In advance of Bell Let’s Talk Day on Jan. 28, I reached out to Sara Jordan, the new executive director at CMHA Calgary, to discuss mental health and wellness. CMHA Calgary works to support their vision for mentally healthy people in a healthy society and is a partner of United Way of Calgary and Area. They believe that recovery is possible, and I couldn’t agree more. Let’s help reduce the stigma of mental health and talk about it, so we can empower everyone to live a meaningful and healthy life.

Q: The theme for Bell Let’s Talk Day this year is now more than ever, every action counts. How have you been seeing people living this in their community?

A: Every action, whether it’s large or small, is helping others during this pandemic. We have seen the generosity of our friends, family, and neighbours dropping off food or supplies when needed. We see people abiding by the rules from the Government of Alberta, to not put stress on our public health system and keep our communities safe. We hear of people checking in on others to make sure they are receiving the mental health supports they need, and we see them recommending services like CMHA Calgary to support them during this time. We know that the only way we are going to pull through this pandemic is to support each other.

Q: I think sometimes, the idea of reaching out can feel scary for people – you want to respect someone’s privacy, or not assume the worst. But we’ve seen with COVID-19 that people across the spectrum are struggling with their mental health because of the complex issues they are facing every day. What’s a small way that you can support someone else, without feeling like you’re sticking your nose in their personal business?

A: Well, a recent survey by the Health Quality Council of Alberta conducted from May to June 2020 reported that 72% of Albertans are having difficulty coping with stress, anxiety or depression related to COVID-19. People are struggling because of a wide range of issues, whether it’s loss of income, uncertainty of health, loss of a loved one due to COVID-19, or even the grief of the changes we’ve seen in our everyday lives.

One small way is to check-in and ask how people are really doing. Not just asking someone “how are you?”, but “how are you REALLY doing?” Most of the time when we are asked how we are, we respond by saying fine, or good. The next time someone asks you those questions, be mindful in your answer and expand on just fine or good. The person asking you that question may need someone to talk to, and your own transparency when sharing honestly how you are doing may give them permission to share with you. We are all in this together and we need to check and ensure we are all doing okay.

Q: Young people have been having a particularly hard time with the pandemic – their activities are on hold, school is very different and they can’t hang out with their friends as freely. Are there some easy ways to help young people stay lifted right now?

A: As COVID-19 continues to escalate in Canada, children and youth are most likely asking harder questions as time goes on. With school closures and major changes in daily routines, parents and guardians are working hard to care for both the physical and mental health of the children they love. Young people often respond to big life changes and world events based on the reactions of the adults around them. As hard as it might be, it’s key for those adults to approach COVID-19 with a reassuring sense of calm.

Adults can encourage open and honest communication, by answering your child’s questions honestly to help them feel acknowledged and supported. We can empower children to make choices, which can help them feel empowered and healthily manage their feelings and worries. It’s important that we monitor media and online exposure–we’ve all felt the impacts of information overload that can overwhelm or add stress and worry to anyone.

Knowing that people are tired, it’s still important to make time for play. People of all ages should find time to have fun and do the things around the house that they enjoy. And of course, ask for help—if you’re feeling overwhelmed, know it’s normal. It is OK to reach out to your family, friends, neighbours, or community for support.

Q: Like me, you’re leading a large team of employees virtually, which brings its own challenges in terms of providing strong mental health support from far away. I know we’ve tried different things to keep people connected – are you seeing any new trends for workplaces to support their people differently?

A: We all know getting together in a larger group isn’t possible right now, and we don’t know when that time will come again. CMHA Calgary has had virtual all-staff meetings to get together as a group and even included a simple word game held in small break-out groups so employees could connect, but also have some fun like we would in person.

We have seen other workplaces get together for holidays by having trivia nights or awards ceremonies. Or smaller departments getting together daily as they would in the office for coffee or lunch, with a rule to not talk about work.

We may be tired of connecting through a computer screen, but it’s still important to reach out and connect to your team members.

Q: Now more than ever, what’s one thing helping your mental health now? And what’s one thing you’re doing to support someone else’s?

A: One thing that always helps my mental health is carving out time to create balance. I use the words “carving out” intentionally, because creating balance requires real effort. It doesn’t just land in our laps!

I seek personal balance by attending to all dimensions of health and wellness, like making time to be physically active. I love getting blood flowing through my body, whether it’s through mind-body exercises in the morning, some gym time after the workday, and creating time to go outside. Whether it’s going snowboarding in the mountains, being on the river with my kayak, biking on our beautiful forest mountain trails, or a walk-in nature – getting out into nature is therapy for me.

Making time to focus on the moment at hand, disconnecting and getting away from screens is so important right now to staying mentally well for adults, children and youth. I encourage others to think about what will create balance for them in their lives. How can we enhance our social connections and reduce isolation? We need to make space to have these conversations with our teams, family and friends.

For more information about supporting young people during challenging times, visit United Way of Calgary and Area’s Natural Supports YYC, or CMHA Calgary’s YouthSmart programs. Read more about United Way’s and CMHA Calgary’s work supporting the mental health and wellness of all Calgarians.