Each and every day we work or play alongside people who suffer.
The false front they adopt is one of the hallmarks of mental illnesses like depression, anxiety and addiction — illnesses that ensnare about one in five of us.
I wrote a piece about my own struggles in The Edmonton Journal in the mid-1990s. It described how I’d developed an anxiety disorder in my late teens, that metastasized into depression in my twenties.
Somehow I got through university and college; got married and ascended in my journalism career. I earned one of the top writing jobs at The Edmonton Journal and was either short-listed or won prestigious awards.
I don’t tell you that to boast. As a journalist, I was a decent craftsman; nowhere near elite.
My point? I did all that while dying inside. When I finally reached the end of my rope, I took time off work and engaged in therapy, lots of related homework and tons of practice.
During that time, and in subsequent years of working on myself, I learned and adopted a few key strategies:
- I surrender: I realized I could not restore myself without help. I got help. It helped. A lot. I’ve learned to ask for help when I need it, in myriad circumstances.
- Be of service: I came to realize that being kind and helpful to others helped me as much. (Ultimately, this is why I ran for city council).
- Forgive yourself: I gave up trying to impress people with my work, wit and sense of humour, such as they are. (This is really difficult during a political campaign).
In regards to No. 3, my attempts at being Super Scott, to win the adoration of the crowd as a journalist, was always doomed to fail. It’s impossible to win enough validation from others.
Human nature is such that, for a lot of us, we shrug off accolades. It’s the criticism — ouch — we remember.
What I eventually learned was that practicing No. 2 is the antidote to a life of seeking outside validation. Being kind to others twists things around and allows us to focus on something besides our looping worries and self recrimination.
Of all the things we accomplished this term, perhaps the most fulfilling involved bringing the issue of mental health to City Hall. The title of the council initiative I was privileged to lead is called Mental Health and Urban Isolation.
Isolation and loneliness are epidemic in modern cities. This next term, if re-elected, I’d like to dig much deeper into how urban design effects connection, or isolation.
Something as simple as front verandas are known to connect neighbours. Off-leash parks are great connectors, especially in high-density urban spaces
I will also continue giving talks to groups about mental health and social isolation, in hope of reducing stigma and stimulating ideas from people like you.
Ultimately, the two fit together hand in glove. A supportive, connected community is critical to mental health.
Oh. Happy World Mental Health Day. Be kind to someone today ... and each and every day. The happiness you raise will likely be your own.