Stressed out...
Mental health week recognizes daily stress as this years theme

Scott Crabbe
Northern News Services

Yellowknife (Feb 11/00) - Do you find yourself constantly feeling tense, continually high strung, carelessly teetering on the edge of a complete mental breakdown?

It's probably nothing more than stress, a common occurrence during this time of year for Northeners.

"We have some unique stressors here," commented Sandy Little, a mental health consultant with community wellness programs.

"Long, dark days, isolated communities and 40 below weather keep people inside not letting them burn off that extra energy."

The NWT division of the Canadian Mental Health Association has recognized Feb. 6 to 12 as Mental Health Week. The week was changed from May to coincide with the long, cold months of mid-winter -- a time when people can experience intensified instances of depression.

The theme for the week, "Daily Stress: It can Knock you off your Balance," focuses on both stress factors and release methods.

"(People) wonder how Yellowknife can be a stressful place, there's not a lot of daily commuters or downtown congestion," Little said.

"There is an unemployment rate and people having to cope with the impact of Giant mine layoffs. There's been a history of poor coping methods. A lot of people here aren't from the North, they're alone with a lack of support."

Simple, lighthearted methods such as laughing and talking can instantly ease pressure and relieve stress.

"Physical activity -- getting outdoors, listening to music, or enjoying some quiet time are all positive ways to release stress," Little said.

"Taking time out to play, knowing your priorities or volunteering in the community are also stress releases.

"Yellowknife is a highly creative community with a lot of theatre projects and volunteer agencies."

President of the NWT division of the Canadian Mental Health Association,

Kathryn Youngblut is urging organizations and individuals to access the association for mental health support.

"The CMHA is dedicated to helping individuals and communities improve their mental health," she said.

A number of programs, counselling services and support is available to the general public. However, the realization and confrontation of a mental illness can be difficult to face.

"It really is an incredible act of courage for someone to admit they need help," Little said.

"It's hard enough to ask for help with basic stresses, but it's 100-times harder when faced with a mental illness."

The stigma surrounding mental illness is one of the main reasons people find it difficult to deal with; western ethic has developed a certain intolerance towards mental illness, making those who may be affected feel outcasted, isolated and alone, according to Little.

A candlelight parade will be held on Friday night beginning at 7:00 p.m. on the steps of City Hall. The 'cause' for the parade is to bring attention to mental health issues and the removal of the stigma that surrounds them.