First aid for mental health

By Hannah Gibson

Look around you; can you spot anyone with a mental health issue?

One in three Canadians will experience a mental health illness during their lifetime, and yet the signs aren’t always obvious.

Mental health first aid is all about teaching people to recognize and respond to signs of mental illness in others, to help those suffering in plain sight. 

Spotting the Signs  

You may have heard of conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar and schizophrenia before, although how they present varies from individual to individual.

Any change in someone’s normal behaviour or mood could be a sign of deteriorating mental health.

Here are some early signs something may be wrong: 

  • They lack interest in hobbies or things they used to enjoy doing 
  • They seem tired or have poor concentration 
  • They feel angry, anxious, sad or hopeless, for little reason
  • They seem to be having strange thoughts or hearing voices 
  • Their appetite, sleep or exercise regime has changed 
  • They’ve stopped looking after themselves, such as forgetting to wash or tidy their home 
  • They’ve been missing school or work more, or avoiding social situations 

How to Approach Someone Experiencing Issues 

If you think someone you know may be experiencing mental health issues, broaching the subject with them may feel daunting.

It’s important to remember you are doing it because you care, and that even if they react badly or reject the idea, raising the topic with them can be the first step towards them getting help.

Here are some tips to make initiating the conversation easier: 

  • Pick the right time and place to have the conversation. Somewhere private, where you won’t be interrupted, is ideal. Studies have shown that engaging in conversations about mental health while doing an activity, such as cycling, helps people to open up
  • Ask them how they’re feeling. It might sound simple, but its easier if they mention worries about their own mental health, rather than you projecting your concerns onto them. If they begin to open up, listen non-judgmentally and ask open questions to help them explore their own feelings
  • If they haven’t alluded to any issues with their mental health, gently tell them you have concerns, and explain what has lead you to believe this. If they deny any problem, don’t push it – you don’t want your relationship with the individual to break down. You can always try again another time, but it's important they still feel able to talk to you

Getting Help 

Once someone has opened up about their mental health, it’s important to be able to help them with the next steps, both in directing them to sources of support and helping the person to engage with it.

I’ve provided some key phone numbers and resources at the end of this article for emergency and non-urgent situations.

Whether its talking therapy, art therapy, mindfulness, medication or self care with sleep, diet and exercise, there’s so many options for people to try and improve their mental wellbeing. 

It can be overwhelming though, and so as someone supporting a friend, there are things you can do to make it easier. Offer to make the first appointment for them, or offer to accompany the individual to the doctors.

Encouraging them to adopt a healthy lifestyle, getting plenty of exercise, sleep and nutritious foods, can do wonders for someone’s mental health.

You can also provide emotional support, playing an important role in ensuring the person doesn’t feel alone. 

It’s important to keep yourself healthy through all this, as it can take a toll on your own mental wellbeing. All the above resources are also available for those supporting a loved one too. 

Being a mental health first aider is a vital role to play in your community. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) offers workshops and training in Kelowna. 

For more information or to sign up to a course, go to www.cmhakelowna.com

Key Resources

If the person is in a crisis, where you believe their health or someone else’s is at immediate risk, call 911.

The following numbers are also appropriate in an emergency:

Call 1-800-SUICIDE (1-800-784-2433) to get help right away, any time of day or night. It’s a free call.
Your Local Crisis Line: call 1-888-353-2273 24 hours a day to connect to a B.C. crisis line. The crisis line operators have received advanced training in mental health issues and services.

Community Response Team (CRT): 250-212-8533. Operates 11:30 a.m.-9 p.m., seven days a week.
Kid’s Help Phone: for children and youths aged 5 to 20. Call 1-800-668-6868 to speak to a professional counsellor or text 686868, 24 hours a day. It’s free, confidential, anonymous and available across Canada.

In a non-emergency, an individual can opt for either self-help strategies or seek professional help. The following are examples of resources available:  

Family doctor – they can help connect you with community resources and can also help prescribe medication if this is needed.

Mental Health and Substance Use Services: 505 Doyle Ave., 250-469-7070 (during office hours).
www.heretohelp.bc.ca — a great website for people suffering and also for those trying to support them. Information on local resources, self-help strategies and advice.

Hannah Gibson is a student doctor, originally from the U.K. Through her years at medical school, she's worked in every department from pediatrics through to geriatrics, advocating for both physical and mental health. She's passionate about preventative medicine, and helping people to live happy and healthy lives.


Shopping cart mayhem

By Doreen Zyderveld-Hagel

"Get out of the way before I hit you,” bellowed the woman in front of me.

I glanced at her out of the corner of my eye, but then ignored her and continued bagging my groceries. I was strangely calm while I gave her one of my infamous Hagel Hate Stares, which our family is known for. 

However, the woman was unfazed and incidentally, was built like a brick, you know what kind of house, short and stout. 

Her cold, dead eyes bored into me, while her thin mop of fuzzy, ratty, long, grey hair swirled wildly around her head, like Medusa’s. Her Popeye sized arms with big and calloused hairy hands, gripped the shopping cart. 

She looked as though she had done time in the Big House, or Bug House, maybe both.

I quickly considered my options of what to say and do, but there was a steaming locomotive standing menacingly behind that cart, and I did not feel like being mowed over and ending up as road kill.

 In the good old, younger days, I would have told her to make me move, and remarked about her being an older member of the bovine family, but I bit my tongue. 

The date was June 27, 2015, when I was trying to mind my own business, and just seconds earlier, a friendly, senior woman, standing next to me, had just remarked that there was not any counter area for customers to stand beside any more, to pack their groceries. 

She was on my left, and on the end of the counter, and I was on the right, but standing in the next isle. There was nowhere else to stand and bag my stuff, hence the reason I stood where I did. I remarked that indeed there was not enough room any more. 

Even though I felt an impending sense of doom, I calmly continued packing my groceries and had just finished when the Brick House said in a deep sinister tone, “You better move your butt NOW, cuz I’m coming through." 

I moseyed to the other side, to let her majesty go by, and then told her that she was Ignorant, as she rammed her cart past me, into the oncoming, foot powered, cart traffic.   

She said nothing and kept going.

It was then that I heard a sigh of relief, and realized I had an audience, and dead silence followed. There was a man behind me to the right, the same kindly faced woman to my left, and two cashiers, and numerous other customers, all within earshot.  

They were now standing perfectly still; frozen with fear, with their mouths gaping open.

I don't know if I have become more Christian like, more of a chicken, or more mature, but there was a time when all hell would have broken loose.

There is an old proverb that says, "A man who holds his tongue saves his life." Proverbs 13:3. 

I do believe I saved my hide that day, now over five years ago. It truly is better to be safe than sorry, alive than dead, and now am able to tell the tale without fear of retribution from the Popeye/Medusa, wielding a shopping cart.  

Nonetheless, there are many times in life where someone is being a bully like in the shopping cart tyrant incident, which usually starts in childhood and carries on into adulthood; which then spills into the work place, at home and even within one’s church. 

When the bully has influence, he/she then enlists their cohorts to join in on the bullying, snubbing, haughty looks, evil eye, or silent treatment, something like the Scribes and Pharisees, more than 2,000 years ago. 

Instead of reasoning with the person they have a problem with, they maliciously malign instead. Or in Jesus’s case, and in modern times, there are extreme cases, where the bullies plotted and succeeded in having their “so called” problem killed.  

Notwithstanding, there are other times when a victim reacts with counter violence, physically or otherwise, while at their breaking point, in a moment of weakness, despair and anger at the ongoing ill treatment. 

It is shocking to find out that Canada has the ninth highest bullying record globally, according to media sources. It is supposedly due to the students not being educated in socially acceptable ways of treating others. 

So where does this education begin and end?  Does it start in the home and continue in the school curriculum and beyond? 

Surely something is amiss as children sometimes learn these abusive behaviours from their parents and or/other people of influence, or have also been bullied themselves. 

Being that the human character is flawed on its own, most of us probably at one time or another have been both victim and bully. 

The important thing is to recognize it and consciously chose to take the higher road, not partake in pack mentality; neither listens to, nor engages in gossip, and shuts it down at the source.   

Advocating for the marginalized is the way to go, and instead of judging and condemning, finding out their side of the story and seeking solutions.

The Golden Rule of doing onto others as you would have done onto you oftentimes may only be lip service, and how seriously is that really being taken, as actions speak louder than words.

Those actions are screaming, and sometimes make the evening news, but more often than not do not, the victim suffers in silence, despair, depression and in some cases ending in suicide. 

Doreen Zyderveld-Hagel is a Kelowna writer.

Social media, mental illness

By Tracey Maxfield

There has been a lot of criticism directed at the internet and social media sites and their impact on society, notably children and teenagers.

Many people are claiming that social media is responsible for the increase in mental illness, suicide and bullying in children and teenagers.

But is this true?

Experts tell us that depression in kids has increased steadily for the past 50 years, and suicide in teenagers has increased 28% since 2000.

However, the most popular social media sites among kids — YouTube, Facebook, Twitter, Instagram and Snapchat — were not even available until 2005 when YouTube was released.

In 2006, Facebook and Twitter were made available to children under the age of 13 years, and in 2010, Instagram was released followed by Snapchat in 2011.


I do not believe social media is to blame directly for the increase in mental illness, suicide and bullying; however, I think each social media site has played a significant role in contributing to the increase.

What social media has done is change the way we communicate, share information and develop relationships with others.

Today, we can speak to anyone in the world in a matter of seconds, the challenge is that children and teenagers are quite trusting by nature and can easily be misled by people whose intentions may not be honest and trustworthy:

  • catfishing
  • cyberbullies
  • stalkers
  • pedophiles
  • human traffickers.

In addition, social media has created a world where pop stars and Hollywood stars are seen as role models for children and teenagers.

Sadly, this has created a world of comparison and materialism where happiness and self worth is defined by popularity, good looks and material goods.

Children/teenagers believe the only way they will be accepted by their peers is to conform to these unrealistic and unattainable standards

Social media also exposes children/teenagers to the horrors of the world they live in. Every day, they see news reports of countries ravaged by wars, riots, civil unrest, poverty, natural disasters, unemployment, fake news, the threat of global warming, migration, anti-Semitism.

Furthermore, crime appears to be escalating, homelessness and economic hardship is increasing, there are more gangs, sex/human trafficking is widespread, plus we are in the midst of the opioid crisis.

As adults, many of us feel frustrated, uncertain and concerned about the changes happening, so is there little wonder our children and teenagers feel that they have little control over their lives, their future?

What we see and read on social media is part of every-day life, and constant exposure to negativity and violence, desensitizes our kids to the point where some have no understanding of the impact of violence, anger, aggression towards others.

Other ways social media increases the risk of developing a mental illness is the social isolation.

Just because a child/teenager has hundreds even thousands of on-line friends does not necessarily mean he/she is more social and happier.

Facebook Envy, and the fear of missing out directly impacts kids mental well being.

There are also on-line extreme communities that promote and encourage kids to diet and lose weight, to not take medications for depression, anxiety, bipolar disorder, etc.

For example, until recently self harm or non-suicidal self injury was normalized and even encouraged on many sites.

Video Games

Did you know that social media and video game addiction is considered more addictive than alcohol and cigarettes?

While excessive social media use has not been recognized as a disorder by the World Health Organization or the DSM-5 (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 5th Edition), the related diagnosis of gaming disorder has recently been included in the International Classification of Diseases (ICD-11) as a recognized mental disorder requiring medical/psychological intervention and treatment.

Research has proven that playing these games can actually alter the brain chemistry of a child/teenager.

The physical and emotional responses triggered by the game (remember brain and body are one) mimic the responses to real life situations e.g. increased heart rate, blood pressure adrenaline, dopamine (flight, fight, fright response).

In addition, playing these games increases aggressive behaviours, moodiness and desensitizes the child/teenager to violence, inappropriate language, etc.

What can parents do?

The most important thing a parent can do is to talk with and listen to your child/teenager. Observe body, mannerisms, lack of communication, and respond to, not react or ignore, appropriately.

Parents should talk with their kids about cyber security and also be aware of the social media sites and chat rooms he/she visits.

Social media sites can be very helpful and supportive if used correctly.

To improve sleep, it may be a good idea if everyone agrees to a time where all devices can be turned off and placed in an alternate room e.g. kitchen. Also, try to limit time on social media and playing video games. Video games should be reviewed by parents before hand and discussed with child/teenager, so he/she understands that violence, or car theft, etc., is not appropriate.

The more we restrict and ban certain games or access to sites, the more a child/teenager will seek them out, so perhaps the best advice is to be there, be aware, instil good values and a sense of right and wrong in your child/teen and be available to listen and talk.

Tracey Maxfield is a nurse, speaker, author, peer specialist and mental health/stop bullying advocate and educator.  In 2017, she wrote a column for Castanet called Dementia Aware and in 2018, she published her first book Escaping the Rabbit Hole: my journey through depression. Check out her videos, blog and on-line course at www.traceymaxfield.com. She can be contacted at [email protected] 


Your results are In

By Hannah Gibson 

Whether you dreaded or relished your end-of-year report cards through high school, ParticipACTION is on a mission to keep them coming through your adult life too.

Each year, the organization releases a report card on the nation’s physical activity levels. So what did it say this year? Something we probably already know – we have all the right intentions to exercise, but we rarely actually get our sweat on.

I delve into the report card, to bring you the highlights, lowlights, and what you can do to make sure next years is A+ all round.

The Results

  • Overall physical activity: D
  • Intention to exercise: B+
  • Daily movement: C
  • Moderate to rigorous activity: F

First, we should celebrate the fact that we get a B+ for our intention to exercise. It shows that we already know the importance of physical activity, and that we want to engage in something that will help our health and wellbeing.

This is half the battle, as it takes motivation and intention to get out and exercise.

Before I delve into how we can ramp up our exercise intake, it's important to remember to be kind to yourself. Having self-compassion increases the chance that you’ll succeed; try not to beat yourself up.

Creating small, achievable goals is crucial to this, as you’ll feel much more positive if you can keep up with the goals you set yourself.

However, we aren’t converting that intention into action. Each individual is different, and their reasons for not working out are varied, but I think our excuses usually fall into three categories:

  • we don’t have the time
  • we don’t have the energy
  • we just don’t relish the prospect of getting sweaty.

This could be because of boredom, embarrassment, or a true loathing of the gym; all valid reasons not to get into that gym kit gathering dust on your shelf.

How can we turn the tables on exercise, making time and space for it as something that we genuinely love?

It’s simple – find something you genuinely love. While some people love lifting weights at the gym or pounding the treadmill, it’s not for everyone.

Whether it’s hiking, swimming in the pool or the lake, cycling (between breweries or vineyards as an optional extra), joining a sport team, Zumba, rock climbing, martial arts, dancing… there are so many opportunities in the Okanagan for getting your daily dose of physical activity.

We can also create time for short bursts of exercise throughout the day, if time is an issue. Measures such as always taking the stairs, parking further away or getting off the bus one stop early are all ways to increase the amount of movement you do each day.

You can also take steps to make exercise more fun by combining it with something else you enjoy.

Getting your friends involved is a great way to stick to your exercise goals, as you get to combine it with that much needed catch up.

You can also use exercise as an incentive to do or see the things you’re interested in; whether that’s hiking up a mountain to get an incredible view, cycling to a vineyard or paddle-boarding out on the lake.

Kelowna also has a Live Well exercise clinic, which offers programs such as Heart Strong and Get to Target, which offer clinical support to help you reach your goals.

Whether its joining a new sport, or something as simple as taking a walk in your lunch break, you’ve got a year to change your report card and start taking steps towards a better physical, mental and social health.

For more information, visit https://www.participaction.com/en-ca/resources/adult-report-card

Hannah Gibson s a student doctor, originally from the U.K. Through her years at medical school, she's worked in every department from pediatrics through to geriatrics, advocating for both physical and mental health. She's passionate about preventative medicine, and helping people to live happy and healthy lives.

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