Wellness is a big, bold and very broad idea. It is an ideal place where we all want to be, but often cannot find the starting point, let alone a map to the destination. It is a goal that should be on our daily “to do” list, but often ends up on a bucket list.
The World Health Organization defines wellness as “a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." A 2004 report from the health organization, in collaboration with University of Melbourne, states “there is no health without mental health.”
More detailed definitions of wellness include occupational, environmental, intellectual and spiritual, as parts of the overall mosaic.
The link between mental and physical wellness is direct and the effects are far-reaching. Depression and anxiety create problems with primary bodily functions such as digestion, appetite and sleep.
Mental-health problems are not just in your head, as suffers are often told. In fact, they are in your spine, digestive tract, vital organs, muscles and most places in your body.
The effects of emotions and mental health have been underestimated or ignored, partly because of long-standing negative cultural and social stigmas on the issue. Discrimination against people facing mental-health issues can push sufferers further away from places of help, and often prevent them from seeking treatment at all, which lessens their chances to live a purposeful, productive life in the larger community.
Recently, individuals such as six-time Olympic medalist Clara Hughes have spoken up to champion the fight to end the stigma around mental illness. Leaders such as Hughes, and supporting organizations, have opened up previously shut doors and begun letting the healing sunlight of awareness illuminate this previously darkened and hushed issue, expanding the long-overdue public dialogue.
For me, as with many people who face similar challenges, the starting point toward wellness was uncovering and addressing long-term mental-health barriers. Conditions essential for overall wellness, such as basic physical health, a satisfying job and meaningful friendships, are often unattainable when mental-health problems are left untreated.
Without help, problems worsen and can lead to chronic substance addiction, isolation and a self-perception of failure that deepens symptoms of the original condition.
It is a mean-spirited and merciless cycle that can be broken with professional and community support.
Through my experiences, I’m happy to report that there are many empathic and skilled mental-health professionals right here in Powell River. From social workers and caregivers to counsellors, doctors and psychiatrists, I feel gratitude for the many dedicated and altruistic individuals in our little town.
Mental wellness is a vital element in the lifelong journey to wellness as a whole. The path is littered with challenges and obstacles. Feeling disheartened or uncertain of your goal can be debilitating for all of us.
However, knowledgeable, caring people and kind acts in the community can guide individuals and perhaps society as a whole to that hopeful starting point on the path to wellness and complete health.
Robert Skender is a local writer who is determined to survive another winter on the west coast.