A New Year’s resolution for better mental health

Resolve to improve your mental health

When we ushered in 2020, many of us made the usual resolutions: make more trips to the gym, eat healthier or grow in our career. Unfortunately, improving our state of mind likely wasn’t on our list of resolutions. Given that none of us could have anticipated the impact that COVID-19 would have on the world, let alone our mental health, we should resolve now to improve our mental health in the New Year because it is likely to get worse before it gets better.

The proof is in the data. According to Express Scripts Canada, we saw a 12% increase in claims for medications related to depression during the stressful back-to-school period in early September and a 20% increase the week after Thanksgiving. With COVID-19 and the usual struggles some have with seasonal affective disorder on a collision course January 2021 is likely to be the worst time for depression that we have seen in Canada in decades. This means that we need to pay closer attention to our mental health than ever before.

Read more: COVID-19 and mental health: A growing threat to Canadians      

Our psychological wellbeing is just as important as getting in shape or getting a raise, and we should be taking steps to feel happier, calmer and well equipped to handle what’s to come. In fact, during a year that has taken its toll on each of us in different ways, resolution season could actually undermine our mental health and wellbeing.

That is why it’s important for mental health to not just be a resolution but an ongoing goal. This means learning more about what’s involved with a mental health assessment to determine if you are struggling with mental health. Statistics show most people will seek treatment once they recognize they may have a problem.

If you are struggling, and if mental health support is offered through an employee assistance program (EAP) at your workplace, the next step is to utilize them. Employee assistance programs can offer employees and their family members a variety of ways to access counselling or self-help resources.

Read more: After the lights come down: Mental health during and after the holidays

Resolving to get the help and support you need is essential to maintaining good mental health. Here are five ways to support yourself as you make your mental health a priority:

  1. Create a daily routine and stick to it. Daily routines provide us with purpose and are an important part of maintaining good mental and physical health. As many of us have experienced self-isolation and lockdowns this year, daily routines have often been thrown by the wayside in an effort to juggle multiple responsibilities and priorities. Get up and get dressed, have a healthy breakfast, create a dedicated workspace (and one for kids if they are at home learning virtually), take breaks throughout the day and make time to transition from your work day to home life. These are all important ways to help navigate times of stress.
  2. Admit that this is hard. Everything happens for a reason. Try to stay positive. Everything will be okay. While these are great positive-thinking soundbites, this year has undoubtedly been tough for all of us, in unique and unforeseen ways. Putting a positive spin on it sometimes only makes it worse. Instead, make self-care a priority. Practice deep breathing, stretching or meditation. Eat healthy, well-balanced meals. Exercise regularly and get plenty of sleep. Avoid alcohol and illegal drugs if you’re feeling down or using them as a coping mechanism.
  3. Focus on what you can control. There is an old saying about ships sinking because of the water that gets in them, not because of the water around them. You might not be able to exhibit control over the pandemic, but you can control the actions you take to protect yourself and your family, as well as the amount of media you consume. Take breaks from watching, reading, or listening to news stories, including social media.

Read more: Depression is an illness. Let’s manage it that way.

  1. Keep connected – virtually. Check in with your loved ones often. Virtual communication can help you and your loved ones feel less lonely and isolated. While Zoom fatigue is a real thing, there are ways to make things interesting. Set up a recurring game night with friends, share a meal together (but apart) virtually, host a dance party or call a grandparent and read aloud to each other. You can also rely on old school ways of communicating like sending notes and cards through snail mail.
  2. Your pharmacist can help. Pharmacists can be an invaluable first line of support, education and information for those experiencing mental health challenges. If you are uncomfortable speaking directly your doctor, a pharmacist can offer knowledgeable advice about commonly prescribed drugs, including the importance of maintaining adherence. If you have made the decision with your doctor and pharmacist to start an antidepressant medication, it is important to be patient as almost all take four to six weeks to start working. It is also imperative to take antidepressants for the fully prescribed duration, typically up to six months after the symptoms of depression have been resolved, to make sure the problem has been managed successfully.

Watch: As the COVID-19 pandemic continues, I worry about my mental health. Can a pharmacist help?

Mental health is health. Just as you would assess, monitor and seek treatment for your physical health, the same must be made a priority during the pandemic. The quest for better mental health is not a destination but an ongoing journey. Instead of a resolution, this year make it a promise you keep to yourself.