Will our actions harm us or help us?

Health care, our bills, employment, COVID-19 and a myriad of other concerns loom within our lives. One certainly on which we will agree: many of us are enduring personal mental anguish and are eager to lessen our new and/or ongoing anxieties.

Charles Darwin, in the late 1800’s, wrote about the body-brain connections that are still being explored. If Darwin was correct, how many mental health challenges, from drug addiction to self-injurious behavior, start as attempts to cope with the pain of our emotions?

There is the ongoing debate as to what constitutes our entire health challenges. I believe that our complete health care works with an-entire-body connection: gut, body and brain; it does not work separately. The human being is living bacteria; 10-100 trillion cells located mainly in our gut but also over our entire bodies. Each of our personalized microbiome consists of the genes within these cells with them in turn impacting on our bodies and minds.

Provincial media recently featured an article that dealt with the death of Lucas Rushton. “Lucas, 18, died on May 31 after being taken off life support. It appears his death was unintentional. He had ingested a toxic substance following the May long weekend in an attempt to cope with his mental anguish.” His mother, Laureen Rushton shared his story with the hope to initiate conversations within families and counter the stigma so other families don’t feel like they have to handle things themselves.

Losing someone through death can be a heart-breaking experience regardless if the passing was unintentional or not. It hurts when we lose someone but many of us attach a stigma if the death was self-inflected. (Recall your feelings if you lost someone due to suicide versus accidently or by disease.)

Our health-care system is taking steps to help those who reach out. If people are considering suicide they are asked to call toll free the 24-hour Nova Scotia Health Authority Mental Health and Additions Crisis Line: 1.888.429.8167. My problem with that procedure is that it implies that one is mentally ill when in fact that individual is dealing with living issues that are impacting upon brain functions; hence we have already attached a stigma even before help has been sought or received.

As stated by Dr. Bessel Van Der Kolk in The Body Keeps The Score: Brain, Mind, and Body in the Healing of Trauma (2014): “A psychiatric diagnosis has serious consequences: Diagnosis informs treatment, and getting the wrong treatment can have disastrous effects. Also, a diagnostic label is likely to attach to people for the rest of their lives and have a profound influence on how they define themselves.”

It shocked me when I viewed the Statistics Canada (2019) website and read of that year’s 4000 confirmed suicides throughout Canada and Nova Scotia’s 125. I have personally known 11 individuals who died by their own hand: 3 former students, 6 friends, my former family doctor and my cousin. I believe that what we are doing to help those who fell into this outcome is tragically inadequate.

Kolk also shared: “Numerous studies of disaster response around the globe have shown that social support is the most powerful protection against becoming overwhelmed by stress and trauma.” Kolk proposes that such support means being truly heard and seen by the people around us, feeling that we are held in someone’s mind and heart.

In this era of multiple social media opportunities and the changing neighbourhood dynamics there are obvious reductions with our traditional social institutions; for example, regular church-goers are five times less likely to commit suicide. Consider the many other social organizations that no longer exist. What is being done to counter-balance that reality?

I have not made it into my 70’s without being bumped, battered and scarred. There is a lot of discomfort out there albeit with or without COVID-19. Our coping techniques are of vital importance. As my grandfather told me, “We need to have something to make us get out of bed in the morning.” We must have available that which is positive and life-sustaining for relief to combat living’s pain, misery or mental anguish. If someone seeks relief through self-injury, self-harm, drugs, alcohol or eating disorders, individuals and communities have failed that person.

Ray Bates,

Guysborough (Sedabooktook)