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Union Matters: Blue Monday 😰

This week, guest host Mary Otto sits down with Tracey Fisk, a nurse with 29 years of experience in the health care system, to talk about Blue Monday. The third Monday in January marks the most depressing day of the year for many people.

See below for a full transcript of this week’s podcast:

Hi and welcome to the NSGEU weekly podcast, Union Matters. My name is Mary Otto and I’m going to be your host today. Today our subject is Blue Monday. I have with me Tracey Fisk, who is a temporary employee in the [NSGEU] Labour Resource Centre (LRC) and before that you were a nurse for…how many years?

TF I started my 29th year on November 13, 2018. I’m a nurse at the Rehab Centre in Halifax.

MO We brought Tracey in to talk about Blue Monday. So, a little bit about Blue Monday. What is it? It is kind of a made up thing, isn’t it?

TF Yes, but it turned out to be something good.

MO Yeah, so Blue Monday is supposedly the most depressing day of the year. It is the 3rd Monday of January. When it came out in 2005, it came out from a travel company in the UK. They commissioned a psychologist to come up with a formula for when the most depressing day of the year was. He came up with a formula with how much debt you had from Christmas and how bad the weather in, but not taking into account some other things, so it’s largely been debunked, but what isn’t debunked is things like season affective disorder, which is type of depression which is very real. I suffer from it myself. It’s a good place to start talking about mental health. It’s a good conversation starter because those conversations are hard to have.

TF Anything that opens up the conversation, whether it be the words Blue Monday or just saying hello to somebody, that’s what you need. You need to start a conversation.

MO So this year Blue Monday is January 21st. It’s not the only thing out there. I know Bell Let’s Talk have a day

TF January 30th this year

MO and they raise money. It’s basically starting a conversation about mental health. I invited Tracey to come onto the podcast with me because she was the Chair of a Provincial ad hoc Committee of the Board. What was it called again?

TF It was the ad hoc Health Care Committee.

MO You helped write a really great book that I think a lot of people don’t know about. It’s the NSGEU Resource Guide to Mental Health and Addiction Services in Nova Scotia. It’s a really great resource to find help for mental health and addictions problems, isn’t it?

TF Well, I hope it is. That was our goal, to make something tangible for somebody to hold onto when they’re having issues. And it wasn’t just me. The committee was made up of NSGEU members Peter Perry, Madge Murphy, James Barry, Tracy Frasier-MacIsaac, Alana MacLean, Norma Jean Profitt, Raymond Theriault, and Jason MacLean, our now President, was the executive liaison at the time, so it wasn’t a one person effort. All of us got together and decided we needed to do something, we just didn’t know exactly what that something was going to be when we first started, but somehow the topic came out to make a booklet. Something, like I said, tangible for somebody to hold onto, because when you’re going through a hard time and you’re looking for information, not everybody is computer literate, not everybody can do a Google search. Not everybody knows where to go to find information, so our goal was to come up with something that people could have in their hands, not just members, anybody could get a hold of this. It could give them some information of where to go if they need help, whether it be with mental health or addictions in the province of Nova Scotia. To the best of our ability we gave definitions, phone numbers, different sections they could go to. We divided it into definitions of mental illness, crisis, things for adults, children, youth, and families, seniors and important numbers and definitions. We tried to break it down so you could pick up this booklet, go to a section you think would be pertinent to you and be able to find the information you need at your fingertips.

MO I’ve looked it over, and I’ve actually used this. I had somebody who was having a mental health crisis. To be able to find those numbers…if you don’t have something like this it’s so hard to navigate and try to find those numbers, especially if you’re in that state of mind. So be able to grab this booklet, it’s such a great resource to have. I was excited to hear that it is also online if people want to look at it.

TF This came out 5 years ago now. We redid it, and thank god for the communications people here at NSGEU, Shannon MacIntyre especially, went through and broke it all down and put it online. It’s on the NSGEU website (nsgeu.ca) under the Health & Safety tab. Click on a OHS Topics, the very first option is NSGEU Mental Health Resource Guide (http://nsgeu.ca/filemanager/pdf/MentalHealthResourceBook.pdf). That will take you to the online version of the booklet. In that booklet there’s links you can go to that will take you to Mental Health Nova Scotia or different sections so you have a direct link to those areas where you can get further information. There is paper copies [of the booklet] available through the NSGEU through the LRC, so you can call them for a copy.

MO I’m always excited to call the LRC because I know there’s going to be someone there who is…you guys know your stuff. You’ve been around.

TF Well, I’m just learning. I’ve only been there a couple of weeks, but Stephanie and Cindy that work there know so much more than I probably ever will. They have access to this information, so if somebody was to call 902-424-4063 and they asked for a copy of the NSGEU resource guide, we’ll mail it out to you. We have had, on occasion, locals who’ve asked for quite a few copies, we don’t have as many printed copies right now as we’ve had before, but if someone phoned and said they’re going to have a local meeting and they’d like 10 copies, we can arrange to get them printed and mailed out to you. I’ve even said to people, if you take a couple copies and drop them off at your doctor’s or dentist’s office, or at your report rooms at work. Some people – unfortunately in today’s society – have mental health issues and are afraid to ask for help a lot of times.

MO It’s a really hard thing to do. I suffer from depression and anxiety and it’s sometimes a hard thing to talk about, and it shouldn’t be an embarrassing thing. There absolutely is a stigma, and that’s why I wanted to have this conversation. Sometimes you can feel really alone, which is silly, because you can have a lot of sympathy for other people when you hear about it and talk about it. It’s really easy to get stuck in your own head.

TF You’re probably one of the first people, if I were in crisis, I know you would be there to support me and ask what you can do for me.

MO Yes, and we’re always so much harder on ourselves.

TF That’s the society we live in. We’re always harder on ourselves. The thing is, whether it be Blue Monday or Bell Aliant Let’s Talk day, or, there was a commercial out not to long ago discussing mental illness and people are having a conversation starting with Ums and then asking “Is everything okay? Is there anything I can do for you? Do you need to talk?” Start the conversation! If anyone – in the booklet it talks about crisis, what is a crisis – if you’re feeling that a member of your family or a friend is in crisis, somebody needs to start the conversation. Chances are the person in crisis is not going to start the conversation.

MO It’s so frustrating. Right now our healthcare is in crisis and mental health care is in crisis as well. We have so many of our members who are working in mental health and addictions and they are feeling the strain as well. This is their job, they care so much, and they’re stressed.

TF They care so much. They want to help and they can’t because they don’t have the resources that should be there for them to help. I was looking at the wait times for adults and children. One of them was 134 days. That’s for non-emergency. Non-urgent. But if you’re in a mental health crisis and you have to wait 134 days before you can see somebody about it, what state are you going to in when the time comes you actually get an appointment?

MO That’s why it’s so important that we have these conversations and reach out. Even if you can’t get access to care right away, even just to be able to have that conversation, it’s hard to have that conversation, but if somebody actually approaches you and starts talking, sometimes it’s easier to open up when you know somebody else has the same issues. I’m pretty open now about the fact that I do suffer from anxiety and depression.

TF I do find more people nowadays are talking about it. Over the last few years with the Bell Let’s Talk day, people have started the discussion more. Some people will push back. You can start to talk to them and they’ll say, no, no, I’m fine. But if you know someone well enough, you know when they’re just not having a good day. Some people just want someone to say “Are you okay?”

MO Sometimes you don’t know, you don’t have any idea. People questions when I talk about my anxiety and depress and they say “But you’re so funny, you’re so upbeat.” I do a damn good job of hiding it, because it’s that sort of “Fake it until you make it” mentality.

TF Right, we still have to go to work, we still have to do our jobs, and we still have things that need to be done. A lot of people have children, they have families they have to look after. A lot of them don’t have time to worry about themselves. Women are the worst for that. They’ll look after everyone else before they look after themselves.

MO It’s a difficult thing to have that conversation. We’re not mental health professionals, we’re not going to solve this in a half-hour podcast. The idea for this podcast came up out of Healthcare Occupational Council. One of the things was how do we start this conversation? I want people to know that they’re not alone. It may feel like it sometimes, but people do care. I always admire people when they can actually come out and talk about it or reach out for help. Even if it’s just saying “I’m really struggling,” it’s a brave thing to do.

TF If this podcast gets one person to go to someone and say “I need help.” then it makes everything worthwhile. One of the biggest crises going no in Nova Scotia, and I’m sure, elsewhere, is the amount of children that are suffering mental health crises. These are the people who can’t – adults can manage a lot of the times and figure out way, but when you have children who are dependent on somebody else to get them help and they have to wait for services. I know it says if there’s an emergency there’s automatic care, but I’ve heard stories of people who’ve gone and they admit the child for a day and then they discharge them home. There’s services for parents and how they can cope and manage things, but our children shouldn’t have to wait a day to get seen. What’s wrong with the system when we don’t have enough services in place for the children to get looked after? There our most valuable commodity in this province and they seem to be the ones at the bottom level.

MO I think that’s tied into the fact that we have the highest child poverty in the country. I’m an alternate to the Board of Directors and one of the things that I’m proud that NSGEU does is that we donate money to the Kids Help Line. At the board meeting I attended there was a presentation from someone from the Kids Help Line. It broke my heart. We have some of the highest usage of teenage boys (per capita) calling the Help Line. It’s a good thing in some ways because teenage boys are really bad about reaching out for help, so it’s fantastic that they are reaching out.

TF We’re also the highest number of children, per capita, living in poverty. There’s something disgustingly wrong with that. Whether it’s provincially or federally, money is going elsewhere. It’s not going to where it’s needed, which happens to be in the provinces with the people that need the help. There is need around the world, but to see the number of people at home, the fact that a child would go to be hungry breaks my heart.

MO We need funding, but the amount of money we spend on ridiculous things … there are a lot of ways we could improve the system. I know people who have kids who are struggling and are suicidal. It’s scary. I can’t even imagine what they’re going through with the worry about their kids. I see it on their faces. I’ve always suffered from depression and had a lot of health problems as a kid and had anxiety and depression. I went through that in elementary school. It was really hard. I vividly remember my mom trying to get help from a psychologist on how to deal with my chronic health issues and what impact that has on a kids. When you’re living with chronic pain it has an effect on your mental health. I remember fighting because I didn’t want to talk about it. I felt like I was being punished. I know what it’s like to be that kid. It’s a struggle. I talk to my mom now about it and what she went through as a parent. I think now the system is still broken.

TF I don’t think that’s changed. The world we live in now is cyber. The bullying doesn’t stop at home. It used to be in school you get bullied, you get home it would end.

MO Yes, I was a weird little kid who had health problems and I was horribly bullied. I can’t imagine going through that now [with the cyber aspect]. It’s incredibly heart-breaking what kids are going through. That’s one of the reasons I am proud that NSGEU supports things like the Kids Help Line. I try to share it and tell people to leave the number lying around and maybe the kids will use it and one person said her kid did end up calling.

TF Another funny thing about the system we live in, at Christmas time when they talked about banning a certain song that brought up so much dialogue. So if this is something that can bring up dialogue, we need to have the conversation. With the children, with the healthcare professionals, with the politicians, with whomever can make a difference. If we can make a difference with one person’s life, then we have done something.

MO This resource guide is great. One thing to remember, one thing I’ve used – unfortunately, not all of our members have Employee Assistance Programs, but some of us do. I’m one of the lucky ones. I did use it several years ago and I was able to get several counselling sessions. It was good to give me a starting off point in reaching out. It was good and I really do recommend, if you have the program, to actually use it if you feel like you need it.

TF The members that have that [the program] the services are there. The guide is broken down into several different categories. We’ve had a lot of conversation about children, youth, and families, but there’s a lot going on with seniors, too. Seniors are part of our populations that seems to be forgotten. We have put sections in there about seniors especially that they’re not getting proper care or whatever it might be. There’s a lot of information in the guide about that as well. The other thing we put in there was about sexual assault. Where the resources are if there’s been a sexual assault. That is still an issue. If someone has to go through that and the mental health crisis that comes with that. There’s a lot of that information in there. We tried to make the [phone] numbers as up-to-date as possible. Communications here has put links on so if you go on line the links will take you to different areas online that will get you more information. Sometimes the more information you get, the easier it is for you to get your questions answered.

MO It’s a great thing to have. It’s good that it’s broken up like that. Seniors is something that – seniors citizens, depression is real, loneliness is real. So many of our seniors are living alone. I know a lot of our members who work in home care. They are the life line for a lot seniors. That [the homecare worker] may be the only person they’re seeing.

TF I’ve had patients who were in the hospital 3 months and never had a visitor. Some of them are the last person left in their family. They have nobody to come in. Or they get put in a nursing home and they [the family] don’t have to deal with the anymore, it’s too complicated. It’s a sad situation for somebody to be in, to have outlived their entire family.

MO You saw that in your working life as a nurse, and I’m sure so many of our members see it too, or experience it with family members. It’s hard because you get busy, you don’t mean to. You may not even realize it’s been two months and you haven’t talked to somebody. It’s making that conscious decision – I’m going to reach out more to people.

TF and to make the decision that if you know somebody that’s going through a crisis to ask them – are you okay? Check in on people.

MO It’s one things I find with social media – we used to pick up the phone and call someone or you would drive over and pop in. You had to actually reach out and talk to people. And now you just send a text or on Facebook. It’s great for keeping in touch in some ways, but I find in other ways it’s made the world a more isolated place.

TF I know there are people who have found friends from 30 years ago. And that’s wonderful you made contact, but people you used to see or talk to on a daily basis, you shoot them a text. It’s pretty easy on a text to say – yeah, I’m okay. You can’t see the person’s face, you can’t see their eyes. Sometimes to have the one-on-one, eyeball-to-eyeball conversation with friends, just to see if they need you.

MO Thank you very much for having this conversation with me.

TF I’m very happy to have been asked to do this. I’m very proud that NSGEU has allowed us the ability to do this and to have this booklet made and available to our members, and even our non-members. There’s people out there who require a little bit of guidance. If we can give them that, then that’s a great thing.

MO It’s fantastic.

TF The number to the LRC is 902-424-4063.

MO For people not in the metro area, it’s 1-877-556-7438.

TF One thing I will make sure of for the next time we update the booklet is that we have the NSGEU numbers in the booklet!

MO That’s a great idea because I think you guys are a really great point in contact. So if one of our members who works in Mental Health and Addictions and they’re looking through this booklet and they have information to update…

TF Contact the LRC and we’ll let Communications know. We did, methodically as possible, called every number. I dialed everyone one of them, I swear. But numbers change on a regular basis. If numbers change, please let us know. Or if there are different areas you think should be in the booklet, please let us know. We can work on it to get it into the booklet online so that people have access to the proper information. That’s what we want. We don’t want someone to dial and number and not be the right number.

MO Absolutely, get in touch. Let us know. And if there’s something you want to see a link to, something you might find helpful like the Kids Help Line, if there’s something you’d like to share maybe post a comment on the NSGEU Facebook page as well.

TF Or they can send us an email to inquiry@nsgeu.ca. We check the emails frequently so we’ll look at that! There’s definitely ways to get the information in to us.

MO Thank you for having this conversation with me. I really appreciate it. It’s always nice to talk to you. We hope that this sparks some conversation with our listeners. These conversations have to happen. It really does help to talk about things. Get rid of the stigma,

TF It’s mental health. It’s no different than if you had a heart issue or diabetes. It’s mental health. It’s part of your day-to-day. You need to look after it.

MO Exactly. It affects you physically as well. We will talk to you again soon. Thank you very much. Make sure you tune in next week.

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