We’re in that cold stretch that extends from the end of the holidays to the beginning of spring. The festivities are over and wonderful memories have been made but for many Canadians, the season can fuel the impact of isolation, loss of loved ones, family and budget stresses, and a host of other issues.
What’s more, the Canadian climate offers little respite to those with Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD), a type of depression related to changes in seasons, according to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA).
Of course, many Canadians live with mental illness all year round. According to the CMHA, one in five people in Canada will experience a mental health problem or illness. Sadly, 49 per cent of those who feel they have suffered from depression or anxiety have never gone to see a doctor about this problem.
Stigma or discrimination attached to mental illness presents a serious barrier, not only to diagnosis and treatment but also to acceptance in the community.
Oshawa, Ontario resident Jane Ormrod recently used a digital health solution provided by Ontario Telemedicine Network called “Big White Wall” to help manage her mental illness from the privacy and comfort of her home. The secure web site provides patients with a supportive community of peers, as well as information and other resources.
“On the Big White Wall, I was able to connect with people all over the world completely anonymously, monitored and safely, who are sharing my concerns,” she said. “I was also able to receive feedback from a therapist, a professional from the Big White Wall who would weigh in with their opinion and would be able to flag anything that might be concerning.”
Ormrod found Big White Wall was particularly effective in reducing her reliance on friends and family for support.
“Family and friends can burn out. There’s only so much they can take of listening to anxiety, listening to your worries, feeling down when you’re down,” she added. “The Big White Wall, however, can do all this and it doesn’t burn out.”
Michael Green, President and CEO of Canada Health Infoway, says digital health is changing how mental health services are delivered in Canada.
“Digital health can increase access to mental health services and supports for Canadians, by eliminating barriers that prevent Canadians, particularly our youth, from getting the care they need,” he said.
Recently, the National Eating Disorder Information Centre (NEDIC) announced the addition of a web-based instant chat option to its existing helpline services. The goal is to target youth, who have statistically felt more comfortable using instant chat or text options to seek support.
“Eating disorders are wrought with stigma. The anonymity and confidentiality of our helpline gives Canadians a chance to talk about their struggle,” said Suzanne Phillips, NEDIC Program Manager. By extending our services to include instant chat, we are removing barriers to our services and further empowering individuals to discuss their experience and determine their next steps.”
“I look forward to more and more disruption in the way we offer treatment for Canadians living with mental illness,” added Green. “Having access to care in an accessible and dignified way, when and where patients need it, will go a long way to improving the lives of the many Canadians who are living with mental illness.”
SAD can be difficult to diagnose, since many of the symptoms are similar to those of other types of depression or bipolar disorder. Even physical conditions, such as thyroid problems, can look like depression. Generally, symptoms that recur for at least two consecutive winters, without any other explanation for the changes in mood and behaviour, indicate the presence of SAD. They may include:
- Change in appetite, in particular a craving for sweet or starchy foods;
- Weight gain;
- Decreased energy;
- Tendency to oversleep;
- Difficulty concentrating;
- Avoidance of social situations;
- Feelings of anxiety and despair.