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Health and Happiness  

First aid for mental health

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, 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 it’s 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 led 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 its 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 are many options for people to try to 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.

Its 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 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 five 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 is a great website for people suffering and also for those trying to support them. Information on local resources, self-help strategies and advice




Are you loving your liver?

Spotlight on: liver disease

The Spotlight series is a series of articles looking at common, and preventable, diseases. I explain the science behind the condition, how to spot early signs and what you can do to prevent it. 

The Science 

There are several different types of liver disease, and the majority are preventable. The liver is a complex organ that has multiple functions.

  • It filters toxins from the blood
  • Helps to digest food
  • Regulates blood sugar and cholesterol
  • Helps to fight infection and disease. 

Alcohol-related liver disease is the most common, and is due to drinking too much alcohol. There are three stages:

  • Alcoholic fatty liver disease
  • Alcoholic hepatitis
  • Cirrhosis.

Fatty liver disease is reversible, but if it progresses to severe hepatitis and cirrhosis, the liver has become scarred and is therefore not reversible. 

Non-alcoholic fatty liver disease is another form, and is due to being overweight, where there is a build up of fat in the liver. Initially this doesn’t cause any harm, but can lead to cirrhosis (scarring).

Having high levels of fat in the liver also means you are at a higher risk of other health problems, such as diabetes, kidney and heart disease. 

Hepatitis is a form of liver disease in itself. It means inflammation of the liver. This can be due to a viral infection (hepatitis A, B, C) or because of drinking too much alcohol. It can be sudden in its onset, or a gradual process that occurs over years. 

Liver disease eventually leads to cirrhosis, which is irreversible scarring of the liver. This prevents the liver from functioning, and can cause liver failure. Liver disease also increases your risk of developing liver cancer. 

Signs and Symptoms 

Liver disease often has no symptoms until the very late stages. If symptoms do develop, they are often vague. They can include:

  • Feeling tired or weak all the time 
  • Loss of appetite 
  • Feeling nauseous 
  • Yellowing of the skin or eyes (jaundice) 
  • Loss of sex drive 
  • Itchy skin 

As the symptoms are so vague, and often not present early on, it is important to recognise if you have any of the risk factors for liver disease. If you do, its worth discussing with your family doctor, as they may recommend blood tests to monitor your liver function.

The risk factors for developing liver disease are:

  • Drinking more than the recommended amount of alcohol*
  • Being overweight 
  • Having a diet high in fat 
  • Injecting drugs 

How to Prevent Liver Disease

Preventing liver disease is largely about maintaining a healthy weight, and sticking to the guidelines for how much to drink. 

Guidelines suggest 10 standard drinks a week for women, and 15 drinks a week for men. One standard drink is a 12 ounce bottle of five per cent beer or cider, a five ounce  glass of 12% wine or a 1.5 ounce shot of 40% hard liquor. 

Maintaining a healthy weight is also important; eating a balanced diet with lots of fruit and vegetables, low in saturated fats and high in fibre, is the best way to keep your weight in a healthy range.

If you know that your cholesterol levels are high, its important to follow doctor’s advice to try and reduce these levels. 

Injecting recreational drugs, whether now or in years past, increases your risk of hepatitis, a type a viral infection that predominantly affects the liver.

Hepatitis is now easily treatable, so if you have ever used intravenous drugs, it’s definitely worth checking your hepatitis B and C status with a simple blood test. 

Take Home Message

Liver disease is hard to catch early, so reducing your risk is incredibly important. Drinking to excess and being overweight are the primary risk factors, and luckily both are easily managed with changes to your lifestyle.

If you do experience any symptoms or are worried about your risk, get in touch with your family doctor. 



Virus not biggest problem

A recent poll by Insights West has indicated that the opioid crisis has had a bigger negative impact on people in B.C. than COVID-19.

The poll found that 37% of British Columbians felt the opioid crisis has had an extremely negative impact on their community, compared to 25% for COVID-19.

The study also found that the opioid crisis had had a direct impact on 31% of B.C. residents, defined as someone in their immediate family or circle of friends either struggling with addiction or having died from an overdose.

That is three times higher than the number of people who know someone who has or has had the virus.

These statistics are alarming, but unfortunately not surprising. The two epidemics are intrinsically linked; for people using substances, there are additional challenges right now due to the virus, increasing the risk of harm and ultimately death.

COVID-19 has made the drug supply to B.C. increasingly unpredictable, with global supply chains disrupted due to the pandemic.

This means that users are having to source drugs from unknown dealers or suppliers, and the number of overdoses in B.C. has significantly increased as a result.

With many people isolating and social distancing in recent months, people are also using alone, which greatly increases the risk of an overdose and subsequent death.

The opioid crisis was declared a public health emergency in 2016, and since then has claimed countless lives across B.C. and Canada.

The rise in opioid related deaths can be traced back to the late 1990s, when pharmaceutical companies assured medical professionals that opioid pain medications were not addictive. This led to an increase in the number of prescriptions of opioid medications, such as morphine.

The rise in prescriptions gave way to the misuse of both prescription and non-prescription opioids, and it quickly became clear that the drugs being used were highly addictive.

Patients that had been started on opioids by their doctor were tapered off the drugs, but the damage had already been done.

Heroin became increasingly popular as the drug of choice on the streets, and the introduction of fentanyl to street opioids in 2013 saw a sharp increase in the number of deaths from overdose.

Fentanyl is a synthetic opioid, 50-100 times more potent than morphine. It is a prescription drug, but is also made and used illegally, usually as a cheaper alternative to heroin.

However, people experiencing addictions to substances may be unaware of the addition of fentanyl, thus leading to unintentional overdoses.

Tackling the opioid epidemic in B.C. is a challenge that has so far gone undefeated. The B.C.  government has multiple approaches to tackling the issue.

One of the biggest issues is the stigma around substance use; both the government and non-profit organizations are working hard to encourage people to talk about drug use, so that people feel able to reach out when they are in need.

Harm reduction is a key strategy for B.C.; overdose prevention sites and supervised consumption sites allow users to get their drugs checked and use in a safe environment, where help can be given immediately if someone overdoses.

Naloxone kits are also provided without a prescription in B.C.; the medication quickly reverses the effects of an opioid overdose and can be vital in saving lives.

As well as making substance use safer, the BC government offers safe, prescribed alternatives to drugs like heroin and fentanyl. Individuals experiencing substance use and addiction can use opioid agonists, prescribed by a doctor.

These medications help people to avoid the harsh withdrawal effects and can be tapered off under medical supervision.

Prevention is also key to the province’s approach to the crisis; education about opioids and their disastrous effects is being offered to communities across B.C.

Stricter rules are also in place around prescribing opioids. The province is still in the grips of this opioid epidemic, and unfortunately the global pandemic has hindered progress made earlier in the year.

However, with education, prevention, treatment and support, we hope that 2021 brings more health and happiness for people affected by both the virus and the opioid crisis.



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The magic of an apple

An Apple a Day Keeps the Doctor Away

As the leaves turn to gold, the heat of summer abates and the Okanagan enters fall, orchards full of fruit are ripening.

One fruit perfect for picking is the humble apple, but what is so medicinal about it?

Here’s a round up of the health benefits plus recipe ideas!

It turns out that the garden variety apple is pretty potent when it comes to health benefits. From the antioxidants that reduce the risk of Alzheimer’s, to the potassium that lowers blood pressure, it’s clear that the apple is worth its acclaimed status as a daily staple in a disease-free life.

I’ve looked into its bountiful health properties, and paired each benefit with a fresh way of incorporating the apple into your diet, from salads, drinks and desserts.

Reduces Alzheimer’s risk

There’s an antioxidant in apples called quercetin, which has been found to protect brain cells from degeneration. The degeneration of brain cells is a key factor in Alzheimer’s disease, so preventing this with antioxidants is vital to maintaining healthy brain function.

Idea for Apples: Apple Chips

  • Bake thinly sliced apple, coated in cinnamon, at 225 F for 45 minutes (or until the edges curl up).

Prevents Colon Cancer

Apples contain plenty of fibre, which is great for reducing your risk of bowel cancer.

The fibre helps to reduce the time that food is in the colon, meaning that any carcinogenic foods you may have eaten are moved through quickly, before they have time to cause damage to the cells in your bowel.

The fermentation of apples in the colon also fights the formation of cancer cells.

Idea for Apples: Apple Salad

  • Toss thinly slice apples with salad leaves, chopped walnuts and celery.
  • As a starter or a vegetarian main, add goat’s cheese.
  • For a light lunch, add cherry tomatoes, tuna and a soft-boiled egg to make a salad niçoise.
  • As an accompaniment to barbecue pork chops or pulled pork, create a healthy salad dressing with plain yogurt, honey, olive oil, wholegrain mustard and apple cider vinegar to coat the apple salad.

Lowers Blood Pressure

Apples are high in potassium, which is an electrolyte that lowers blood pressure. A whopping  one-third of cardiovascular disease and high blood pressure is due to diet.

Cutting down on salt and adding foods high in potassium, such as apples, are crucial to maintaining a health blood pressure.

Ideas for Apples: Warming Fall Drink + Summer Cocktail

  • Heat apple juice, a stick of cinnamon, honey or maple syrup and a few cloves in a pan. Serve in a mug for a warming hug of a drink (great for fall or for a sore throat.)
  • Apple Cider Sangria: place 2 apples (cubed) into a jug, add 1 bottle of local white wine, 1 bottle of sparkling apple cider and maple syrup to taste

Lowers Cholesterol

Apples contain pectin, which prevents the build up of cholesterol in your blood vessels. This reduces your risk of atherosclerosis, which can contribute to heart disease.

Apples also slow the oxidation process that causes a build up of plaque in the heart.

Ideas for Apples: Apple + Squash Soup.

  • Heat 3 cups of chicken or vegetable stock in a pan with 2 onions, 2 butternut squash and 4 apples (all roughly chopped), salt, pepper and nutmeg.
  • Once the veggies have softened, add the mix to a food processor and blend till smooth.

Strengthens Bones

Apples contain a flavonoid called phloridzin, which has been shown to protect post-menopausal women from osteoporosis (weakening of the bones). Over time, this weakening can lead to fragility fractures.

Ideas for Apples: British Apple Crumble.

  • Peel and chop 5 apples, coat with lemon juice and cinnamon. Add to a deep baking tray.
  • Combine 1 cup flour, ½ cup brown sugar, cinnamon, salt and 1 stick of cold butter to make the crumble topping.
  • Work the mixture together with your fingers until the lumps of butter are pea sized, then add crumble mix to the top of the apples.
  • Bake at 350 F for 45 mins.


More Health and Happiness articles

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About the Author

Dr. Hannah Gibson graduated from medical school in the UK before moving to live in Canada. During her five years at university, she's worked in every department from pediatrics to geriatrics, advocating for both physical and mental health. Now based in Kelowna, she works to provide outreach healthcare for the homeless community. 

Hannah is passionate about preventative medicine, and the focus of her column is to educate and inspire people to take proactive measures to improve their health. 

Hannah believes that we all can, and should, take responsibility for our own health. It is the most important asset we have, and should be respected as such. Follow each week as she gives you the tools to improve your own health and wellbeing, and ultimately live a happier and healthier life. 

Get in touch through the comments section, or by emailing Hannah on [email protected].



The views expressed are strictly those of the author and not necessarily those of Castanet. Castanet does not warrant the contents.

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