Show menu
Making it Easier – You Need to Be Talking About This

by Fawna Bews

There are some things we just don’t talk about.  As a couple of my colleagues said to me “we were taught that you don’t air your dirty laundry”.  Over the past few years the doors on mental health as an acceptable topic of conversation have opened up.  There was a time in our not so distant past where mental health, along with things like cancer and pregnancy out of marriage were discussed in hushed tones behind your hand. Remember that?

We are social creatures, talking about things helps us to be clear, helps us to connect.  The shame that comes with or because of not talking about mental health lingers.  If someone has a broken leg we would think it was rude not to ask about how you are doing, if you’ve been diagnosed with or are showing signs of a mental illness it is not.  Yet the leg and the brain are both just body parts.

Why does this matter?

In 2004 the Palix Foundation (formerly the Norlien Foundation) set out to improve wellness for children and families in Alberta.  They had a generous donation and a commitment to bridge the gap between the best research, the best policy and the best practice.  They set out to find the root of mental distress and addictions and the places where we can make a difference.

What do you think they found?

It’s maybe a little alarming that we have to find these answers in a study, particularly when the answers are so simple.  What the Harvard and Alberta researchers found was that the ‘send and receive’ between babies and engaged adults makes the biggest difference in lifelong mental wellness.  You know, the face making, the goo’s and ga’s, the “Say Da-Da”.

It builds brains.

Core Story: Watch Here

The work of Alberta Family Wellness is alive and well in High River and Area

Our brains thrive on connection.

When the Red Cross was working in High River I had the privilege of sitting with Inocencio Bolo or as he introduced himself ‘Bon’.  Bon had worked in disaster work around the world. I asked him “Bon, what makes the biggest difference between a communities thriving or struggling, what can we do?” He didn’t even skip a beat “the places where people know their neighbors, they do the best”.

Connection is in our best interest. 

It’s not always easy.  Even though communication has become incredibly easy – we have so many options on how we can stay connected- there are things popping up in the world like Britain’s Minister for Loneliness.

One more bit of interesting research, entertainingly presented, that confirms the value of bonding.

Are you convinced?

Okay, I get it, it’s important to send and return – not just as a baby – but throughout life.  But what about our dirty laundry?  It can feel awkward to ask people how they are doing – like really ask them how they are doing.

As Canadians we’ve adopted a social pattern of asking “How are you?” reflexively, in nearly every interaction.  A Scottish friend admitted to me that when they arrived here they found it incredibly strange.  Where he grew up “How are you?” was an intimate question.  He laughed remembering the reaction people would have here when he would actually answer this question honestly!  He didn’t know that we answer this question with what my work colleague calls the four letter words.  “Fine, Well, Good”.

How do we have deeper, more real conversations?

Do you need to take a bunch of courses?  Do you need to be qualified to talk to your friends and family about their mental health?  What if you do it wrong?  Well, like the Core Story it’s simpler than we might think.

First, do you want to get beyond “fine”? If not – that’s okay, sometimes we need to attend to ourselves and don’t have any extra.  If you feel like you’d like more connection, and you recognize that it is as important to your health as working out or eating right ), then you can use “How’s Your 5?”

‘How’s Your 5?’ is asking you to look at one of 5 things that we all share, indicators of how well we are doing.  How is your work (unpaid or paid and school all count), sleep, eating (drinking), sleeping, and finally love (relationships of all kinds).

Devoted to building community, because we are better together, we were looking for a way to help people connect.  How’s Your 5? Does that.  The idea rose out of Joplin, Missouri in 2011 after a tornado ripped their town in two.  People were shut down and recognizing they needed a way to open up and express how they were struggling, and fighting the “how are you? – fine – how are you?” robot back and forth.  They came up with this question.

These 5 parts of life are not only indicators of how we are doing, they are also the fix in many cases.  Sometimes we may not even realize we are struggling until we stop and look at these types of things.  “I haven’t had a decent night’s sleep in a month”, for example.  Shining the light on our issues, no matter how difficult, tends to both share the burden and take away some of the power that these challenges have over us.  Noticing your sleep logically takes you to why you are not sleeping – “I’m awake half the night worried about my bills” and opens the way towards something actually being resolved.  We can’t resolve what we are hiding.

How’s Your 5? Is comfortable and easy to use. 

Here are some ways that we at Our High River and the towns social profit groups have been putting it to work:

  • Opening meetings
  • Speaking with clients
  • Using the colors to blind pick and answer the question associated with that color (blue- work)
  • Using it to organize wellness sessions
  • Using it to do self-check-in
  • Breaking out the question into its parts to open or keep a conversation going (conversation is not always easy). You can purposefully choose one of the domains to ask about “So, how’ve you been sleeping lately?”  Or “How is your work going?”

What if it’s not good?

There’s always a possibility, no matter how well put together someone might seem, that when you truly ask you will get a true answer.  That answer may not be positive.  What do you do when someone is struggling?  Listening is the start.  Asking questions that help someone find their own answer “what do you think you might need?” is helpful. Being there for someone, sitting with them while they reach out to the help they need or driving or just sending a text telling them that you care, as long as you are not risking your own wellness (you have to look after yourself – you know like the oxygen mask on the airplane?) are all helpful acts.

When it’s too much for you reach out. 

Here’s some local resources:

  • Emergency Services – 911
  • Distress Centre (24 hour) – 403-266-1605
  • Health Link – 811
  • Foothills Community Counselling – 403-603-3549
  • Rural Addictions and Mental Health – 1-877-652-4700
  • AA 24 hour hotline – 403-777-1212
  • Salvation Army – 403-652-2195
  • Parent Link – 403 652-8633

We are all connected

As members of this community we are affecting each other every day.  We are part of an always changing ecosystem.  The healthier each one of us is, the healthier we all are.  Sharing our struggles and our victories over struggles builds the social fabric that keeps us all safer.

So, how’s Your 5, High River?  In addition to the regular ups and downs of life we have collectively been dealt a major event.  It affects us all differently.  But it affects us all, newcomers included.  In June we will be highlighting how we’ve come through the past 5 years.  How’s Your 5? And a big High Five!! ✋ We ? you, High River.