Mental Illness Awareness Week: Social Connection as a Bulwark Against Relapse
October 6 to 12 is Mental Illness Awareness Week. 1 in 5 Canadians experience mental illness -- that is over 7 million people, as much as the population of Hong Kong. And that number doesn’t even take into account the family members of people living with mental illness, who have their own supports and needs. Mothers in particular, belong to both of those groups.
Both motherhood and mental illness causes stress, and often it causes stress that we can’t control. When you can’t control stress, you have to switch your mindset; you have to find some way to find benefit in your stress. The best way to cope with the stress response, according to Kelly McGonigal in her book The Upside of Stress, is to increase social connections. “People who find benefit in their difficulties report more purpose in life, hope for the future, and confidence in their ability to cope with the current stress in their lives. They then are more likely to take proactive steps to deal with the stress and to make better use of social support. They also are less likely to rely on avoidance strategies to escape their stress.”
When so much needs to be done, it can be paralyzing. Our freeze response kicks in. The good news is that the best thing we can do is reach out. Social connection is a strong bulwark against relapse. Mental illness can be isolating. Whether it’s social anxiety, depression, or the shame of living with a more complex disorder like schizophrenia or a personality disorder, people living with mental illness need social support more than the average person. Luckily, there are social support groups specifically for people with mental illness and their loved ones.
If you live with mental illness, here are some groups that can help you make social connections and strengthen you against relapse.
Pathways is a clubhouse for people living with mental illness. Though it doesn’t offer therapy, members can drop by anytime and engage in social activities with peers who understand what it is like to live with a mental illness. There is also more structured support for people returning to work or school or dealing with issues in healthcare or housing.
Mood Disorders Association of BC’s Peer Support Groups
The Mood Disorders Association of BC offers Peer Support Groups in many Lower Mainland communities. Peer support means you will be meeting with people who live with mental illness. The groups offer a chance to share stories and gain an informal education in mental illness. They are run by trained volunteers.
Kelty Mental Health Groups
Kelty Mental Health provides links to support groups across BC. Check them out here.
BC Schizophrenia Society
BC Schizophrenia Society has a list of groups, mainly for family support, across the province.
Private groups are also a good option. Psychology Today has an extensive list for both people living with and people supporting those living with mental illness.
There is a lot we can do to support people living with mental illness. We can support initiatives to improve mental health services. We can open our hearts and connect with our friends and family who live with mental illness. We can catch ourselves when we stumble upon the ingrained stigma that we are all programmed with.