to pay attention to the dialogue running through our mind. Journaling our thoughts is a powerful way of doing this.
  • Next, we want to take those thoughts we identified and start to dispute ones that are not fair, balanced or realistic. We often assume our thoughts are facts. However, if we dig a bit into the evidence that is supporting them, we sometimes find that we are basing the thought on limited or skewed evidence.
  • Finally, we want to replace our initial thought with a more positive, self-compassionate, or realistic thought. This can be a completely new thought or a reframe our initial thought. Our initial thoughts that “I’m not good enough” and “I’m incapable” could now look like “I am good enough” and “I have many ways that I am capable”.

These new thoughts may seem strange or have limited buy-in at first. But often the more we practice restructuring our thoughts, the more it allows us to experience shifts in our patterns of thinking and feeling. These shifts can ultimately lead to meaningful changes in our perceptions and experiences over time!

By Rose Record Lemon, Counsellor at the Counselling and Wellness Centre at MDABC

http://www.mdabc.net/counselling-and-wellness-centre-mdabc 

Meet Judith Vosko – One of MDABC’s Wonderful Volunteers

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How did you come to be a volunteer at the MDABC?

I heard Dr. Remick interviewed on CBC Radio, and I wanted to contribute to an organization that was working to improve people’s mental health.

What kind of volunteer work have you done at MDABC?

I have been a Greeter at the psychiatric office.

What do you find most rewarding about doing this work?

I enjoy helping new patients, who often arrive with questions and uncertainty about what to expect from their first appointment. I also get positive feedback from answering questions, often over the phone, about how to get help from MDABC.

What kind of programs would you like to see offered in the future?

In the past there were some workshops such as horticulture therapy and making a sanctuary that were popular. It would be great to offer some of them again since we have so many new people.

What are three things that you do to feel happy and well?

I go Nordic Walking, visit local farmer’s markets and read mystery novels.

 

 

Overcoming Negativity Bias

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Negativity bias is the name given by psychologists to the human tendency to be much more likely to focus on and to remember negative experiences, instead of neutral or positive experiences.

Human beings developed a negativity bias—that is, they evolved to notice and respond more forcibly to the negative because this bias helped our our ancestors to stay alive. Thousands of years ago, when we were living in survival mode and real danger was always present, it was more important to escape dangerous (negative) situations than it was to approach opportunity. However, in many ways, this bias no longer serves us in modern-day life.

A strong negativity bias can severely impact our sense of wellbeing and quality of life.  Fortunately, there are ways to deal with the negativity bias. The list below includes some ideas taken from the study of positive psychology and learned optimism which can help you to rewire your brain for increased positivity.

Some strategies to re-wire your brain:

  • Be aware of your bias. Knowing that you have a negativity bias will help you to recognize when and why you’re dwelling on the negative aspects of a situation.
  • When something positive happens to you, try to hold on to the feeling for a few extra moments. Replay it in your mind a few times so that the memory of the positive experience gets stored in your long-term memory.
  • Scatter simple pleasures throughout your day in addition to the bigger ticket events (like vacations) that you are looking forward to. Simply put, make sure that you make time to do more of what you love.
  • Gretchen Rubin—owner of “The Happiness Project”–recommends that you create an “area of refuge” in your brain. Have a list of positive memories, quotes, or lines from poems or favorite books—that you can think of whenever you find your mind wandering into negative territory. You can also make your home into a sanctuary in which you display art, photos, and objects which remind you of the things/people/ideas that you love.
  • Make gratitude a habit. Journal each night about all of the good things that happened to you throughout the day. Be specific! You can also think of three things that you feel grateful for every morning before you get out of bed. By focusing on the good you’ll gradually be rewiring your brain for happiness. If you do this long enough, it will eventually become a habit.
  • Keep a “well done” list. Every time you accomplish something (no matter how small), face your fears, help someone out, or receive a compliment, make a note of it on your well done list. When you are feeling bad about yourself, bring out your list and remind yourself of the good stuff you do.
  • Practice mindful awareness of your emotions. Try to accept yourself for having negative emotions and realize that they are part of the common human experience. Observe your emotions without judging them or acting on them. Do not let them define who you are. So instead of thinking “I am an angry, jealous person”, say “I am experiencing some feelings of anger and jealousy in this moment.”
  • Learn more about how to rewire your brain. Rick Hanson, Ph.D., is a neuropsychologist and author of “Buddha’s Brain: The Practical Neuroscience of Happiness, Love, and Wisdom”.  Martin Seligman has written about positive psychology topics in books such as The Optimistic Child, Child’s Play, Learned Optimism, and Authentic Happiness. His most recent book, Flourish, was published in 2011.

By Polly Guetta

 How to be a Compassionate Friend (to yourself!)

self-compassion friend

Do people often tell you that you are too hard on yourself? Do you have a critical inner voice that keeps telling you that you are a failure, a loser, or just not good enough? Are you willing to accept that your inner critic is not really your friend and that a lot of the stuff you are telling yourself is simply not true?

The study of self-compassion encourages us to accept that the self-critic exists in most of us but some of us just have self-critics that are meaner, nastier, and louder than others. Some researchers in self-compassion assert that we develop that self-critical inner voice to keep us safe and to avoid taking dangerous risks and when we look at it this way, it is possible to have compassion for that negative voice- it is trying to protect us but just going about it the wrong way!

If you feel that your inner critic’s harsh voice is contributing to feelings of depression, anxiety, or inferiority, here are some steps that you can take to minimize that voice:

Step 1 – Begin to develop an understanding of the commonality of human experience. What this means is that when we accept that everyone is flawed and imperfect in their own unique way, it is so much easier to accept our own flaws. We can see that perfection is unattainable, and that we all screw up sometimes, make the wrong choice, or say the wrong thing. We all suffer and feel pain.

When people tell me that they feel that they are weird or that they messed something up, I don’t try to tell them that they aren’t weird or that they haven’t made a mistake. Instead, I usually say, “yeah, you’re weird but so is everyone else” or “you may have made a mistake, it’s probably because you’re a human being and human beings make mistakes.”

Accepting that we aren’t perfect doesn’t mean that we stop growing, learning, and striving for our goals. It just means that we do our best within whatever limitations we are living with and don’t beat ourselves up when things don’t go the way we planned.

Step 2–  Practice mindfulness. It’s amazing how much negative self-talk goes on just under your awareness. Becoming aware of the negative messages that you are telling yourself is essential to the process of getting more control over the emotional impact that the inner critic’s voice is having. Once you are aware of the voice, pay attention to it, and then remember that the thoughts you are having are not facts. Look for evidence that the message is inaccurate and that the voice is exaggerating, magnifying, or even fabricating the truth.

Step 3– Find balance in your life by developing a counter-voice to the inner critic. The counter-voice can be thought of as a compassionate friend who offers soothing, empowering messages while telling the inner critic to quiet down. Think of the way that you would speak to a child who is hurting and apply that voice to yourself.

Step 4– Visualize your compassionate friend. Writing the visualization down can be helpful. Think about what your compassionate friend might look like…. maybe it is a younger/older version of yourself or maybe it is an animal that you find beautiful and inspiring.  Explore what your compassionate friend sounds like, and what tone of voice he or she uses.  Most importantly, try to think of some of the things that your compassionate friend tells you when you are feeling like you need support and love.

An example of a compassionate message would be something like “ I know that you are feeling pain right now and, unfortunately, it’s a part of life to feel pain like this. You are going to get through this because you are strong and full of love and spirit.”

When you feel down or afraid, try to use this visualization and allow your compassionate friend to reassure you, soothe you, and allow you to feel loved and cared for.

Try this free Self-compassion Meditation with Anastasia Amour

By Polly Guetta

Self-Help Book Recommendation

It can be difficult to choose a self-help book when there are so many titles out there. With this in mind, we asked Valentina Chichiniova, one of our Counsellors at the Counselling and Wellness Centre at MDABC, to recommend a book which is easy to follow, enjoyable to read, and which offers real tools and strategies that you can use in your journey to mental health and wellbeing.

Book Recommendation: The mindful Way workbook: An 8-Week Program to Free Yourself From Depression and Emotional Distress by Teasdale, M. Williams & Z. Segal

the-mindful-wayThis book is an amazing resource for anyone who does not have the time to go to a mindfulness therapy program or has been through the program but wants a clear structure of how to continue with the practice on their own!

The authors walk you through the theory behind the mindfulness practice in a clear, easy to understand language.  The carefully organised chapters guide you step-by-step in you journey to change unhelpful ways of thinking and acting when dealing with depression, anxiety, or stress.  Each chapter clearly explains and describes the specific mindfulness practices for you to try each week.  In addition, to help you with the process, the authors ask you specific questions to reflect on and give you tools of how to keep track of your progress.  Furthermore, they give you examples of plenty of comments by other people who have been through the program so that you do not feel alone in some of the challenges you may be facing.

Finally, you are given the guided meditations on a CD with the option to download them as an MP3 on your phone, tablet, or home computer- perfect for easy access anytime anywhere!

Enjoy!

Laughter Yoga, Very good, very good, yay!

laughter-yogaLaughter yoga.  An oxymoron, I thought, when I had first heard these two words out loud.  A few years ago, as I was still re-building my self-care regime from scratch, I was willing to grasp at anything that would assist me in finding new ways to care for myself, which included maintaining a good balance in my life through emotional, physical, spiritual, and environmental ways. Laughter yoga literally fell into my lap one day as I was perusing my local Community Centre Guide. “Why not?”,  I thought to myself.  So I joined. I showed up expecting a traditional yoga class, so I was decked out in my “gym clothes” with my yoga mat under one arm.

Traditional, though, is not what I experienced.  For the one full hour of class we laughed, joked, made funny eye contact, and allowed ourselves to genuinely embrace silliness.  We moved through guided laughter yoga poses, which ended in shouting jubilantly “very good, very good, yay!”  Close to the end of the hour, we joined together at the end to thank each other for sharing our laughter and vulnerability with one another. Gosh, I was amazed at how relaxed, thankful, and cared for I felt!

If you’re keen to learn more, Jeannie Magenta’s website is a great place to start as is The Laughter Yoga University website.

Have fun and don’t forget to laugh!

By Anisa M.

Highlights of MDABC’s 2016 Holiday Volunteer Appreciation Party

christmas-partyOn Friday, December 16th the staff of the MDABC were pleased to host our annual Holiday Volunteer Appreciation Party at the Counselling and Wellness Centre in Vancouver. This was a chance for the staff of the MDABC to show how truly grateful we are for all of the time, enthusiasm and dedication shown by the volunteers throughout the year.

The MDABC wouldn’t exist without our wonderful volunteers who generously give their time to facilitate support groups, greet patients in our psychiatric clinic, do community outreach, educate the public about mental health, write newsletter articles, and much more! Just thinking about how many lives have been positively impacted  by our volunteers is amazing.

Guests at the party were treated to a buffet of holiday treats and a craft room full of art party-3supplies with which to get creative. We then did a Christmas Trivia Quiz (click here to download our quiz) and the winners picked out prizes from beneath the tree. A couple of speeches from our Executive Director Martin Addison and our Operations Manager Catherine St.Denis rounded out the afternoon.

It was great to see everyone come to together at this event, and the MDABC would like to wish all of our volunteers, clients, members, patients, and friends a lovely holiday season!

 

What to do when that person in your life just won’t get help…

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When we want someone that we care about to make changes in their life, we often gravitate to telling them what we think they should do. It can be especially frustrating when we tell someone to get help for a mental health issue or to take better care of themselves but they just refuse!  However, if you think about it, does anyone actually like being told what to do?  Do you? Even children don’t like it. Telling others what to do sometimes makes people want to dig their heels in and do nothing or even do the opposite of what they’ve been told.

An alternative approach to just telling someone what to do is to guide them in the direction of positive change. The idea here is to help the other person come up with their own solution to the problem. Ok, fine, you say, but how exactly do I do that?

One way is to make suggestions or share information by using “wiggle words”. For example, instead of saying “here’s what you should do”, you could say:

  • Maybe, you could consider…
  • I have found it helpful to ….
  • What are your thoughts about…?
  • Another option is…
  • Here’s an idea…what do you think?

These phrases don’t assume that we know exactly what the person that we care about should do, how they should do it, or when they should do it.  The “wiggle” words send the message to the person that they have choices, that you respect them, and that the decision about if, when and how to change is theirs alone. This can be very empowering and can help people to start thinking about the changes that they are ready to make without feeling that they are being forced. Even if the person that you care about isn’t ready to consider making a change or getting help, you will at least know that they have been made aware of some options. If they are just saying no to all options you suggest, you could ask them if they have any ideas to improve the situation, or you could offer to explore the reasons for their resistance with them. For example, you could say something along the lines of:

  • I’m hearing that you aren’t interested in seeing a doctor/counsellor but can you tell me why you think this would be negative for you?
  • I get it that you don’t want to talk to me about what’s going on, so can you think of someone who you would be more comfortable talking to?

What if the person in question still refuses to make any change? Being a caregiver to someone who is struggling emotionally can be very draining and can lead to feeling burnt out and depleted. At this point, it is important to remember to take good care of yourself, to get support and to let the person know that you expect them to respect your boundaries.

By Polly Guetta

A Sneak Peek at MDABC’s New Mental Health Awareness Campaign

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An illustration from MDABC’s new What Helps, What Hurts Campaign

For the past few months, the staff at the MDABC (in partnership with BC Partners for Mental Health and Addictions) have been working on a new mental health awareness campaign aimed at young adults. For this very exciting new project, we began by doing research on other successful mental health campaigns and by talking to young people directly by holding a focus group. We wanted to design a campaign that young adults would pay attention to and that would ultimately get them engaged in talking about and being invested in positive mental health. Getting feedback from young adults about what they really wanted was an essential (and illuminating) part of the research process!

Based on all the information and opinions that we gathered, we got creative designing the actual campaign. We decided to go with a campaign that asked the question “Do you know what to say to a friend with low mood or depression?” and we  named the campaign  “What Helps, What Hurts.” We decided to go this route because our research told us that young adults were a lot more comfortable talking about a friend’s mental health than their own. We found that, unfortunately, stigma is still alive and well in our community and that many young adults are not ready to let anyone know that they are experiencing a mental health issue. That discomfort does not necessarily extend to talking about a friend’s mental health, and our research shows that most young people want to help and support their friends but often lack the know-how about what to say, how to talk about it, and what to do when a friend is really in crisis.

The What Helps, What Hurts campaign will reach out to young people in a variety of ways including posters on transit, a website, a hashtag, and a pocket guide which MDABC volunteers will distribute at events and on the streets. Our official campaign launch will be in early October 2016, more details to come!

If you are interested in getting involved in this campaign doing street outreach or writing a personal story for the website, please get in touch with Polly at polly.guetta@mdabc.net 

Polly Guetta