How to Protect Your Mental Health and Find the Right Resources

Dr. Nicholas Mitchell, medical director for addiction and mental health with Alberta Health Services, shares advice on how to stay mentally healthy during stressful times.

Illustration of Dr. Nicholas Mitchell by Josianne Dufour.

For many, the challenges of the past year, in combination with the demands of daily life and work, have taken a toll. Struggling alone with mental health can be overwhelming and may lead to worsening symptoms or negative methods of coping. Dr. Nicholas Mitchell, a medical director for addiction and mental health with Alberta Health Services, shares what mental health supports are available in Alberta.

Q. What are some of the unhealthy ways people may be currently dealing with stress?

With some of the things people have faced in the past 18 months, the tendency would be to rely on the coping strategies that we’ve used before. Some unhealthy coping strategies would include turning to alcohol or drugs or similar forms of escapism. Sometimes, denial of the situation can be a way people cope in the moment, but that also isn’t healthy because, ultimately, reality hits them later on.

Q. What are some signs of unhealthy mental states that people suffering may not immediately recognize?

Signs can include changes in personality, like being more irritable or angry or maybe withdrawing from social situations and relationships. There may also be physical symptoms, such as changes in eating, lower energy and fatigue and physical tension and muscle aches. People can experience difficulty sleeping where they chew-over anxious thoughts that keep them awake at night.

Q. What mental health supports can Albertans access for free?

We have a website called Help in Tough Times that has a lot of information on different stressors people might be undergoing and when and where to seek out help across the province. There’s another resource called, which is an online peer-to-peer mental health support community. It’s a place where people can go and talk to others who are struggling and hear what’s worked for them. It is a supportive community. Then there’s Text4Hope, a free service that sends daily texts to help address struggles with anxiety and depression. Alberta Health Services also has a Mental Health Helpline (1-877-303-2642) and Addictions Helpline (1-866-332-2322) staffed by professionals who can answer your questions.

Q. What’s the best way to help a friend or family member who is struggling?

When you see someone you care about struggling, make yourself available. Listen to them and what they’re going through but recognize your limitations. If things are beyond the help you can provide as a friend or a loved one, reaching out through those mental health lines is a good place to start.

Q. How else can we cope during stressful times?

Continue to maintain rhythms and routines that support your physical health. Make sure you’re getting enough sleep and eating healthy and exercising. If you’re physically feeling drawn or exhausted, you’re not going to be able to deal with stress. Make opportunities to enjoy things and take your mind off the difficulties and the struggles you’re having. That helps to promote a balanced perspective.

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