Adrian Louíse Calcagnotto has been battling with her anxiety disorder since she was 18 years old.
“I started doing therapy as soon as I started feeling the onset symptoms of my anxiety. I learnt a lot of new tools that I did not have back then,” Calcagnotto says. “When I feel an anxiety episode coming on, I know what to do.”
With the onset of the pandemic, the mental health of Canadians has been at an all time low and the resources to get help have been spread thin. According to the Quebec Health Ministry, about 20 per cent of Quebecers will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Only half of those affected will actually seek help.
Calcagnotto says that relying solely on medication is not something that works for her, instead opting for a combination of medication and psychotherapy.
“One of the things that helps me very much is laying down on the floor because it grounds me,” Calcagnotto explains.
However, while venturing out in public where she cannot physically lie down, Calcagnotto has learnt another important coping mechanism.
“I think one of the coping mechanisms that’s been the most useful for me, is something I use when I am in public and cannot lay down is stopping and putting my hand right on my chest,” Calcagnotto motioned by putting her left hand on her chest. “By doing this, it allows me to feel my breath and control my breathing.”
According to the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, when dealing with anxiety, you have to understand your stressors. As you come to understand your triggers it will be easier to assess what treatment would be necessary.
Dr. Nate Fuks, professor at the Virginia I. Douglas Centre for Clinical Psychology in the Psychology department at McGill University, says that when dealing with mental health, medication has a tricky place in our society.
“I think it’s a complex issue because medication does have its place and it is absolutely important to take it, if it was prescribed by a doctor,” Dr. Fuks explains. “Quite often in our Western system what happens is that medication is seen as the only method to help an individual.”
Dr. Fuks went on to explain that there was a time when medications used to treat mental health were only meant to be used for six months, up to a year at a time. This was meant to stabilize individuals to be able to function or be susceptible to therapy.
“Quite often we see folks struggling to such a degree where for example getting out of bed is impossible, where showering is impossible. In these cases, medication is required to bring them up to a level where they will be able to function at least at a minimal level so they can participate in therapy,” Dr. Fuks says.
The main issue is that medication is seen as the preferable treatment, without being supplemented by therapy and counselling, Dr. Fuks says.
Medication as a preferable method of treatment can be seen in terms of how more and more children are receiving diagnosis for mental illnesses such as attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD).
The role of teachers in identifying children with ADHD is very important. I would say school is the first place that a child is labelled with ADHD.
Sociology Professor Marie-Christine Brault at the University of Quebec in Chicoutimi, conducted a study in 2017 comparing the amount of students that had ADHD in Quebec versus in Belgium.
“The role of teachers in identifying children with ADHD is very important. I would say school is the first place that a child is labelled with ADHD,” says Brault. “It’s an unofficial label because it has not been given by the doctor.”
Alongside a colleague, during the duration of her study, Brault asked the parents of the students to report any sort of ADHD symptoms found in their children as well as if they are already medicated. The question was also brought up to the teachers, to see if they were aware of who had ADHD.
“We found that in Quebec teachers think that ADHD mainly stems from the individual. They will be less inclined to make changes in the pedagogical environment, for example in the classroom. They will be more prone to refer the child to a doctor and ask for medication,” Brault recalls.
In the study, Brault found that in the Quebec school systems the screening to find out if a student is struggling with a mental illness is much different than the one in Belgium.
“In Quebec we have psychologists in the schools that have a role to pass tests and see if the students have ADHD. In Belgium, they don’t have any health professionals in the schools,” Brault says.
According to Quebec Institute of Public Health (INSPQ), ADHD prescriptions are on the rise. Between 2000 and 2020, the amount of prescriptions for patients under 24 years old rose from 1.9 to 7.7 per cent.
At the Jewish General Hospital in Montreal, clinical psychologist Dr. Perry Adler says that medication is needed for certain mental health disorders.
“There are some mental health disorders that are very much genetically or biologically driven, like schizophrenia or bi-polar disorder,” Dr. Adler explains. “People that have a genetic predisposition to these mental health issues, their lives are much better if they have a psychopharmacological treatment, as a foundation.”
Medication should be seen as a tool to be combined with other forms of psychotherapy. However, sometimes when one might not have the monetary means to participate in therapy, there are other resources that could be explored.
Some of those resources include alternative therapies such as Reiki. It is a method of guiding energy throughout the body in order to better heal oneself.
“Therapy is becoming increasingly not accessible, for a lot of folks, especially with the current inflation. I’ve seen folks raise their prices to the point where therapy is not accessible for a good portion of the population,” Dr. Fuks says.
Some institutions are jumping in to help fill the void of services.
Calcagnotto says that Concordia University has multiple mental health resources that even a new student could resort to. Some of those resources include active listening with Peer Wellness ambassadors at Zen Dens as well as the Concordia Student’s Nightline.
“I feel we maybe have a community at Concordia that is not open about mental health. Students when they are struggling, they don’t talk,” Calcagnotto says.
“I feel like collectively we are all struggling together, but we never get to talk about our anxieties and depressions. We need to create a better safe space at Concordia where we could beat that stigma.”