Student Life

Grabbing your mental health by the horns

Girl, Let’s Talk tips and tricks for recognizing signs of interpersonal distress

The Female Department, a Montreal-based women’s collective, hosted the first edition of their event, Girl, Let’s Talk, last Thursday, Jan. 31. The goal of the event was to open up a conversation on mental health led by two experts in the field, and to create an environment where women can speak freely about their mental health struggles with other women.

The founders of the Female Department, Danièle-Jocelyne Otou and Stephanie Arthur, timed the 10th edition of their series Cocktails n Confessions just ahead of Psychology Month, and the day after Bell Let’s Talk Day.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, one in five Canadians experiences mental health issues or mental illness each year. Kristin Horsley, a PhD candidate in Clinical Psychology at McGill University, offered simple tactics to keep mental health in check.

“Track it,” said Horsley. “Write it down. It doesn’t get more sophisticated than that. […]This is important to do because you need to know where you are to know where you can go. If you’re hungry, not sleeping, not getting enough exercise, not seeing enough people, you can expect your mental health to suffer,” said Horsley. “Basic self-care is everything. It is the foundation of our mental health.” Therein lies the struggle: keeping that foundation sound.

We live in a society where we measure ourselves based on those around us. However, you will never be anyone but yourself. “We’re constantly trying to see [how we take care of ourselves] […] as a form of progression,” said Em Tardif-Bennett, an event attendee. “We’re constantly trying to strive to perfection while also giving the illusion that we’re perfect.”

The event attendees agreed that, like anything else, mental health has an ebb and flow. It’s constantly in a state of flux, and determining when your mental health is under threat is onerous. “Once we let go of that expectation,” Tardif-Bennett said, “We can finally just be present in our lives, acknowledging how far we’ve come and how much work we’ve done for ourselves.”

But how do you recognize the signs of transitioning from being stable, to in a slump, to exhibiting detrimental behaviour? “When it affects your social function, your function at work and your interpersonal relationships, that’s when you know it’s time to seek help,” Horsley said. It is also essential to understand that emotions are our bodies’ response to change, and they indicate which areas of ourselves and our lives need more tender love and care.

Above all, Horsley explained, know that your emotions are entirely valid. “When you feel your anxiety and fear, lean into them because they’re telling you something,” Horsley said. “Lean into your fear and help yourself understand what it is telling you.”

Feature graphic by @spooky_soda

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