What is the Big Five Personality Inventory?

On this site, in the Solid Blog and on Wellness Wednesdays on The Spin, we discuss ongoing strategies, ideas and plans for sustaining ongoing foundation for mental health and wellness.
If you or anyone is struggling or in crisis right now, please call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. Alternatively, crisis resources can be found here.

With a name like The Big 5, I know that it can pique people’s curiosity, so I thought it’d be interesting to discuss here in more details about the Five Factor Personality Model.

Many people are familiar with Myers Briggs Type Indicator tests, but The Five Factor Model of Personality or the Big Five is another model that can help you have a better understanding of yourself by understanding your personality traits.

At the very least, it’s a fun discussion point to be had with friends, but it can also be a self-assessment tool to help you understand deeper patterns in your life.

Personality traits are natural tendencies, but they can be improved upon by understanding and possibly working on emphasizing or de-emphasizing certain traits.

I think it’s important to note that traits does not mean that our ultimate potential is set in stone, but it can give you a sense of where your baseline is at the moment.


While there are other personality trait models, the Five Factor Model emerged as one that is widely accepted as describing the more essential personality traits. 


Not only can it be interesting to learn more specifically about your traits, it can also pinpoint strengths, as well as areas of improvements if you are finding gaps in certain areas of your life.

For instance, if your score is very low in conscientiousness, it could be that you have a tendency to be disorganized and not meet deadlines at work. Having it come up in a test like this can give you an insight that it could be an area of improvement to work on.


The Big Five Personality Traits can be summed up the acronym: OCEAN and each trait is measured between a scale of 1 to 100%.

Openness to experience (inventive or curious versus consistent or cautious).

Openness describes an individual’s tendency to think in complex, abstract ways. 
People high in Openness are creative, unconventional and artistic.
Whereas those who are low are more practical, conservative and conventional. Average score is approximately 58%.

Conscientiousness (efficient or organized versus easy-going or careless).

Conscientiousness describes a person’s tendency to be persistent and determined in achieving their goals.
People high in Conscientiousness are orderly, ambitious and dependable. 
Those who are low are spontaneous, impulsive and disorganized.
Average is around 55%

Extraversion (seeking outside stimulation versus preferring internalized introspection).

Extraversion describes a person’s tendency to be energized by being around other people versus being by oneself.
Those who score high are energetic, enthusiastic and excitable.
Those who score low are more reserved, calm and introspective.
Average is around 51%.

Agreeableness (friendly or compassionate versus challenging or detached).

Agreeableness describes an individual’s tendency to put the needs of others ahead of their own needs.
Those who score high are accommodating, helpful and selfless. 
Those who score lower are competitive, argumentative and brash.
Average score is around 63%.

Neuroticism (sensitive or nervous versus secure or confident).

Neuroticism describes an individual’s response to stress.
Those who score high are more anxious, moody and self-conscious. Those who score lower are more stable, resilient, optimistic and self-confident.
Average score is around 54%.


How can the results of the test be used for personal development?

There is a lot of different take-aways from these kinds of personality test results.

But using the test results to identify areas of improvement can be be helpful for overall well-being.

One example is that if someone scores lower on Neuroticism which would mean that working on emotional resilience or fitness to maintain more inner balance and sense of self, can improve quality of life by feeling more stable in general.  


Free test can be taken at the Open Source Psychometrics Project website.

Or a paid one that provides a lot more personalized test results can be found at a website called Truity.com

What are Introverts and Extroverts? What are the Differences Between Them?

On this site, in the Solid Blog and on Wellness Wednesdays on The Spin, we discuss ongoing strategies, ideas and plans for sustaining ongoing foundation for mental health and wellness.
If you or anyone is struggling or in crisis right now, please call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. Alternatively, crisis resources can be found here.

Extroversion and Introversion are Innate Personality Traits

We all have specific personality traits (this would be more of the “nature” parts of who we are when we think about “the nature vs nurture” influences) and we all fall somewhere on the spectrum between being more of an extrovert or an introvert.

But they are exactly that: Personality traits.  Traits are something that are innately true of who we are.

I think about the difference between extroversion and introversion as measured by the Myers Briggs Type Indicator or The Big 5 Personality Traits, which was developed by psychologist Lewis Goldberg, a personality model most commonly accepted in use today.

For what it’s worth, to understand the differences between extroverts and introverts provides us with the opportunity to understand ourselves, as well as others, a little bit better.

The Main Difference between Extroverts and Introverts

Again, it’s important to remember that we all fall within a spectrum.  But we can talk about the main differences to better understand and identify the differences. 

THE MAIN THING is that extroverts get energy from being social and being around others, while introverts refuel by solitary time, away from people.

Or another way of putting it is, do you have more of a tendency toward focusing on the outer world or the inner world?

Here’s what to know about the two polar ends of the continuum and determining where you fall:

Extroverts are commonly described as gaining energy from the external world and socializing, may seem “always on the go”, get tired after spending too much alone, and often have the ability to think while speaking.

Introverts are frequently introspective, have fewer and deeper connections, and often prefers to think first and talk later.

Being introverted and being shy are two different things. (No, they aren’t the same thing.)

Everyone regardless of being an introvert or an extrovert can experience shyness, which can be described to be more of a social-related stress or anxiety.

So shyness can feel uncomfortable, which can have a negative component to it.

On the other hand, fulfilling the need for an introvert to be alone is a relief, as opposed to it being a negative in anyway.

Of course, introverts CAN also be shy, but ultimately they are two different qualities.

Emphasis on Extroverted Qualities in Western Culture can Create Difficulties for Both Extroverts and Introverts

Expectations for extroverts to be leaders and always being “on”, while introverts are often encouraged to have more extroverted qualities socially and professionally

There is more understanding about the differences between introverts and extroverts and as they say, “knowledge is power.”

And with a better understanding that we are all unique individuals and talking more about it as we are today, allows us to embrace ourselves and other people’s differences.

With that said, it’s helpful to have a good understanding of whether your traits lean more toward introversion or extroversion, which can help with choosing a line of work more suited for you, the same can be true for relationships, too

For instance, as we talked about on the Spin with Barry Davis and Michelle Sturino on Wellness Wednesdays, there’s a reason why the the two of them, as extroverts, chose broadcasting, while I, as an introvert, has mostly been working more one-on-one with people in our respective lines of work.

Relationships and Connections Between Extroverts and Introverts Can be Challenging Due to Differences in Traits and Needs

It’s helpful to understand the differences of others and it’s a good reminder to cultivate empathy and compassion for all of our individual uniqueness

This can especially be true with partners and family members.

It’s possible for introverts and extroverts in families and relationships to find a happy place and it’s all about respecting one another’s unique needs.

1 – Be curious with one another: Ask questions about each other’s preferences with a genuine curiosity for each other’s different needs and work toward finding a mutual area that can work for you both.

2 – Don’t avoid having these kinds of discussions. Your relationship will be stronger for having discussed and to have an understanding of each other’s differences than to try and sweep them under the rug. Understanding on all sides can go a long way.

Curious about where you might fall in the spectrum between extroversion and introversion?

There is a pretty comprehensive online test available on the Psychology Today website.

Self Care and Coping When Tragedies Happen

On this site, in the Solid Blog and on Wellness Wednesdays on The Spin, we discuss ongoing strategies, ideas and plans for sustaining ongoing foundation for mental health and wellness.
If you or anyone is struggling or in crisis right now, please call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. Alternatively, crisis resources can be found here.

How do we practice self-care and manage emotionally when there’s so much news in the world of tragic events?

As with so much of mental health, it is valuable to have the understanding that self-care for our overall well-being is necessary during these difficult times.

There can definitely be a mental health impact to learning about, experiencing from afar and thinking about these tragic events.

With so much violence in the world right now, we may collectively be experiencing a level of vicarious trauma.

Vicarious trauma was a term coined for helping professionals who experience burnout or compassion fatigue with repeated and consistent exposure to the experience of trauma of others

With so many of these tragedies and violent events in our consciousness these days, it may be possible that the constant exposure could be extending the phenomena of vicarious trauma to the larger public as well.

Whether there are symptoms of vicarious trauma or a general malaise due to knowing about tragedies, a sense of helplessness and hopelessness can cause symptoms of depression, anxiety and anger.

With these things in mind, understanding yourself and your tendencies can help you cope more effectively.

Those who have previously experienced trauma or lean toward being highly sensitive, anxiety and depression, will likely be more impacted by the knowledge of these kinds of events.

With tragedies happening more frequently in recent times, even from a general perspective, many people are being impacted more regularly by anxiety and fear.

It is important to consider the impact these events have on our collective mental health and for us as individuals to make sure that we protect our individual mental health.

Take the time to process your thoughts and feelings regarding these events, and practice self care.

If there is a feeling of being overwhelmed by all the tragedies in the world, you are not alone.

It is common for people to experience a number of different emotions following traumatic events.

These feelings can include shock, despair, fear, grief, anger, disillusionment, and more.

You might also find that you have trouble concentrating, sleeping, eating or even disturbances to your daily routine.

A self-care practice starts with knowing how these kinds of events impacts you personally and to taking steps to take care of yourself accordingly

Following large impact tragedies, many of us can often feel torn between wanting to stay informed and updated, but it can also be a struggle to process all the constant and incoming information emotionally.

If you’re wondering about how to cope better or to strengthen your ability to adapt well during difficult times, here are some tips for self-care when coping with tragedies

Take a break from consuming the constant stream of news.

Try to consciously limit the amount of news you are consuming. Whether it’s from the social media, internet, television, or newspapers

While getting the news can feel as thought you are being informed of updates, being overexposed to it can actually increase overall stress levels.

It can be challenging to know how to find the right balance, but at the very least, be aware that taking breaks from consuming news (eg – once an hour for a few minutes or limited to 30 minutes a day) will be beneficial.

It’s also helpful to intentionally schedule to do something you enjoy after taking in some news about these types of incidents, such as a hobby, physical activity or watching a funny video online.

Seek support.

Especially if you’re noticing that it’s beginning to interfere with your day-to-day life, do make sure to talk to someone or others you trust and feel safe with.

It can be friends, a partner, family or therapist. It is important to be able to process your feelings and talking about things can help organize thoughts and feelings, that can otherwise stay internalized and potentially impact your mental health.

Connect with others.

You can start by connecting with friends and loved ones.

It can be as simple as reaching out and expressing gratitude for those important people in your life, or scheduling time to get caught up with each other over a meal or a social event.

Alternatively, you can locate resources in your community on ways that you can help people who have been affected by this incident, or have other needs.

Helping someone else often has the benefit of making you feel better, too.

Resist trying to make sense of the violence.

Learning more about what could lead to acts of violence is important in curbing more of them.

But trying to rationalize violence can often lead to inaccurate assumptions.

For example, thinking that certain cultures or groups are “just more violent” can have harmful effects in the way we treat others and move forward from a tragedy.

Resist trying to figure out the “why” of these events and people’s motivations, because it’s unlikely that you’ll ever know what the answer is. There is really just no sense in a lot of these attacks.

Destruction and acts of violence, no matter where they come from, are senseless, and it is difficult to tolerate.

But focusing on the things that are within your control and making a difference in your immediate life can often help to make times like this more tolerable.

Coping with Grief and Loss

On this site, in the Solid Blog and on Wellness Wednesdays on The Spin, we discuss ongoing strategies, ideas and plans for sustaining ongoing foundation for mental health and wellness.
If you or anyone is struggling or in crisis right now, please call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. Alternatively, crisis resources can be found here.

I was deeply touched by the conversation featured with Erin Davis on The Spin in March, 2019. She spoke so generously about her experiences of losing and grieving her daughter in an unexpected way a few years ago.

One poignant thing Erin had so rightly mentioned is that grief is not something that is openly talked about a lot.

And I do feel it’s really important to talk about grief and loss, because it is something that we all experience at one point or another.

However, I suspect that one of the reasons it is often not a topic of discussion is because it is a tough subject matter to talk about.

Not only does it feel so difficult, it is also an incredibly private and individual experience as well.

“Grief is unique and individual”.

Not only is grief itself complex, our individual experiences of grief can be very unique and different.

Additionally, how you might grieve during one loss can be very different from how you grieve another loss.

A particular experience of grief and loss can be based on how you feel about the situation or person, the circumstances and unresolved feelings, etc.

We, as individuals, also possess unique feelings about loss. It all plays a role in how the grief process might be.

It’s so important to understand that while we can all relate to loss, we will never completely understand the experience of another person’s grief.

Elizabeth Kubler Ross’ Five Stages of Grief

There is relatively very little discussion about the process of moving through emotions in general.

But with something as strong and unavoidable as grief, it can help to frame the stages of grief as a process. Which can then help to make sense of the difficulty and complexity of grief.

Where I think the 5 Stages of Grief is so powerful, is that it gives a roadmap, of sorts, of what can be a part of going through the process of grieving.

This can be so valuable to know when grieving a loss can feel so terrible, confusing and perhaps, never-ending.

But the key is that while it can help to have a roadmap, the journey of grieving isn’t linear.

It can often be quiet meandering. Additionally, even with an outlined process, it doesn’t meant that it’s possible to rush through it.

For some people, properly grieving can take a shorter amount of time, while for others, it can last for a very, very long time. Again, the process is so unique and individual.

The 5 Stages of Grief at least can give a sense of what to expect and what may be happening at certain times. Being able to get even a little sense when things may not make a lot of sense, can be a source of some comfort.

Helpful Tips Around Grief

Grief is often delayed for for those who are immediately impacted by it.

One of the things I don’t hear being talked about very often is that for those who have lost a close family member, grief can often be delayed based on immediate, more practical responsibilities that may be required, such as organizing the memorial and estate arrangements, and supporting other people’s grief.

Supporting Those In Grief

When someone you know is grieving, where they are in their grieving process and who they are as individuals, will make a difference as to how to provide thoughtful and compassionate support.

Erin, Barry and Michelle on the The Spin talked about the power of a hug and showing your compassion through non-verbal means, because words are not always the most appropriate means to offer support.

Often we might say, “Let me know if there’s anything I can do.” And it’s absolutely generous to offer, but it can also be helpful to keep in mind that many people often don’t know what to ask for in a time of intense grief.

If some time has passed since the initial loss and you notice there is some sadness, you can offer to talk or let them know you are there for them. Holidays, birthdays and other special occasions can be particularly tough.

Again, everybody is different and navigating grief is complicated. But acknowledging their loss, and the ups and downs that’s part of grieving can be a source of support.

Resources for Working Through Grief

As it is true with most things and as discussed here in this post, different people have different needs when it comes to working through grief.

Many grieve and work through their loss and sadness privately or with the support of a few close-knit trusted individuals around them.

However, in the event that a few resources can be helpful for you or someone you know, consider the following:

Books

Mourning Has Broken: Love, Loss and Reclaiming Joy by Erin Davis
On Grief and Grieving: Finding the Meaning of Grief Through the Five Stages of Loss by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

Therapy or Counselling

If professional support in the form of psychotherapy or counselling may be helpful, consider consulting with someone who specializes or has experience working with grief.

Support Groups

As with seeking support from a therapist or counsellor for grief, it could be helpful to check with individual groups as to whether it is facilitated by someone trained to work with grief.

It can also be helpful to keep in mind that there are also specific kinds of grief and support groups, and it can be that much more specific and meaningful to seek out groups who specialize in, for instance, a grief group for losing a pet or family member or a child.

You may also consider asking about the size of a group before attending, should you prefer a larger group versus a smaller, more intimate group or vice versa.

Experiencing grieving and loss can be some of the most difficult times in life. Whether it’s you or someone you know, it’s important to know that it is a process, albeit not exactly linear, and it takes time for things to feel “more normal” again.


Four Common Misconceptions About Mental Health Help, Professionals and Approaches

On this site, in the Solid Blog and on Wellness Wednesdays on The Spin, we discuss ongoing strategies, ideas and plans for sustaining ongoing foundation for mental health and wellness.
If you or anyone is struggling or in crisis right now, please call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. Alternatively, crisis resources can be found here.

I have been learning a lot through this process of contributing to Barry Davis’ The Spin on 960AM talking about mental health on Wellness Wednesdays (wow – that’s a mouthful!).

So incredibly grateful for this opportunity to share the knowledge I have that’s hopefully helpful, but to also be learning so much in this process.

A significant thing I learned this past week is that many people may not have a clear understanding of what therapy might be like, what kinds of professionals are available and also some confusion over different therapeutic approaches.

So in this post, I’d like to try and clear up some common misconceptions about mental health treatments, professionals and available therapies.

Misconception #1 – Therapy involves lying down on a couch and talking to a therapist with a notepad who says very little.

The most common representation of talk therapy in movies, TV shows and other entertainment mediums are of the therapy couch and a therapist sitting almost mysteriously with a notepad. Listening, but maybe not saying a whole lot.

This style, or modality, of this particular form therapy is called psychoanalysis.

And in terms of professionals that provide psychoanalysis, it can run the gamut of psychologists, social workers, psychotherapists and other qualified professionals. The thing to keep in mind is that it’s a therapeutic approach, not what all talk therapy looks like.

And the difference between psychiatrists and psychoanalysts, at least in Ontario, is that the majority of psychiatrists don’t provide talk therapy. And even if they do, their therapeutic approach probably would not be psychoanalysis.

Psychoanalysis involves meeting one on one and to bring the unconscious to the conscious awareness by talking.

The primary differences between psychoanalysis and other forms of talk therapy is that in psychoanalysis, it generally involves meeting several times a week.

But like other forms of talk therapy, it’s also focused on the ability to learn to talk about yourself and to put spoken words to thoughts and feelings without applying too much editing or filter.

Also, as thoughts and feelings are spoken, they can take on a different context or understanding when they are heard aloud, which can lead to insights.

This approach is only one specific approach to talk therapy. But if it is a style that you’re interested in exploring, I would suggest conducting a Google search specifically for “psychoanalyst near me” or something like that.

The key takeaway here is: Not all talk therapy is and looks like psychoanalysis.

Misconception #2 – All mental health professionals are the same. Aren’t psychologists, psychiatrists and psychotherapists all the same things and do the same things?

The short answer is: No.

I believe that one of the biggest issues, specifically here in Ontario, is that folks out there who are looking for mental health help generally don’t know who or to turn to.

There are different titles and while the services they provide can be similar, the approach, style and expertise might differ.

There are a number of different mental health professionals who are regulated, in other words, registered or licensed, to provide mental health support in Ontario.

The registered professionals here in Ontario are Psychiatrists, Psychologists, Social Workers, and Registered Psychotherapists.

For the purposes of today’s discussion, the main differences are:
Psychiatrists are medical doctors who specialize in mental health issues and generally don’t provide talk therapy, but are covered by OHIP.

Psychotherapy services provided by clinical psychologists, social workers and psychotherapists, outside of institutional settings such as hospitals and schools, are out-of-pocket.

But if you have insurance coverage, it’s good to check with your benefits provider to make sure which professionals are covered under your plan.

One other thing here, since psychiatrists don’t often provide talk therapy, it’s not uncommon for individuals with mental health difficulties to have both a psychiatrist and a talk therapist (psychotherapist).

Misconception #3 – Psychotherapy or talking is the only option to treat mental health.

A lot of the conversations we currently have about mental health treatments seems mostly to be focused on talking.

Talking and learning how to effectively express thoughts and feelings are crucial components of treating mental health difficulties.

And to be clear: Taking the big step to talking, whether it’s to a friend, loved one or professional, is the first and very important step to take.

But as we mentioned a moment ago, consulting a psychiatrist or if you decide to talk to your family doctor, the likely treatment option that will be suggested would be medication, a medical intervention.

For some people, the help of short or indefinite term of taking medication may be one answer.

But there are also other kinds of mental health treatments like 12 step programs (such as Alcoholics Anonymous), body-based treatments, mindfulness based stress reduction (MBSR) and biofeedback, just to name a few.

The right treatment fit is specific for every individual.

With that said, I want to make sure to stress, the first step is talking.

And if the chosen form of primarily treatment is medication, I think it’s valuable to note that studies have shown that the most effective outcome is usually a combination of both talk therapy and medication.

Misconception #4 – All talk therapy or psychotherapy is the same.

So another way that it can be confusing to seek psychotherapy help is that not all talk therapies and approaches are the same.

Psychoanalysis is different from Cognitive Behavioural Therapy which is different from Gestalt Therapy which is different from Psychodynamic Therapies.

There are more than 50 types of different psychotherapy approaches.

And to make it that much more complicated, a specific helping professional doesn’t necessarily mean that they practice a certain therapeutic approach.

For instance, one clinical psychologist may specialize in practicing CBT (which is Cognitive Behavioural Therapy) while another might be focused on Emotion-Focused Therapy, while another psychologist might work from a Mindfulness-Based approach.

After all that, what’s a good way to start looking for a talk therapist?

We’ve talked about this before: Sometimes Dr. Google can have a whole lot of unhelpful health-based information.

But in this case, going to Google and typing in “psychotherapist or therapist near me” will pull up a list of private practitioners.

By going through the different websites and profiles, you can determine who might feel like a good fit for you.

It might be their bio, their area of specialization or perhaps their approach.

Or if you have a specific approach in mind, you can do a Google search on say, “Attachment Based Therapy near me” and it should pull up a list of therapists who specialize in that particular approach.

The important thing here is to find the right fit and approach for you, since studies have shown that this is one of the main indicators of therapeutic effectiveness.

Is There Something About Mental Health Help You’re Not Clear About?

Leave your questions in the comments below and I will either give an answer right here in the blog or maybe answer your questions on-air on one of the upcoming episodes of Wellness Wednesdays on 960AM’s The Spin with Barry Davis.

What to Expect When Seeking Mental Health Help: Part 1

I hope more and more people are understanding that when it comes to mental health, talking out our thoughts and feelings can be really helpful.

Having trusted people around where you can be one another’s support and talk about things that are going on, is creating a solid foundation for maintaining good mental health.

But what about professional support and resources? What’s available and where can they be found?

Specifically here in Ontario, I believe that one of the biggest challenges of figuring out how to get help is the fact that it’s really confusing to know how and where to get it, and also, what’s the help that’s actually available.

Three Part Series About the Specifics of Getting Mental Health Support in Ontario

This will be the first in a series of discussions about getting help and the details behind going about getting help.

This post will address some publicly funded options.

In Part 2, we’ll discuss other kinds of resources and services, which will mostly be out-of-pocket.

And lastly in Part 3, we’ll discuss specifically about what to expect and the differences in the various therapy, counselling and coaching options available

What Publicly-Funded Options Are Available?

First of all, in terms of finding counselling or a professional to talk to, there is relatively little available that’s publicly funded.

Specifically, there are very few psychotherapy options that are covered by OHIP.

But let’s start by talking about a couple of resources available that are covered:

First off, ConnexOntario is a provincial resource for Addictions, Mental Health and Gambling issues.

At ConnexOntario, Information & Referral Specialists are available by phone, chat and email. These Specialists are not counsellors or therapists, but they are trained to provide information about the various publicly-funded options that are available.

Also, there’s your family doctor: A few years ago, there was a report that stated that approximately 75% of doctor’s visits are for stress-related issues in the US.

It’s a good first step to speak to your family doctor, but it’s important to keep in mind that they’re most likely not specially trained in treating mental health, especially being able to provide counselling or talk therapy.

But again, a good accessible and first step to getting help.

What to expect when talking to your family doctor

Many family doctors will listen to your concerns and will probably suggest one or the combination of:

Medication:

Please consult your doctor for more details and specific questions you have about medications.

But it’s important to know that there are different mental health concerns and different medication needs as a result.

If you are dealing with something that could be considered situational, which is likely to be more short term (like a change at work or temporary difficulties in a relationship), your course of medication may also be more short term. Probably in the neighbourhood of 6 months or so.

Or if you are dealing with a mental health concern or illness that is more long-term, it may be necessary to be on the medication and dosage that works on a more indefinite basis.

When it comes to medication, because every one of us is unique, finding the right medication and right dosage for someone’s specific mental health concern can often involve trial and error.

This is really skimming the surface here, but two things to keep in mind

First: If medication is prescribed for a mental health concern, be sure to have a process in place to follow-up with your doctor on a scheduled basis.

So that you can let them know how you are doing, and to adjust or change the medication and dosage if necessary.

Second: Many studies have shown that the most effective treatment plan for mental health concerns is a combination of medication and therapy. So do consider working with a mental health professional along with taking medication.

Clinical referral for a mental health support program:

Depending on the hospital network and the experience of your doctor, they may be familiar with specific programs they can refer you to.

These are programs and clinics run by hospitals, and also those run by the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (known as CAMH), and would be covered by OHIP.

These programs are usually focused on specific concerns like trauma, disordered eating, substance dependencies and, as I mentioned, other specific concerns.

And you will generally need a formal referral from your doctor to access these programs.

However, because your doctor may not be aware of the right program for your needs, the one thing you might consider is being your own health advocate and going online and looking for a program which would suit your needs.

It can be a bit of a scavenger hunt, but if you are able to find a specific program, you can take that knowledge and ask your doctor for the referral. You might also find that some programs might accept self-referrals.

Lastly, it’s good to keep in mind that even with the formal referral, there is generally a waiting list for publicly funded mental health services.

Psychiatrist:

A psychiatrist is essentially a medical mental health specialist and their services are covered by OHIP.

And at least in Ontario, they are the only mental health professionals who can prescribe medication.

A psychiatrist would have the ability to provide a medical diagnosis, and the treatment protocol is mainly medication-based.

In other words, while I understand that there are a few psychiatrists who also provide talk therapy, most don’t.

And the main difference between being prescribed medication by a family doctor versus a psychiatrist would be that a psychiatrist will have more specialized knowledge about an individual’s diagnosis and how to treat it with medication.

It’s like the difference between having your family doctor being the only physician to be treating a condition like diabetes, rather than also working with a diabetes specialist.

To see a psychiatrist, you will require a referral from your family doctor.

Your family doctor may refer you to a psychiatrist they may know, or you may wish to do your own research and ask to be referred to a specific psychiatrist.

Again, my understanding is that there is also generally a waiting list even once a referral has been made.

Suggestion to seek therapy or counselling out-of-pocket:

Once your doctor has an idea of your concerns, they may suggest that you seek talk therapy or counselling.

We’ll talk more about this in the next two posts, but the most widely available services for psychotherapy with the least amount of wait would be private practitioners.

When you Google therapist, psychologist or psychotherapist, you will get a list of professionals who can be contacted directly without a referral, but their fees will be out-of-pocket for you.

However, if you have access to benefits, services of a mental health professional may be included.

But again, it can be confusing because you will need to clarify with your insurance provider which professional they cover and for how much.

In Ontario, licensed helping professionals are one of the following: Registered Psychologists, Registered Social Workers and Registered Psychotherapists.

Lower Cost Out-of-Pocket Psychotherapy Options in the GTA

Working with clients as a psychotherapist since 2009, one of the things I learned was that there are many people seeking lower cost out-of-pocket psychotherapy options.

I compiled a list of these more affordable options here, and while theses services and therapists are also limited, there might be an option that may be right for you.

Next post in Part 2: Other services and resources, including out-of-pocket options.

Men’s Mental and Emotional Health

On this site, in the Solid Blog and on Wellness Wednesdays on The Spin, we discuss ongoing strategies, ideas and plans for sustaining ongoing foundation for mental health and wellness.
If you or anyone is struggling or in crisis right now, please call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. Alternatively, crisis resources can be found here.

Anything that’s human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable can be more manageable. When we can talk about our feelings, they become less overwhelming, less upsetting, and less scary. The people we trust with that important talk can help us know that we are not alone.

– Fred Rogers

During my psychotherapy training, I remember a distinct moment learning that 1 in 4 men are affected by a mental health issue in Canada.

And that approximately 11% of men will experience severe depression during their lifetime, while 9% of men are affected by anxiety.

Yet, men are less likely to seek help and support, and that male suicides have been on the rise and is one of the leading causes of death among males.

Numbers are even higher across the board among gay, bisexual and trans men.

Ever since learning these stats, it’s been my goal to be able to work with men in my practice and to do what I can to specifically help bring awareness to the importance of men’s mental health.

Changing the Script and Challenging Stereotypes

Emotions and mental health issues can unfortunately often be linked to the idea of being weak or lacking control.

As human beings, we are meant to have emotions, and difficult or challenging emotions are our system’s way of alerting us to something requiring our attention.

For instance, high levels of stress might often go unresolved for long periods of time due to denial or fear that acknowledging that there’s struggle means being weak somehow.

Not dealing with these struggles might result in a lack of sleep, losing or gaining appetite, aggression, increased substance use and so forth.

These are real and genuine health concerns, and I hope that we can keep having these discussions to help flip the script that whether it’s mental health or any other health-related concern, everyone deserves and should get help and support.

Solid Foundation in Overall Health Can Help

According to the Men’s Health Foundation of Canada, inactive men are 60% more likely to suffer from depression from those who are active.

I am a big advocate of building a solid foundation for overall health, which includes being active, taking care of nutrition and getting quality rest.

And something I don’t think we talk about enough which is: Maintaining good connections and relationships.

Ensuring that we have good, solid relationships makes it easier to be able to talk or ask for help.

But seeking mental health support is not only healthy, I believe it takes courage and strength.

Support and Asking for Help

It helps that there are more and more men openly talking about mental health.

I love the initiatives like the one Scooter Gennett of the Cincinatti Red’s have started to openly discuss the importance of talking about mental health.

The more and more it becomes a norm that we talk about caring for our mental health and the more it ultimately also becomes a strength.

Because not feeling down, worried, stressed, anxious and so forth, the more productive, successful and available we are for the important people and things in our lives.

Men tend to socialize focused around things like sports or music, which is a valuable form of social connection, sense of belonging and stress release.

However, it’s also good to have the opportunity to directly address specific issues.

In relation to women, men can sometimes get frustrated when women are looking to talk out what’s on their minds.

But talking things out, without necessarily looking for a concrete solution, can often be a source of stress relief.

Further having a professionally trained psychologist, therapist, counsellor, or coach in a confidential environment can be an important resource for taking care of and managing mental health.

In the past, men had little choice but to either stay silent, get to a breaking point for someone else to notice or perhaps talk to a family doctor, who may or may not be well versed in mental health treatment approaches.

Thankfully, online access has made it easier than ever to find the right resources and support.

Take advantage of the search engines, but do resist the temptation of self-diagnosing yourself using Dr. Google!

Additional Resources to Get Started

I Don’t Want to Talk About It” by therapist Terry Real is one of the resources that was most helpful for me during my training. “Hidden male depression is the focus of this clear, compelling book by a Massachusetts family psychotherapist who specializes in working with dysfunctional men. Because our culture socializes boys to mask feelings of vulnerability, he says, they bury deep within themselves damaging childhood trauma and its ensuing depressive effects when they become men.” (Description provided by Publisher’s Weekly.)

Heads Up Guys “is a resource for supporting men in their fight against depression by providing tips, tools, information about professional services, and stories of success.” (Description provided by the HeadUpGuys website.)

The Movember organization is dedicated to bringing awareness to men’s health and has an area of the website specific to men’s mental health.

There are also a few provincially publicly funded resources that can be found at Connex Ontario.

Of course, our talk here is just scratching the surface. But hopefully, we’ll bring more awareness and support the more we keep continuing the discussion.

Relationships: Understanding & Making Them Better

On this site, in the Solid Blog and on Wellness Wednesdays on The Spin, we discuss ongoing strategies, ideas and plans for sustaining ongoing foundation for mental health and wellness.
If you or anyone is struggling or in crisis right now, please call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. Alternatively, crisis resources can be found here.

I love talking about relationships and improving relationships because it is one of the areas that I love working with clients on.

Valentine’s Day is commercial and all that, but it’s also true that it can be tough for many people because it is a specific day when many of us are thinking about relationships, it can be a challenging time for some people.

And it can be challenging for folks in different phases of relationship, as well those who are single.

Examples of some struggles may be:
• Pressures of expectations in their relationship
• Accessing how the relationship has been feeling. Perhaps there’s been increasing conflict
• Loneliness. Folks can feel lonely, even in relationship.

Often, as human beings, we like to generalize and simplify things and if we’re not conscious of it, we can find ourselves predominantly thinking in either or’s or in black and whites.

So when we think of relationships, we might think of either being in one or not being in one. Or whether it’s simply good or simply bad.

But there are different relationship phases and our experiences of the same relationship changes over time and understanding that there are different relationship phases can be helpful.

For the sake of this post, I’m going to over simplify it, but let’s break it down to these three phases:

• Being single
• Folks in new or newer relationships
• Those in more established relationships (7 years+)

I believe it’s important to talk about relationships because healthy and connected relationships are what I consider to be one of the pillars for overall mental and emotional health.

You will often hear me refer to the importance of relationships and community because it not only keeps us in check through feedback, it can be helpful to better manage stress and get support

Relationship Tips for Singles, New(er) Relationships & Established Relationships

Singles – Have a very clear sense of your own deeper values. 

By deeper values, I mean things like:
How do you resolve conflict?
How do you like to spend quality time?
Introvert or extrovert?
Shy or outgoing?
How do you like to decompress?

It’s easy to get caught up on what’s on paper or the wish list.

But it can be crucial to be clear on these values so that there’s a foundation in place for a future, more solid relationship.

New and Newer Relationships – The deeper values audit is a good thing to do for everyone. It’s especially important because in newer relationships, it can be easier to get swept up in the emotions.

But if there are any red flags, rather than to disregard them or rationalize them, this is a good time to make sure to slow down and consider their larger future impact.

While attraction and strong connection can feel really great, it unfortunately doesn’t necessarily guarantee that these qualities alone will make for a good relationship.

Established Relationships – What to expect further into relationships are not often discussed because, I imagine, it’s not as exciting as the honeymoon phase.

But it doesn’t mean that there aren’t ways to keep things interesting and new in your relationship. And it can be even more meaningful because there’s more history, foundation and experiences together to draw from

Regularly schedule together time just the two of you, whether it’s date night or regular times away together. Whether it’s a trip or a night out doing something together that’s new (trampolining anyone?) will provide opportunities to reconnect or deepen connection.

Also, be open and communicative about differences, what’s working, what’s ahead and what can be improved.

It can be valuable to set up regular times to check in about what’s going on in life and within the relationship.

Overall Tips for Understanding Relationships Better

Be Authentically Loving: When is the last time you stopped and genuinely and truly expressed love for your loved one?

Life can be overwhelming and it’s easy to find ourselves in autopilot saying “love you” as though it’s a throw-away thing to say.

If it’s possible to slow things down once a day, and let our loved ones know that we care about them in a meaningful way, it can go a long way.

BONUS POINTS for taking a moment once a day to express loving kindness to yourself! For instance: “I am kind, patient and understanding.”

Understand Your Beliefs Around Love & Relationships: I am very fortunate to work with many people, many of them men, who are invested in better understanding and improving their relationships.

Working with a therapist, counsellor or coach can help you understand how you think about love and family can really help to improve relationships. 

My genuine wish for you, today and always, is love and kindness. ?

Winter Blues & Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD)

On this site, in the Solid Blog and on Wellness Wednesdays, we discuss ongoing strategies, ideas and plans for sustaining ongoing foundation for mental health and wellness.
If you or anyone is struggling or in crisis right now, please call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. Alternatively, crisis resources can be found here.

With winter having squarely arrived in our part of the world, today we are going to discuss the Winter Blues and Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) and a few tips to hopefully help with manage feeling the blues during this time of year.

Many of us experience a dip in mood during the winter, but there are also a subset of folks whose mood get impacted to the point where it can be considered to be Seasonal Affective Disorder (SAD) — which is a form of depression.

Winter Blues could be described as feeling more gloomy or sluggish, but if your level of low mood during the winter months is impacting all areas of your life, it may be Seasonal Affective Disorder.

Symptoms of Seasonal Affective Disorder can include two weeks or more of consistently depressed mood. Depressed mood symptoms can include sleep issues, excessively low energy and lack of motivation.

If you suspect that your level of feeling down is accompanied with a heightened feeling of helplessness, please reach out to a medical or mental health professional for personalized support.

Winter Blues

For the majority of us, once there’s less daylight there’s a mood shift to a lower gear, so to speak.

Intuitively and the general assumption is that the lack of light leads to lower moods.

But scientifically, the full cause of the Winter Blues or Seasonal Affective Disorder is not completely understood.

Many experts believe it is connected with changes in melatonin production, which is the hormone that regulates the sleep-wake cycle.

Feeling sluggish, opting to not make plans to get out and socialize, and especially when it’s cold as it’s been, we often figure out ways to avoid going outside.

At this time of year, it’s tough to sustain a good foundation for mental health, but this is when it’s especially important to keep up with a good mental wellness routine.

Tips to Manage the Winter Blues

Tip #1 – Get Exposed to Light. Get exposure to natural sunlight. Either by getting outside or by sitting by a sunny window. Even when it’s cold, we’ve had quite a few sunny days and getting that light exposure can be really helpful.

If getting outside on a regular basis is a challenge, getting one of those full spectrum light boxes or lamps for at least 30 minutes every morning can be helpful.

Some people also find a bedside dawn simulator to be beneficial. It’s an alarm clock and lamp combination which simulates sunrise which helps to wake you up gradually and in a more natural manner.

Tip #2 – Get Moving. When it’s cold and all you want to do is stay in bed, it’s hard to get motivated to get active. But exercise or even getting a brisk walk in can stave off a sense of sluggishness.

Try to make it as easy as possible to work in regular exercise by making it seamless with other daily responsibilities you may have. For instance, having it as something you do on your way or coming back from work. Or walking to get errands done.

Also, getting some exercise outdoors during the day can get you some exposure to natural light, as well as get some physical activity in!

Tip #3 – Get Connected. It’s tempting to stay at home and hibernate. But making sure to connect with friends and family is a good way to manage the winter blues.

And if you’re spending some good quality time dining with the good folks in your life, also try and make good nutritional choices and maybe refrain from alcohol, which is a depressant.

Tip #4 – Talking Can Help. I often tell my clients that talk therapy can be a resource.

And just like having a family doctor or massage therapist, it can be helpful to have a trusted counsellor or therapist whom you can reach out and consult with when needed.

Bell Let’s Talk on Wellness Wednesday

On this site, in the Solid Blog and on Wellness Wednesdays, we discuss ongoing strategies, ideas and plans for sustaining ongoing foundation for mental health and wellness.
If you or anyone is struggling or in crisis right now, please call 911 or visit the nearest emergency room. Alternatively, crisis resources can be found here.

Hey there and thanks for stopping by!

Recently, Barry Davis the host of The Spin on 960AM invited me to be a weekly contributor to discuss Mental Health with Mio during Wellness Wednesdays.

I am so grateful (and nervous!) to be given this opportunity to talk about and continue a wider discussion on mental health

On the premiere segment on the Spin’s Wellness Wednesday, we talk about Bell Let’s Talk Day.

Thanks to initiatives like Bell Let’s Talk Day, Canadians are increasingly becoming more comfortable discussing mental health.

Which for someone (me) who lives by the philosophy of maintaining and sustaining on-going mental wellness, it’s extremely good news that things are on a cultural upswing regarding more discussions and attention to the importance of mental health.

There are quite a few initiatives associated with the Bell Let’s Talk program and day, so I’ve included a link here where you can learn more.

Also, on January 30th through sharing the hashtag #BellLetsTalk on social media and taking actions like watching Bell Let’s Talk videos (Twitter, Instagram, Facebook and Snapchat), Bell will donate $0.5 for every action taken.

Click here to learn more about the Bell Let’s Talk Day initiatives, how you can help spread the word and actions you can take for Bell to make donations toward mental health programs across the country.

If you would like to learn more about every day people and their stories about living with mental health difficulties, during one of the previous Let’s Talk campaigns, these powerful stories of Canadians across the country were shared:

Toronto Talk Therapy Resources (Initial List)

In a future segment on Wellness Wednesday, we will be discussing access to different mental health resources available, particularly in the GTA.

Mental health resources and programs vary from province to province and city to city, so if you are looking for some options right now, a good place to start is to conduct a search online for “talk therapy toronto” or “psychotherapist mississauga” or wherever it may be most convenient for you to visit a mental health professional in person.

In addition, the Psychology Today directory can also be a good resource of available mental health professionals, areas of expertise and scope of practice

It can be helpful to know that the majority of mental health practitioners who can be found through online searches are those in private practice.

In other words, these professionals are not OHIP covered and many services may not be covered by extended benefits plans. Some time ago, I wrote a post about some of the details regarding insurance coverage to help clarify.

If cost is a factor, while quite limited and unfortunately in short demand, I have put together a list of lower cost talk therapy resources available here.

In the meantime, let’s keep talking and working to making mental wellness a priority. I’ll be back with a new post next week and join in on the discussing on Wellness Wednesday on the Spin with Barry Davis.