You’ve probably heard the phrase, “mind, body, spirit.” What does it mean? Holistic health takes into consideration the complete person, including the physical, psychological/emotional, social and spiritual components of well-being. If one or more of these interdependent components is off balance, it can negatively impact the other aspects of one’s health.
Many people exercise to lose a few pounds or improve their physical fitness. Because exercise increases the release of mood-elevating neurochemicals and helps regulate the stress hormone cortisol, a byproduct of exercise is feeling better mentally. Persistent or acute mental health issues require more than exercise; it’s advisable to consult with a mental health professional in such cases.
When actor and comedian Robin Williams committed suicide in August, his final act shone a spotlight on mental illness. After his death, his wife revealed he had suffered from clinical depression and early stage Parkinson’s disease. He’d had his share of battles with substance abuse and had heart surgery in recent years. What came as a shock to his fans was that a person with his seemingly happy family life, wealth, success and incredible ability to make others laugh, could feel so hopeless and helpless that he resorted to taking his own life. He reportedly had sought professional help for depression. If someone of his stature, with access to the best psychiatric care available, ended up committing suicide, what message does that send to the rest of us?
Whenever such a tragedy occurs – whether it’s a celebrity or an ordinary person – it makes us realize that we are all fallible. If something good can come of this senseless death, it would be more openness about mental health. There is still a stigma and shame associated with mental illness.
Mental health issues are underreported. Many people don’t get a timely diagnosis or the help they need. Some are in denial or too ashamed to seek help. Some are able to put on a happy face in public, but they suffer in silence behind closed doors. Perhaps Robin Williams was one of them. Many people are unaware of the signs, symptoms or dangers of clinical depression or other mood disorders such as bipolar disorder and chronic, low-level depression.
According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), a person experiencing a major depressive disorder is “grappling with feelings of severe despair over an extended period of time. Almost every aspect of their life can be affected, including their emotions, physical health, relationships and work. For people with depression, it does not feel like there is a ‘light at the end of the tunnel’ – there is just a long, dark tunnel.” www.cmha.ca
The CMHA recommends that, if you or someone you know is in a crisis and needs immediate help, call 911. If you need medical advice, call your family doctor for a referral to a mental health professional.
Some of the symptoms of depression may include feelings of sadness, changes in sleep habits, changes in appetite, loss of interest in activities you normally find pleasurable, anxiety, feelings of worthlessness, thoughts of suicide and unexplained physical symptoms. For a comprehensive list of symptoms, see the Mayo Clinic list at http://tinyurl.com/mhccq9w.
In Canada, suicide is the seventh most common cause of death in males and the 10th most common cause of death in females. In 2011, there were 16.3 male and 5.4 female deaths by suicide per 100,000 people. http://tinyurl.com/q72myxg
Whenever there’s a celebrity death by suicide, the media latches onto the story, just as it does with airplane crashes, mass shootings or a crisis in the Middle East. As soon as ratings slide, the media moves on to the next big story. I suspect that, by the time this column is published, Robin Williams’ death will no longer be in the headlines. His fans can continue to enjoy his legacy through his television shows and films. I can also savour the memories of his live performance in Ottawa a few years ago. But his family must live with the sorrow over their personal loss. We can honour the late comedian with an act of remembrance in the form of conversations that focus on whole-body fitness – an approach that includes mental fitness. Let’s ensure we no longer keep the subject of mental health in the closet.
Gloria Schwartz is a personal trainer at the Soloway JCC and the author of Personal Best: Train Your Brain and Transform Your Body for Life.