Charles Benayon

Founder & CEO of Aspiria


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Creating A Mental Health Journey With The Arts

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In Toronto, the Art Gallery of Ontario (AGO) created an initiative to offer free passes to mental health clients and professionals. The goal was to connect those with mental health issues through art, offering a unique space where they could feel safe and supported by like-minded people. This program is incredibly inspiring – I’d love to see more like it!

I talked about how creativity can positively enhance students’ mental wellbeing during exams, but I’d like to go a bit more in-depth into the mental health benefits of creativity. I’ve seen firsthand the incredibly positive results that the arts can have on people suffering from mental health issues, especially in the student community. This form of therapy is becoming an increasingly popular way for students suffering from mental health issues such as severe anxiety and PTSD to express their creativity on their healing journey.

Here are some of the biggest ways that I’ve seen the arts transform the lives of students struggling with mental health issues:

A new type of safe space

The concept of safe space has been a topic of conversation on many university campuses over the past few years. Despite many debates as to the validity of maintaining safe spaces, I’ve found that they can be very beneficial for several communities, particularly for marginalized students. In the mental health community, safe space takes on additional significance, as many students with mental health concerns may find it difficult to be in public places.

Art galleries and other artistic venues offer a calming, safe atmosphere where students can enjoy a public space with individuals experiencing the same mental health challenges. I’ve often seen these venues become a supportive environment where students are encouraged to connect with others through the healing power of the arts.

An expanding community

To the same point, I’ve seen many students feel so burdened by the prospect of socializing in a group that they can feel unable to leave the comfort of their own home. Mental health issues like depression and anxiety are enough to make it difficult for some people to leave their homes, but the additional stigma related to mental illness can make it unbearable to be in groups. Programs that connect students through artistic venues can offer a sense of community in times where they may feel particularly isolated.

I personally recommend programs that expand mental health communities through the arts because the stigma against mental health is not as prevalent in these communities. There is a strong indication that many artistic groups work to support those suffering from mental health challenges, offering opportunities for self-expression through the healing journey.

Art and its role in personal wellbeing

Creative energy and emotional wellbeing have been linked in several studies, indicating that participation in the arts can improve a person’s quality of life. In the student community, I’ve seen an overall increase in the level of positivity, coupled with a decrease in symptoms of mental health issues like anxiety and depression. In fact, a study revealed that 71% of participants felt a decrease in anxiety, with 76% claiming that they felt an increase in their sense of overall wellbeing.

To me, this is a strong indication that there is a correlation between creative pursuits and combatting mental health issues. With such encouraging statistics, and an increasing trend towards students with mental health issues becoming engaged in the arts, I look forward to seeing more programs like this place in other communities.

My hope is that in the future, programs, such as the AGO’s, will be increasingly available. The demand is there, and in conjunction with your Student Assistance Program, the journey towards better mental health and wellbeing is within your reach.

 

 

 

 

 

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Coping Strategies for the Humboldt Broncos Tragedy

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Image courtesy of Sportsnet

It has been bittersweet this past week to see the world come together over the tragic loss of so many members of the Humboldt Broncos hockey team, which occurred on Friday, April 6th.

Tragedies like this bring to my mind a pebble that’s been thrown into water: it touches so much more than the direct point of impact. Like ripples in the water, the unexpected loss of life has impacted many people, from the families of the deceased to the survivors, the local community, Canadians, and people around the world. We are all indirect victims of this tragedy.

Everyone is uniquely affected by the Humboldt tragedy. Based on my experience working with individuals in crisis, I’ve outlined some suggestions to help you cope and maybe even support those people who are having a terrible time making sense of what happened in Humboldt.

Directly Impacted

Life-altering events like this one have a profound impact on our lives, and we may never fully feel whole again after the loss of a loved one.

We all experience grief differently, but the important thing to keep in mind is that you allow yourself time to grieve. Know that there is no right or wrong way to grieve, and those around you will do whatever they can to support you during this difficult time.

If you find that this event may have triggered buried emotions or perhaps even PTSD, reach out to a grief counsellor as soon as possible to discuss your feelings and emotional state.

Indirectly Affected

Even if you have not been directly affected by this tragedy, you may know someone who was. Make sure they are getting the help they need but also tread lightly, as everyone deals with crisis differently. If they ask to be alone, leave them alone, but check in every couple of days to make sure they are okay. It may seem difficult to find a balance between being too involved and not involved enough, but they will appreciate your efforts in the long run.

You may also be indirectly affected because you are a parent of a child on a hockey team, you have children the same age, or you are a compassionate human being. If you find that you are out of sorts and are having difficulty focusing because of this tragedy, talk about it with your support system, whether it is a family member, a friend, or a work colleague. Also know that professional counsellors are available to support you during this or other difficult times in your life.

Show Your Support

No matter how you may be connected to this tragedy, here are some ways you can join the growing support for the Humboldt community:

  • Wear a Jersey. People from all walks of life having been donning sports jerseys in support of Jersey Day. Share your jersey picture and well wishes on Twitter using #JerseysForHumboldt.
  • An indication of the far-reaching effects of this tragedy is the millions of dollars that have been raised worldwide in such a short period for the families of the hockey team. A GoFundMe campaign has been created to raise money for the families and survivors of the crash. No amount of money will take away the pain the survivors and families are facing, but every donation helps ease any potential financial strain they may experience as a result of the crash, and donating can also make you feel good about doing something to support the victims.
  • Become an Organ Donor. If you aren’t already an organ donor, perhaps this event may be your inspiration to become one. Logan Boulet, one of the victims of the crash, will be greatly missed, but his passing means that six other people will live because of his organ donor status. For information on registration, you can visit Service Ontario.

For the survivors, the families of the victims, and the community, I imagine that it is extremely difficult to cope while there are many unanswered questions. As long as the investigation is ongoing, even those outside of the community can relate to the need for closure.

If the Humboldt crash directly affects you or if you relate to it in any way, I encourage you to seek counselling. You are not alone.


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Marijuana and Mental Health: What You Need to Know

weed-2517251_640Many, if not all of us, are aware marijuana is set to become legal in Canada in just a few short months, and there are many questions lingering as to how this will affect Canadians. Marijuana has been prescribed to treat physical conditions such as cancer, arthritis, and other physical pain for some time now, and some physicians have begun to prescribe medical marijuana for anxiety and PTSD, as well as depression. However, its effects on those users with mental health issues is largely in need of more clinical research, as the majority of research is from cannabis producers or focused on its illicit use. I want to explore these murky waters with you, and look at how medical marijuana and mental health are intimately linked.

Is Marijuana Good for Everyone’s Mental Health?

The Clinical Psychology Review recently reported that evidence has been found that marijuana can bring back feelings of pleasure for individuals with depression, and it can calm and soothe individuals with anxiety. It can even shut down the dream process for individuals living with nightmares from PTSD. However, not every mental health issue responds with a positive “high”; for some individuals with bipolar disorder, for example, there appears to be more negative side effects than positive ones.

Public opinion seems to hold that marijuana is a harmless substance that helps you to relax and “chill” and might even be good for your physical and mental health, unlike alcohol and tobacco. However, while there may be some truth to this, if higher amounts are consumed, it may instead increase anxiety and paranoia, and cause confusion and hallucinations that can last a few hours to some weeks in your system. Long-term use can also have a depressant effect and reduce motivation for some users.

Is It Addictive?

Studies suggest that marijuana may have a place in dealing with addiction, and with the sheer number of opioid overdoses in Canada as of late, we could see significant benefits if marijuana is used as a replacement for opioid medications, to reduce usage or even stop using opioids altogether. In 2013, the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) found that individuals living with mental health issues were 10 times more likely to have a marijuana use disorder. Usage is particularly elevated for those with bipolar disorder, personality disorders and other substance use disorders. So does marijuana use cause mental health issues, or do people with these mental health disorders use it to self- medicate? Consider how marijuana has similar effects of addictive drugs, such as:

  • Tolerance
  • Craving
  • Decreased appetite
  • Sleep difficulty
  • Weight loss
  • Aggression
  • Irritability
  • Restlessness
  • Strange dreams

As well, when withdrawing, 3 out of 4 frequent and long-term marijuana users have reported experiencing cravings; half became irritable; and 7 out of 10 switch to tobacco in an attempt to stay off marijuana. At first, it can alleviate feelings of anxiety, but when the tolerance level builds, it becomes cyclical – not only does one need more to relieve the anxiety, but every attempt to stop can make the anxiety return at a more elevated level than before.

Long-term Effects and Vulnerability

Research over the last 10 years has suggested there is a possibility of developing a psychotic illness, and regular use has appeared to double the risk of developing a psychotic episode or even schizophrenia, particularly in those who are genetically vulnerable to mental illness. Early marijuana use in adolescents and later mental health problems has clearly been linked in those with a genetic vulnerability. These numbers are too high to ignore – teens who used marijuana daily were five times more likely to develop depression and anxiety in later life.

Ultimately, there is not enough research in the area of marijuana as treatment for mental health issues, and we need to hold it to the same standard as any other drug out there. As the laws change, we must remain proactive, and not reactive to what is really going on, and not create more health concerns than we are striving to reduce.


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4 Reasons Why You Need A Workplace Crisis Intervention Plan

pic_rippleeffectIn light of the recent events in La Loche, Saskatchewan, we are reminded of the importance of crisis intervention when disaster strikes and the problems that can arise. It is essential that workplaces think about implementing a crisis intervention plan. Crisis intervention refers to the methods that are used to offer immediate and short-term help to individuals who experience an event that generates emotional, mental, physical and behavioural distress or problems.

Employees who are not directly involved in the event can feel the ripple effect of a workplace trauma. Ensure your plan is inclusive of all your employees as any event can severely dampen (or hamper) the productivity of the workplace. With over 25 years of crisis intervention experience, I’d like to share with you 4 key reasons why you need crisis intervention in your workplace:

  1. Decreases the intensity of individuals’ reactions to a crisis, or return to their level of functioning before the crisis.

Research has demonstrated that crisis intervention training has positive outcomes such as decreased stress and improved problem solving. Decreasing the intensity of their reactions allows individuals to be able to cope with future difficulties. It aims to help in the prevention of serious long-term problems. This will have a positive impact on workplace performance and increase work life balance for your employees.

  1. Decreases the amount of absenteeism and potential turnover.

Individuals are more open to receiving help during a crisis. Crisis intervention is conducted in a supportive manner and the intervention’s duration is dependent on the person and situation. Adults and children alike can all benefit from this type of assistance, which can take place in a wide range of settings. Implementing this help following a crisis can be of benefit by decreasing the intensity of affected employees’ reaction to the event, resulting in less sick time, leaves of absences and/or terminations.

  1. Educates and encourages employees during times of crisis.

The success of crisis intervention is dependent on affected employees learning that their reactions to the event are real and that others are going through a similar experience (ie. validation). It is the goal for employees to learn that their responses to the abrupt and irregular crisis that has just occurred are predictable, temporary and normal (ie. normalization). It is encouraging and reassuring to employees to know that their employer cares. If management is seen as supportive, employees are more likely to succeed.

  1. Allow employees to explore and develop coping strategies.

The aftermath of a crisis can induce feelings that people are unable to deal with. Crisis intervention can help with coping strategies that allow for a positive workplace. It allows for options for social support or spending time with people who provide a feeling of comfort and caring. Reviewing the changes that an individual has made and proving that it is possible to cope, are beneficial to recovery.

The problem solving process involves:

  • Understanding the problem (validation and normalization) and the desired changes
  • Considering alternatives
  • Discussing the pros and cons of alternative solutions
  • Selecting a solution and developing a plan to try it out
  • Understanding that coping with crisis is a process that can take time
  • Evaluating the outcome

Making positive and realistic plans for the future whether in employees’ personal lives or at work is crucial and employers should be providing training for management to aid employees.

Are you prepared to manage a crisis situation? How would you accommodate your employees who are suffering and raise the awareness of treatment for this?