Increased awareness prompted by Mental Health Awareness Week

KGilbert MentalHealth1It was his rock bottom.

He was surrounded by pristine, snow-capped mountains, crisp winter air and everything he really loved. He and hiswife were dining in a five-star Banff restaurant. Cheerful people, soft lighting and the smell of savory roasts wafted around him.


Jablonski ran and cycled across the country during his 2010 SAD no more Canadian tour. He travelled over 20, 000 kilometers and stopped at 95 different locations across Canada. The purpose of the tour was to raise awareness and promote action for mental health issues.

Photo courtesy of: Ted JablonskiBut none of that seemed to matter, his mostly empty plate sat virtually untouched. He had no interest in eating. In fact, he had little interest in anything at all. It was as though he was being held captive by a fog that just wouldn’t lift. And he was terrified.

Fact about seasonal affective disorder:

• SAD is a type of depression

• mild form of SAD is often known as “the winter blues”, which causes discomfort, but is not debilitating.

• was first recognized as a disorder in the early 80s

• no cause has currently been confirmed, but is thought to be related to changes in light

• difficult to diagnose because of similarities to other types of depression

• treatment may include light therapy, spending more time outside and exercise

Source – Canadian Mental Health Association

For the first time in his life he wasn’t sure he’d get through it.

His name is Dr. Ted Jablonski and he had been diagnosed with seasonal affective disorder.

“To me all I felt was a grey cloud of cold dreary numbness. I couldn’t appreciate any of it,” Jablonski remembered of the evening. It was the moment he said he realized he needed help.

Seeking that help was one of the most difficult decisions that Jablonski has ever had to do, he said. As a family physician, he’d only ever missed two days of work, so the thought of asking for help was, he said, tough to grasp.

This week Jablonski will be speaking at one of Calgary’s Mental Illness Awareness Week events. Seven years since his original diagnosis, Jablonski said he wants to be an example for anyone who might be struggling.

“Everyone thinks they’re the only person who has this. If they realize the volume of how many people actually are being treated for mental illness in one way or another I think that alone would go a long way.”

The goal of the week, put on by the Canadian Mental Health Association, is to help shed light on largely stigmatized mental illnesses, said Angela Anderson, the manager of communications for the Calgary area.

“We really believe [mental illness] should be regarded just as a problem with your physical health.”

Anderson likened the belief to the conversations that friends have about dealing with cancer. She said discussing mental illnesses should be the same.

That unwillingness to readily share is rooted in fear, said Alain Morin, associate professor of psychology at Mount Royal University.

Symptoms of SAD include:

• changes in appetite, especially cravings for sweet or starchy foods

• weight gain

• decreased energy

• oversleeping

• unable to concentrate

• irritability

• feelings of anxiety or despair

• symptoms are predominantly present during winter months

“People tend to fear the unknown – the unexplained and unpredictable,” he said in an email, adding there is a general feeling of shame associated with some mental disorders, like anxiety and depression.

“Naive people tend to think that the afflicted patient somehow is responsible for the condition or could ‘snap out of it’ if more will and effort were deployed.”

That simply isn’t true, he said.

For Jablonski, an open dialogue has been key. His own discussion of seasonal affective disorder prompted a three-month Canada-wide tour in 2010. Jablonski aimed to raise awareness for mental health issues by running and cycling from St. John’s, Nfld. to Victoria, B.C.

His message was heard by thousands of people. Every day was spent meeting new people in new cities; Jablonski hit a total of 94 locations across the country.

However, he’s sure to point out that his path from that rock bottom January night hasn’t always been easy, but that he hasn’t looked back. For Jablonski, it’s all about taking that first step.

“It’s living one day at a time. I hate that saying because it’s almost like a Hallmark greeting card, but it’s true.”

For a listing of the week’s events visit the Canadian Mental Health Association.

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