Sunday, December 29, 2013

2014: “A blank slate of possibility…” inspired by Governor General David Johnston

Our Governor General encourages us, as Canadians, to build a better country through his new years’ address and also his personal campaign and website.  Simple acts of kindness, regardless of whether we have the financial means to do so, makes our country and even better place to be.  Despite his work responsibilities, David Johnston reminds us that it is not the “title” that many of us identify ourselves by such as nurse or welder but that it is the spirit of who we are and what we “do” that makes a difference.  In supporting others, we also help ourselves.   A scientific study was produced in 2013 that confirmed this:  but the challenge in 2014 is to discover this for ourselves.   Please see: and

Sunday, December 15, 2013

Send up the count!

Send up the count!  When on patrol, “send up the count” means reaching out to the soldier ahead of you to let them know that you are still there.

Cpl Irvine and Sgt Harding have started a facebook campaign to encourage soldiers to mentally reach out to each other to fight depression and care for each other.

What a great idea! Talking is one of the first and best steps in caring for mental illness and it’s as basic as the “golden rule”.  In the “fight” for good mental health, as a community caring for each other, let’s “send up the count!”  Thanks Jordan Irvine and Brian Harding

Saturday, November 2, 2013

Gardening all year round!

Thanks to the Kapuskasing Horticultural Society for the opportunity to present this week:
How was your garden this summer?  What did you grow?  Some of us may have grown traditional veggies such as peas and carrots, our family nurtured a new apple and a cherry tree….we all have likely had some different experiences this past summer, but all of us have one thing in common.
We grew our garden in soil. The soil in our garden is a living organism nourishing a bounty of growing plants.  Out of respect for our soil, we replenish it with nutrients and compost to keep it healthy.
Our brain is the soil to our garden, which is our body.  A garden cannot grow without soil. Without our brain, we cannot function.  The stem of our brain, like the stem of a plant, provides the nutrients and capabilities to control the body’s 3 key functions: breathing, blood circulation and digestion.   Other parts of the brain have different functions.  The cerebellum, which is the back of brain, gives you balance and movement.  Your brain also contains the pituitary gland which controls growth and the hypothalamus gland controls your body temperature.  Neurons, tiny cells which build your nervous system, also help regulate your emotions and moods with neuro transmitters such as serotonin, dopamine and tryptophan.
 A healthy brain is like good soil….it is the basis for everything your body does: how you move, what you can do and how you feel.  Unfortunately, not everyone has a healthy brain and some brains are ill. Depression and anxiety are two of the most common forms of mental illness, or often also called mental health problems.  One in three persons will experience a mental health problem at some point in their lifetime and in fact, it may be more than this. 

We likely all know someone whom has experienced anxiety or depression or another mental health problem, or we may have experienced these problems ourselves.   As we talk more openly and publicly about our mental health, about the soil that our brains grow in, we come to understand that what is going on in our brains affects our whole body and is real. Sometimes mental health problems, like other medical conditions, require medication as they don’t get better on their own.
Relaxation and stress reduction is an important aspect of good mental health for everyone, and gardening is one activity that can have great benefits. Researchers commonly note the positive mental outlook obtained by those who participate in gardening.  Hospitals and treatment centers are encouraged to “go green” to help lower stress and improve social interaction through gardening activities.
Even if you don’t garden, there are simply benefits to having plants and flowers around. Park and Mattson in 2008 confirmed that hospital patients recover better with flowers.   Patients with flowers need less pain medication, have better blood pressure and pulse rates, and have a better sense of wellbeing than patients who do not have flowers.
In the flower country of Holland, researchers have also proven that people eating in restaurants that have tables with fresh flowers are in better moods….that sounds good for business! A study done by Harvard University, says that flowers in the home or office create long lasting feelings: being in the presence of flowers creates a feeling of compassion towards others.  Putting flowers in your home encourages feelings of wellbeing and chases away worries…and these feelings carry our mood over even at work!
Herbs are also important and are plants that have natural chemicals which can affect the brain.  Many herbs can be grown for their relaxing benefits: taken as a tea, or absorbed through our skin in a bath.  Herbs such as lavender, chamomile, catnip, hops, lemon balm, and valerian are just a few which have relaxing benefits.  We can grow all of these in northern Ontario.

And then we can also nourish our brains by growing brain food in our gardens. Roasted pumpkin seeds and dry sunflower seeds are an excellent source of the brain chemical, tryptophan, making them a safe, natural way to relive mild depression and insomnia. Additionally, sunflower seeds are high in thiamine, an important B vitamin for memory and brain function.  This is just two examples; there are many more brain foods.
Overall, growing and eating lots of fruits, vegetables, seeds, nuts, and grains have abundant nutrients to keep your brain healthy.
So all year long, our brains can enjoy the harvests of summer.  We can even try growing herbs or small plants indoors throughout the winter in window pots of soil. Just having soil in our hands is healthy!  Our skin is the largest organ in our body and can absorb all kinds of things. Researchers at Bristol University in England began pursuing a treatment for cancer and fed mice harmless bacteria named mycobacterium vaccae.  Not a cure for cancer, but what they discovered was that the mice became less agitated and had less anxiety because it increased the brain chemical serotonin.  Why am I telling you this?  Because this bacteria exists naturally and abundantly in one important thing for gardeners….it exists in soil. 
So gardening is in fact a truly good activity for positive mental health.  Keep your hands in contact with soil, get dirty and keep your brain healthy! Gardening is also good exercise, and exercise benefits the brain.  Plants are also good listeners, and when you join a group such as this, you can share your stories with others.  There’s just so many benefits to gardening, it’s impossible to relay them all… so go ahead and garden knowing that you are enjoying life, experiencing good mental health and having fun! 

Sunday, October 20, 2013

Concern or Curiosity?

In case you’re unfamiliar with how to identify an OPP car, our local newspaper hosted a full colour front page photo in this week’s edition.  In our neck of the woods, colour photos rarely appear in the paper, unless paid for, so this addition was special.

The headline?  OPP EXTRACT BARRICADED MAN.  For the full story, you need to turn to page 3.  A 27 year old man (not identified) however the street was named in this small town, was sent to local hospital for assessment.
People in our community, spending that Sunday afternoon 10 hours away in Toronto, heard of this story as it unfolded.  Many people knew of it through Facebook or through local gossip.
What a demonstration of the power of communication!  Two questions make me think though.
Is it not clear that the gentleman involved was having a difficult day….was the newspaper sensitive to that?
As a community, if we can express “concern” after someone is having a difficult day…..could we be even increasingly supportive by expressing concern before someone has such a difficult day?  Before the OPP and Crisis Unit and the local media arrived on the scene, could someone in the community have provided some help and support when the problem was unfolding?   Were there no signs that a bad day was brewing?
Are we reacting with concern or curiosity and prejudice?  Please let me know.

Monday, October 14, 2013

It could all be in your?

There is no denying that some people think mental health problems are all in a person’s head.   Mental illness is real, it’s not imaginary and while there is a link to the brain, there may also be a link to the gut

New research is thinking that bad bacteria in your gut can produce toxins and make your brain toxic too….literally (for example, the bad guys might contribute to depression and anxiety)

The good news is that you can also produce helpful bacteria such as the bacteria in yogurt which just might, in turn, lift your spirits!

It’s all new research and if you don’t like yogurt, anything fermented might be just as good (as long as it’s not high in fat or high in sugar) You can also try yummy fermented things like sauerkraut!

Its thanksgiving weekend, so we’re not just talking turkey here (which contains the amino acid tryptophan that also can relax you)  

If you want to find out more: here’s the audio and story link….

Perhaps following your gut is too simple. 

I do know, though, that when I’m feeling down or uptight I need to do something about it or I never feel better. So instead of indulging in that piece of cake and regretting it later, please pass the yogurt!  There seems a new yogurt advertised weekly to tantalize your taste buds…but please don’t flavour it like turkey J

Tuesday, October 8, 2013

Pandas, not as cute as you think

This CBC radio show caught my attention this week...the discussion was about rheumatic fever, a child hood illness that I had stemming from strep throat.  Apparently, I "got off" pretty easy and didn't develop Pandas.

Pandas are not the cute and cuddly things that Harper and his wife had a photo op with as they were welcomed to our Toronto zoo
Pandas is a medical term for Pediatric Autoimmune Neuropsychiatric Disorders Associated with Streptococcal infections.  Scientists believe that Obsessive compulsive disorder can develop quickly in children ( a mental health disorder leading to uncontrollable compulsions, thoughts, behaviours) from strep throat...but when treated quickly, can be averted.  Here's the story. so cute anymore, but something you might want to share with others the next time you see one in a movie, store and next to Harper.  Thanks!

Monday, September 9, 2013

A cause for phobia?

A new phobia, related to Swiss Cheese is now on the '"market". It is called : trypophobia (in other words, a fear of objects that are pock-marked or clustered with holes).  A dear friend shared the above photo with me, and I'm thinking I may just have this phobia too. The pic is of a star nosed mole, which neither she or I knew existed, until her cats graciously adorned her step with this "gift"....soup anyone?
Geoff Cole, a vision and attention expert at the University of Essex, recently stumbled upon this fear which can cause nauseousness...ok, not a good ingredient for soup then.
My "beef" about all of this, not the mole but the study, is that perhaps money could be generated towards more serious research...say Alzheimers? We know that depth perception is a significant problem in Alzheimers, and environments such as "speckled" terrazzo concrete type flooring often used in nursing homes can make a person with Alzheimers very sea sick and anxious.  I know one woman who constantly thinks she is "floating" at sea and has an extreme fear of water.
Maybe I'm just a scrooge, maybe Cole's idea to go ahead and research  this more to see if the phobia has an "evolutionary basis" is a good idea?  I wonder if his research could be speeded up if his cat left him a "holey" star nosed mole?

Friday, September 6, 2013

Tasering coming to you?

In the Toronto Star this morning I read this account:

Speaking Italian and alone on a Mississauga City Streets on August 28 th at 3 in the morning, while failing to “relinquish” a knife, police tasered a relative of Angela Pasquale….her 80 year old mother with dementia.  Angela’s mother has been waiting for long term care for the past 3 years…now she’s in the hospital as a result of the police confrontation.
Tasers can be used when a person is exhibiting “threatening or assaultive behaviour”. As of August 29th, all front-line officers in Ontario have the right to bear and employ tasers.
The number of people with dementia, Alzheimers and the like is growing rapidly and becoming a real concern.  We are learning more and more about how scary these illnesses are for the person’s suffering from life impacting confusion, and no cure is yet to be found.
At least Angela’s mom wasn’t shot. 
This reminds me of last year’s incident with mental health patient Michael Eligon who was shot to death by Toronto police after leaving a hospital psychiatric ward wearing a hospital gown, socks and a toque...and apparently carrying scissors.  Maybe we’ve learned from the confusion around the 2007 tasered-to-death of Polish immigrant Robert Dziekanski on the floor of Vancouver's airport? He was so upset he picked up a paper stapler to defend himself from police.  And then there’s this summer’s killing of Sammy Yatim outside of a Toronto street car…shot nine times by police….and then tasered.
Compassion?  An attempt at understanding…perhaps speaking calmly and slowly to a person who is disoriented?  Calling in other supports?
Really, an 80 year old woman….out in the dark world, alone, confused and resorting to her mother tongue.   Tell me, was she “defending” herself with her kitchen paring knife to peel apples or something bigger to cut bread?   Who’s next?   

Thursday, September 5, 2013

Exercising laughter

It’s been a busy work day with a group of colleagues from around the province.  Near the end of the work day, which involved a lot of concentration, discussion and sitting, a co-worker quietly said to me that it was time for “brain gym”.  Thanks, Paula, for demonstrating an exercise and giving me a brief synopsis of what it involves, I had never heard of it before:

There are 26 exercises/movements which have been developed, and the concept is that doing these increases your ability to learn and retain information.  Actually trying this out in the middle of our group discussion (about a work related topic) really wasn’t possible….. So I’ll have to explore this more and see if it might be a possible solution or an aid to my menopausal memory problems and if it’s good for my mind.
What I can say for certain what is good for my mental health is a good laugh.   At the end of this work day, I was blessed with the opportunity to better get to know a wonderful group of gals.  We shared stories, some of wonderful trips and adventures but mostly about everyday life:  leaky roofs, driving experiences, the challenges of new living arrangements, finding the perfect special occasion dress in a second hand shop window with matching shoes and handbag, playing tag with nieces and nephews, carnation milk with tea and laughing at a cat crossing a city street directly at an intersection. 
It reminded me that, while not all situations in life are funny, it’s my attitude that will make a difference…..I need to continue to exercise my smile, Thanks gals!

Wednesday, September 4, 2013

Bob and James

Driving the highway on the way to work today, I was listening to CBC radio.  This story caught my interest about Bob and James changed each other’s lives.  Both were homeless, down and out and lifted each other up although physically, it is easier for James to get Bob on his shoulders as Bob is a cat.
Now take a look at Bob and James a couple of years earlier to see the dramatic change:
If you need further evidence, here’s a quick link to  an example of some research:
If you want to find out more…James and Bob have two books.  “A Street Cat Named Bob” and ‘The World According to Bob”.  I  plan to read up! 
Just a hint, when looking for the books….you’ll need to refer to James Bowen as the author J  Happy reading!

Thursday, August 22, 2013

Scatological humour...huh?

I admit, I had not heard of this type of humour until I did some research.  It has existed since the beginning of time: Euriphedes in ancient Greek comedy, Jonathan Swift’s poetry, Mozart’s letters….South Park and Homer Simpson.

Yes, all of these famous people and characters are well versed in scatological humour, otherwise known as “porcelain poetry”.

Why the interest?  Well, I’ve just had a thought provoking experience.  My dear hubby (who has a pattern of “repairing” things in evening hours directly before leaving for vacation) began to replace the toilet seat.  Began.  It is no longer functional.  Apparently porcelain and power tools are not a good combination….but what was needed to remove the old seat!  I’m all “cracked” up over this experience but have managed to maintain a sense of humour.  (I think)

Psychologists say that “toilet humour” aka scatological humour begins around potty training time, and is a type of humour found in all cultures.  Some people even argue that as adults, a good “toilet” joke is quite a skill when delivered with without offence.

Humour is good for our mental health, and if it’s not culturally or racially directed, and no one is the “butt” of the joke…is humour about managing our bodily functions (especially in public places) harmful? Infantile? Or fun? 

I can’t find any research on the topic…but there must be a great market….otherwise, “tidy whitey” commercials wouldn’t be so popular…. Enjoy the humour!

Without a functional throne in my house, perhaps I should do as suggested: “enjoy the go” and head out to the bush with those cute bears?

Sunday, August 18, 2013

A video

that is true for me, please take a look:

Sunday, July 28, 2013

Another point of view?

It's been a difficult couple of weeks.  Waiting with a person very dear to me, who was having a mental health crisis, I clearly heard two hospital nursing staff commenting..."laughing and dancing like crazy people in their own little world".  When the nursing staff came in, and I confronted her, it became very clear that she didn't see the discrimination in the comment she made because she suggested that if the person with me was not in the hospital for mental health reasons, the comment might actually make sense under some circumstances.
Does it make sense to you?  Do some people live in a world all to themselves because they are oblivious of people around them?  If so, does this make the world a happier place?
Is the world a happy place if you have Alzhiemers?  Can you be drunk (literally) with happiness?  Can you laugh so much that the act of laughing can cause you to have a mental health crisis?  Perhaps this was not meant to be a discriminatory statement? 
What do you think? 
I'd really like to know because for my family and myself, it's been a tough week in our own little world.

Saturday, July 13, 2013

How was your week?

At work this week, we had a meeting on the phone with a group of eight people.  It began with some casual conversation….how are things going and so forth.  The organizer mentioned that his work week was, well….could he use the word: “crazy” he asked?  Everyone laughed and chimed in that he most definitely could.  Why did he ask then?  My “no” was drowned out and it made me think….am I overly sensitive? 
So what is “crazy”?  Apparently in the 15th century, the brain was being referenced as a pot (the kind you cook with) and persons whose mental health was suffering were “cracked pots”.  A “crack pot” takes on a different meaning these days.   The verb “craze” came into use in the 17th century, again meaning “cracked” or “insane”.  It was not until 1927, when the word “crazy”was first used in jazz music as a slang for “cool, exciting”.
Is “crazy” cool and exciting….has the meaning of the word “crazy” moved to something positive?  How do you use the word?  Is it ever appropriate to use?
I am of the zero-tolerance opinion.   If a word is offensive, I would rather take it out of my vocabulary completely rather than risk offending someone. 
Can we substitute another word for “crazy?”  So how about an unbelievable, inconceivable, incredible, unthinkable, unimaginable, outlandish, nightmarish, strange, screwy, nonsensical, unreasonable, unbalanced, senseless, unworkable week?  And then I also came across the words: kafkaesque or quixotic…they might be impressive? Would that describe it:  or was it just plain crazy?

Sunday, July 7, 2013

Dying of heat

The summer heat is upon us….some of us hide from it, some of us bathe in it and horrifically, some of us bake in it.
In the first week of July, one child in Edmonton died in a car parked outside a townhouse complex and in Milton, Ontario a child died in a car parked outside of the home.  A child in Markham survived as someone spotted her alone in a hot car in a mall parking lot.   Cars heat up to oven temperatures in minutes, even with a window left open a bit.
It is impossible to comprehend why children would be left in cars, let alone cars in sizzling summer temperatures.  The public has been outraged through Facebook and radio shows, such as in Calgary, suggesting that these parents should be shot.
That’s a natural reaction, according to psychologists such as Melvin Lerner (University of Waterloo).  It is human instinct to want to live in a just world where horrific things should not happen, particularly to these innocent children.  On top of that, we blame, because we want to believe that situations such as these would not happen to us.
Who could “forget” their child in a car?  United States research reveals that over 50% of parents simply forget.  Parents are over tired, over stressed, over worked.  For example, one father picked his child up at day care after he worked a night shift and went in to bed…forgetting his young son was in the back seat.  Can you imagine waking up to such a horrific crime? Or is it a crime?
If we are to get beyond the ugliness of these deaths, we need to be vigilant.  We also need to be aware that it could happen in our own community.  In the United States, an official campaign began last summer called:  “Where’s Baby? Look Before You Lock” with government dollars dedicated to advertising and awareness.  Here’s a couple of tips from them:
·         Keep something in the back seat (where children are supposed to be buckled in) such as a your wallet or cell phone which you will need for the day or
·         Placed a stuffed toy or something your child needs for the day in a spot you will see it before leaving your vehicle.
·         Don’t “run in to do an errand” such as at the post office or mall for a few minutes….ever…with your child in the car.  If you see a child alone in a car, call police.
We can think judgmentally about these parents and blame, or we can help.  As a caring community we can all take some responsibility to prevent this type of tragedy.
What do you think?

Sunday, June 30, 2013

The other "N" word

Driving down the highway, listening to the radio this week, a news story caught my attention.  In fact, it has caught the attention of several major companies:  Target, Home Depot, The Food Network, Walmart, Caesars, Novo Nordisk (a diabetes drug maker)…and more!  
The fourth highest earning celebrity chef in 2012, from the southern United States, is famous Paula Deen.   She was a spokesperson for all of these companies….was.   She was dropped immediately.  Why?  It was discovered she committed a repulsive sin for which, later in the week, she pleads innocence for.  If you’re interested, here’s a video link:
What is Paula guilty of?  Quite frankly…she used the “N” word. In my complete innocence and ignorance, I had a momentary sense of relief….the “N” word is no longer acceptable…yeah!  Yes, it was momentary as I realized that we were talking about the “N” word that that relates to the colour of skin which should have long been erased from our vocabulary.
My hope was that the world’s reaction was to the other “N” word….the kind that rhymes with “huts” and is used regularly to describe persons we don’t wish to understand: persons with a mental illness.  When will there be stigma associated in using the other “n” word, the word that should only appear on labels of jars or packages of the food we eat: nuts!

Sunday, June 23, 2013

Happy Birth-day!

It has been a “happy” weekend. We had the opportunity to join my son, and his girlfriend, as he celebrated his birthday.Friends of ours celebrated their father’s 90th birthday…that’s 90 birthday cakes over one lifetime. My math skills aren’t good enough to calculate just how many candle that would be in a lifetime….can you tell me how many?

The custom of lighting candles  began with the Greeks who worshipped Artemis,goddess of the moon. Her birthday was celebrated once a month with a round cake and lighted candles to represent the glowing moon.And, of course, the delicious handmade birthday cake I indulged in was accompanied by the Happy Birthday song which began early in the 1900’s.

Research shows that rituals increase positive feelings of satisfaction:a sense of belonging and a stronger sense of identity. Families who develop rituals function more effectively. What I know, most definitely,was that I had fun…. and by the smiles on my family, so did they….right down to the dog! It was great to watch the girls decorate the cake, and my son showing off the costume that went with it (I’ll keep the details private….but I do have pictures!)

It’s times like these that make me wonder why we don’t “party” more often? Instead of just celebrating and remembering the day we were born, what would happen if we celebrated each and every day? Perhaps our “figures” mightchange with the indulgence of daily cake….or would we simply get accustomed to the celebration and not enjoy the party if we did so more often? I had a lot of time to think on my way back home….and I think the secret for me, to this “happy” weekend was the anticipation of having a good time. In fact, I’m going to try to have a year of “happy”!

As I wake up each day ( and I hope I will)…it will be a new birth-day, an attitude of anticipation and a reason to celebrate! Happy birth-day!

Sunday, June 16, 2013

If you love your coffee...?

The Diagnostic and Statistics Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) is used by psychiatrists to diagnose mental illnesses and addictions in both adults and children.  The first edition came out in 1952 and the latest revised edition came out in May.
Why should you care?   Actually, you might find yourself classified in the revised manual….really!
Were you one of people in the massive line ups at Tim Horton’s and McDonald’s last Sunday?  Why last Sunday?  Well, it was the commencement of the annual summer Sunday morning “no coffee at home because Hydro is repairing the lines and has shut off the power” weekend.  For those not familiar with syndrome, it is an annual ritual in Northern Ontario often lasting a series of weeks. 
Back to the line ups…yes, the main item being served up seemed to be caffeine (in its various forms of coffee, tea, chocolate, ice cream and soft drinks). This has led me to wonder if we are “addicted” and if we are, is this a problem?
According to the Manual, caffeine can be.   It includes:  Caffeine induced anxiety disorder, Caffeine induced sleep disorder and for the true hard core addict, an over dose of caffeine can lead to  Caffeine intoxication (jitteriness, nervousness, anxiety, insomnia, muscle twitching,  gastro intestinal upset, fever, sensory disturbances, muscle twitching and rapid heartbeat). 
The latest revision of the Manual now includes Caffeine Withdrawal as a disorder:  which includes fatigue, headache and difficulty focusing but only if it affects your daily functioning.  (Try and take the morning coffee pot out of the common room at work in the morning and we’ll see who has difficulty functioning).
Is caffeine addiction really that serious, is it really a problem?  Can we really equate it with life changing mental illnesses such as schizophrenia and bipolar disorder that have a major impact on day to day life?  Perhaps you may not even know what these significant illnesses are….but you have likely heard about them in terms of “wacko”, “nuts’ or “crazy”.
I personally think that adding illnesses and addictions such as Caffeine related disorders to the official psychiatric manual is watering down our perception of what real mental illness is.
The question is: Do you really want to wear the same label as someone who is mentally ill because you love your Tims?  How would that feel?   Persons with a true mental illness have no more choice in the matter than someone who “chooses” cancer.  So let’s not water down mental illness by including coffee, but let’s think about it the next time we refer to someone as being crazy or nuts.  According to the DSM Manual, we could all be there.