Healthy Living in the North

Community Health Stars: Myles Mattila

A graphic that states, "Nominate a Community Health Star."

The Community Health Stars program aims to shine a light on northerners who are positively influencing health.

Biking, playing hockey, and hanging out with friends: standard fare for a 15-year-old male in northern B.C. Myles Mattila shares these interests, but it’s his other extracurricular hobby that makes him anything but your average teenager; in his spare time, Myles works to promote mental health in youth throughout the Prince George area.

Myles’s mental health work is directly connected to his love for hockey, exemplifying the impact that professional athletes can have as positive role models. A ninth-round draft pick of the Vancouver Giants in the 2014 WHL draft and a midget player in Prince George, Myles was inspired to begin working with mindcheck.ca after reading a newspaper article in the Vancouver Province. The article was about the two-year anniversary of Rick Rypien’s suicide, and the impact that the tragic loss had on his friend and Vancouver Canuck teammate, Kevin Bieksa. In the article, Bieksa talked about the Raise-it-4-Ryp Golf Tournament, a charity event that he hosts in honour of Rypien, which raised $23,000 dollars for mindcheck.ca.

Myles wears a mindcheck.ca shirt, promoting the mental health site.

Myles promotes mindcheck.ca.

“I related to the story,” said Myles of the Vancouver Province article, “because I had a teammate with mental health issues, and was unsure how to help. I came to the conclusion that my peers should have the resources they need to get help, regardless of the mental distress that they’re experiencing.” Having been exposed to mindcheck.ca, Myles would, like Bieksa, strap on a skate of a different kind – one that would help him cut through the stigma surrounding mental health issues in youth.

Mindcheck.ca provided an excellent starting point for Myles. The website – a partnership between Fraser Health, BC Mental Health & Substance Services, and the Provincial Health Services Authority – addresses mental health in a manner that is accessible for youth. It features a broad range of topics, including depression, mood and anxiety issues; coping with stress, alcohol and substance misuse; body image, eating disorders, and more. Offering a range of resources like quizzes, stories, tips, and helpful contact information, mindcheck.ca also has links for friends and family members of youth who are suffering from mental illness and would like to learn more.

Mental health is an often-overlooked health subject, affecting more people than you might think and, unlike many other health issues, there is a stigma surrounding the topic. In fact, according to the Canadian Medical Association, only 49% of Canadians said they would socialize with a friend who has a serious mental illness. A shocking number when considering that one in five Canadians will experience a form of mental illness at some point in their life. Due to the stigma, two in three Canadians will suffer in silence and only one out of five children who require services will obtain them.

The importance of educating youth on mental health and wellness cannot be overstated. Mental health and substance use disorders are the primary health issues experienced by young people in their teens and early 20s. Additionally, 75% of mental health and substance use issues begin by the age of 24, often going unrecognized and untreated, which makes early identification vital to providing help.

Given the above statistics, you can imagine the tremendous challenges faced by youth looking for help. “There is stigma attached to youth,” said Myles, “and even worse is the stigma for a youth who also has mental illness. The belief can be that they are incapable of having insight into what they need so that then others speak for them without necessarily being their voice. While promoting mindcheck.ca, I have realized that talking is important for everyone to raise awareness about mental health. It makes it easier for everyone to open up and share their experiences when they are in need … breaking down the stigma of mental health, trying to make it an issue that everyone can talk about. ”

So, what is the message that Myles wants youth to take away from his presentations and the mindcheck.ca website? “…that they are not alone,” he said. “Many people struggle with mental illness. If they are struggling, they need to be aware that they have resources and contacts who can help them get through these difficult times.” He also recommends that anyone, youth or otherwise, who wants to champion the cause of mental health in youth can find promotional materials at mindcheck.ca.

Northern Health’s Community Health Stars

Northern Health couldn’t be happier to have someone like Myles as a voice for youth and mental health in our region and our first Community Health Star. Community Health Stars is a new and ongoing program that shines the light on members of northern communities who are doing exceptional work, on their own time, to spread the message of personal health and wellness. You can nominate a person who you feel would make a great candidate for Community Health Star at northernhealth.ca.

Mike Erickson

About Mike Erickson

Mike Erickson is the Communications Specialist, Content Development and Engagement at Northern Health, and has been with the organization since 2013. He grew up in the Lower Mainland and has called Prince George home since 2007. In his spare time, Mike enjoys spending time with friends and family, sports, reading, movies, and generally nerding out. He loves the slower pace of life and lack of traffic in the North.

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Tales from the Man Cave: “Man Maintenace,” because men need tune-ups too

A man is seeing his family physician.

Regular “man maintenance” can help you live a healthier life.

Every day, we seem to hear the same general suggestions about how to live healthy – don’t smoke, moderate your drinking, avoid drug use, eat healthy and live actively. But maybe, as we men age, we should add “get it checked out” and “talk to someone” to that list.

We think it’s common sense to see your family doctor if your health is distressing you, but common sense isn’t always common, especially when it comes to guys and their health. Remember, health is one of those things you might not think of until it’s too late. However, with a few well informed truths perhaps you can avoid some of the nasty issues that are out there, waiting in the wings.

“Getting it checked out.”

For young men, one step towards avoiding testicular cancer is a self-exam; however, your GP is your best bet if you aren’t sure and is definitely your next step if you think there may be an issue. As for us older fellas, in each successive decade of life there are other tests and checkups we should have done, like blood pressure, cholesterol, and the less pleasant prostate and colorectal screening. Once again, your GP is the best person to talk to about what’s right for you.

“Talk to someone.”

Stress is unavoidable in modern life – pressure at work, trouble with relationships, and our own expectations can all lead to increased levels of stress. What is a guy to do?

Well, let me suggest that any time is a good time to talk to someone about stress.

A few words with your significant other or a close friend may be all you need. However, if it persists or even worsens, then you may need to see a health care provider. Stress can affect your sleep, appetite, concentration, mood, and more.  These things can actually lead to the early development of disease and they are signs that it is time to see a professional. To say that managing stress is important is an understatement!

What are some things that can reduce stress and help us deal with it in healthy ways? That everyday advice we mentioned is a start: healthy diet, be physically active for 150 minutes a week, don’t smoke. Also, remember to be social, make sure you have a healthy work and life balance, get enough sleep, and practise relaxation. I find relaxation tapes help and information on mindfulness is plentiful on the web as well. All of these things will help you take small steps towards a healthier life.

What do you do to reduce stress in your life?

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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Tales from the Man Cave: Knowledge versus “knowledge”

Are you using credible sources to create your knowledge?

Are you using credible sources to create your knowledge?

Knowledge is more accessible than ever. Between the internet and 24-hour news stations, we’re swamped with it. But there’s knowledge and then there’s “knowledge.” Let’s discuss the difference between the two, because separating them is vital to your health.

For me, knowledge is information gained through evidence-based research. This includes checking your sources and the sources of the people providing you with the information. That’s one of the reasons I follow the Northern Health position papers. Many heads have worked on them, combining research from a variety of credible sources.

“Knowledge,” on the other hand, is the 10-second sound bite. It’s the picture of a piece of fruit on Pinterest that comes with a quote like, “Seven strawberries a day cures the common cold” without offering a source. These more accurately align with Stephen Colbert’s “truthiness.” They may have portions of the truth or they might just feel like they could be the truth. But we weren’t we all taught from a very young age not to believe everything we’re told?

Between the knowledge and “knowledge,” I always choose the first, burying my head in books and listening to audio books, all by credible sources. And that’s the key isn’t it? It has to be credible.

Here are some tips that are based on sound research from credible sources to help you stay healthy in mind and body:

That’s just scratching the surface of the available knowledge that will help us stay healthy. We can’t fit all of it into our brains, but we have to make sure that what we do hold onto comes from a good place (as is the case with all of the links in the above health tips).

Good luck to you!

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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The Grizzly Truth: A good laugh for good health

Nick, with a goatee, holds his cat in a Christmas picture.

Nick’s photo entry into the Northern Health Mr. Movember contest.

“Imagination was given to man to compensate him for what he is not; a sense of humor to console him for what he is.”

I have seen this quote attributed to both Francis Bacon and to Oscar Wilde. To be honest, I don’t have the citation to prove who said what when (if you know, feel free to comment and share as I wasn’t able to find firm evidence for either party). This quote carries a lot of meaning to me, both in my professional life and my personal life. I feel that I have a pretty good sense of humor and that has lent itself to some rich experiences with practical jokes and certain Mr. Movember contests (pictured right).

Wellness research shows that people who laugh regularly are healthier than those who do not. I’m not just referring to mental health either. One study actually found that people who laugh regularly have a lower risk for heart attack and an increased pain threshold! In work environments, the appropriate use of humor can de-escalate tense situations and increase the rapport between staff and clients.

There have been a number of circumstances in which laughing about myself, or my situation, has helped me move past unhelpful and unproductive feelings of stress or frustration. For instance, my hair started thinning at the age of 21. I’m 26 now and that trend is continuing, despite my protests. I will admit that the first time my “bald spot” was pointed out, I didn’t laugh and say “thanks for bringing that to my attention!” In fact, a couple of threats were exchanged before I made my way to the nearest mirror. At first, having a sense of humor about the situation wasn’t easy, but, over time, it made me feel better to have a laugh about it, even cracking a joke or two at my own expense. Humour has helped me come to terms with something that’s completely out of my control.

On a more serious note, I recently read about a nurse who had been struggling with significant depression. He received support to enroll in a stand-up comedy course and, since beginning the course, has found that his outlook, self-esteem, and mood have greatly improved. You don’t have to get on the stand-up comedy stage like the nurse, but, to improve your health, it is important to practise allowing yourself to laugh and to put yourself in an environment where laughter is common practise!

Nick Rempel

About Nick Rempel

Nick Rempel is the clinical educator for Mental Health and Addictions, northwest B.C. Nick has lived in northern B.C. his entire life and received his education from the University of Northern BC with a degree in nursing. He enjoys playing music, going to the gym, and watching movies in his spare time.

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Your health is worth taking the time to move!

don't give up

Don’t ever give up… don’t ever stop moving, no matter what it is you do.

I love quotes. I love collecting them and using the words to remind me to think differently. When I was writing the Northern Health position paper on sedentary behaviour and physical inactivity, I came across one quote that has become a very important reminder as I continue to wait for surgery to fix a damaged knee.

Great thoughts can still be important even when taken out of time and place. One hundred and forty years ago, Edward Stanley, the 15th Earl of Derby was giving a speech to students preparing to graduate. The words he spoke then, still resonate strongly now: “Those who think they have not time for bodily exercise will sooner or later have to find time for illness.”  

This wasn’t a new idea. Several thousand years earlier, Plato said, “Lack of activity destroys the good condition of every human being, while movement and methodical physical exercise save it and preserve it.”

Running and long walks used to be my passion, but they were not the best choice to keep my knee protected from injury. Being faced with physical restrictions that ended my favourite ways to exercise might have meant I would just give up and wait for the problem to be fixed.

There are many people just like me who are waiting for a problem to be fixed or have given up and begun to decline in fitness. The easy answer would be for me to go into a wheelchair or scooter, or even a seat elevator to get up and down my stairs at home. My doctor had different ideas.

I was struggling with depression and frustrated because I couldn’t go for the mind-clearing walks I loved. He reminded me that my knee will be fixed at some point and that right now my mental well-being was more important than my knee. I needed to find ways to be active that didn’t involve walking or running, but I needed to keep moving.

Now I use a stationary bike or I go to the pool and run in the deep water. While these aren’t my favourites, they are the exercises that keep me moving and keep me in a better place, both mentally and physically. Exercise keeps my joints and muscles fluid and strong, so even though my knee doesn’t want to work right like the rest of my body, it is hanging in there waiting to get treatment so it can catch up and be strong again.

Many days, as I watch co-workers and family go for walks, I realize it would be easy to feel sorry for myself and give up.  But giving up isn’t an option, I want to live a long and healthy and active life enjoying spending my children, their spouses and my wonderful grandchildren. Many people say that exercise is the best medicine… and I think they are right. If I don’t exercise, I don’t feel good and I don’t move well. If I exercise, I don’t have as much pain and I also enjoy the benefits of an improved mood as a side-effect of exercise.

Don’t ever give up… don’t ever stop moving. Research has shown that you can build muscle strength no matter what your age. Of course, at 90 you won’t build muscles like a 20-year old, but you can still build enough muscle to be as independent as possible. Keep moving, because as soon as you stop, there will be lots and lots of time for you to experience the diseases that come from moving less and sitting more.

Check out Dr. Mike Evan’s work 23 ½ hours: What is the single best thing we can do for our health? I hope you too will be inspired to find ways to keep moving.

[Editor’s note:  This is a great example of what the key message “Make time for physical activity, or TAKE time to be sickmeans to Christine. Tell us what it means to you! Visit our Picture YOU Healthy contest page for more details on your chance to win!]

Christine Glennie-Visser

About Christine Glennie-Visser

Christine is the regional coordinator for the HEAL (Healthy Eating, Active Living) Network in northern B.C. Christine loves to share good healthy local food with family, friends and co-workers and is passionate about making the healthy choice the easier choice for everyone. Although she is currently limited in her physical activity choices for medical reasons, she has become creative at fitting in activity and spends many happy hours deep water running and using gentle resistance training and stretching to maintain muscle strength. Christine can often be found in her kitchen, developing or testing recipes, and conspiring with her six grandchildren to encourage their parents to eat more fruits and vegetables! (Christine no longer works with Northern Health, we wish her all the best.)

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