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The Art of Happiness


The suicides of Kate Spade and Anthony Bourdain have dominated headlines weeks after the news broke.

Their suicides are confounding on two levels: firstly, these were two successful, wealthy and famous people. Secondly, it reminds us of how little we know about mental well-being. While medical knowledge has advanced by leaps and bounds over the last century, the mental-health field is playing catch up at best.

As the World Health Organization aptly puts it, “health is a state of complete physical, mental and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity.” It goes on so share some sobering statistics about the global state of mental health: about 800,000 people commit suicide every year; around 20 per cent of the world’s children and adolescents have mental disorders or problems; and mental disorders are important risk factors for diseases and injury.

Mental-health issues know no borders; Canada is no exception. A joint survey by Morneau Sheppell and the Globe and Mail, released on July 5, found that Canadian employees report workplace stress as the primary cause of their mental-health problem. More than half (58 per cent) of respondents indicated that they had considered suicide to cope with mental illness.

The term “high-functioning depression” has become a popular layman’s term for dysthymia, or chronic mild depression. The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health’s information guide on depression describes dysthymia as a state of chronically low mood with some moderate symptoms of depression, which include poor appetite or overeating, fatigue, low self-esteem, poor concentration, difficulty making decisions and feelings of hopelessness. If two or more of these symptoms last for two or more years without the person having experienced a major depressive episode, a diagnosis of dysthymia may be made.

Mental hygiene, which refers to the practice of maintaining and restoring mental health through education, early treatment and public-health measures, is sorely lacking in modern existence. The awareness and due diligence that we demonstrate towards hand hygiene is not being shown to our minds. Seeking psychological help is often stigmatized and accompanied by a sense of shame, but we have no qualms taking sick leave to go to the doctor’s office for a cold.

Negative emotions and chronic stress have a way of manifesting themselves in a way that is detrimental to relationships. The first step to mental well-being is to recognize that the mind deserves no less care and attention than our bodies do. Just as we take pains to nourish, strengthen and keep our bodies in shape, the same needs to be done for our minds if we want to be healthy and happy.

Instead of reaching for the remote control or cellphone to engage in mindless distraction, carve out some time alone to process your emotions, thoughts and tension that have arisen over the course of a day. Do breathing exercise and give the mind a mental detox by focusing on the present. If you are struggling with personal issues or experiencing elevated levels of work stress, reach out to friends or seek professional counselling.

We all have within us the capacity to be happy, and we owe it to ourselves to take that very first step.