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Vancouver is a hotbed for social enterprises – over 60 – the most in Canada. Even the civic government is on board, awarding $380,000 in grant funding to support the social enterprise sector.

Why have social enterprises gained momentum? Because they are seen as a viable, longer-term alternative to existing social programs that: 1) are run by government but perceived to be ineffective; 2) are run by non-profit organizations that depend on the “charity” of others like government (funding could be cut at any time) and donations; and 3) view people as having the capacity to be independent, productive citizens (a hand up). Social enterprises are non-profit organizations that run a business for social purposes. The main difference between a social enterprise and a traditional business is where the profits end up. In traditional businesses, profits end up in investors’ and business owners’ pockets. In social enterprises, profits are re-invested to support the organization and its social programs. In Vancouver, social programs tend to be in the form of paid jobs or job skills training and life skills support for people with barriers to employment, for example, in catering, cleaning, and renovations/deconstruction. Barriers to employment could include mental illness, substance use, homelessness, etc.

Social enterprises help people with barriers to employment – essentially addressing inequities – and are highly relevant to population health. So, how can the field of population health advance knowledge on how social enterprises (as a population health intervention) can reduce inequities?

First, there is a need to synthesize and review what is currently known about the impact of social enterprise on health and well-being. A Ph.D. student by the name of Michael Roy has already begun this type of work at the Yunus Centre for Social Business and Health at Glasgow Caledonian University in the United Kingdom. Michaels’ important research will also be able to help identify any gaps in current knowledge, such as important indicators of health and well-being that are not being measured.

Second, research needs to be conducted on the features of a social enterprise that contribute most to improving health and well-being. This includes factors related to program design (e.g., how life skills training is incorporated, type of jobs training) and to implementation (e.g., organizational capacity).

Third, once we know more about how social enterprises can improve health and well-being, we can put more money into implementing social enterprises as a population health intervention. Hopefully, we can reduce inequities by helping people with barriers to employment to become what most of us also desire to be – independent, productive citizens.

If you are a Canadian who wants to tell the Canadian Medical Association “What Makes Us Sick?” you can engage in their National Dialogue on Health Care Transformation in Canada. The in-person town hall meetings are almost complete, but you can still participate in the online discussion forums on four topics:

  • What factors influence the health of individuals and communities?
  • Which practices offset the effects on health?
  • What can the government do to address the social determinants of health?
  • How can we ensure the health care system is equally accessible to all Canadians?

So far, many contributions appear to be from individuals whose occupations relate to health or the health system. In order to have a more representative national dialogue, I encourage other Canadians – especially those who don’t have occupations related to health or the health system – to add their voices.

Every year since 1951, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) has held national events during Mental Health Week (which falls on the first week of the month of May) to “encourage people from all walks of life to learn, talk, reflect and engage with others on all issues relating to mental health.” The CMHA defines mental health as more than the absence of mental illness; it is a state of well-being. In other words, mental health doesn’t relate only to individuals who have a mental illness (diagnosed or not). Mental well-being is important for each and every one of us.

Mental health is something we can work on every day, but Mental Health Week acts as a reminder to keep us on track, just like new years’ resolutions do for whatever we are working on. There are many ways people can promote mental health for themselves and for others. You just need to find ways that fit with who you are. This post will go through the six tips listed in the CMHA’s Be Well Inspirational Postcard. The Postcard is intended to be sent as a gesture of encouragement to support a friend, colleague, or family member experiencing a mental health problem or is in some way affected by mental illness. However, I believe that everyone can apply the six tips to achieve mental well-being, both personally and for others. Below, I apply each tip to my life, offer other some examples, and then ask you to think about what you could do in your own life.

Tip #1: Enjoy life.

An unusually warm and sunny week is forecasted for Vancouver. It reached 24C yesterday. This doesn’t usually happen at the beginning of May here! Like a cat, I will enjoy the sunshine and warmth, except I’ll be walking instead of napping.

There are many other ways to enjoy life. It depends on who you are and what you enjoy. Some people love to enjoy great-tasting food. Some people love to karaoke. Some people love to watch dance performances. Some people love to travel. How do you enjoy life?

Tip #2: Be kind to yourself. Take time to relax.

I work full-time, so the number of hours available for relaxation is limited; there are only 24 hours in a day. There is always a chore or something else that needs to be done, or at least that how it feels. But relaxation is important, even if it is just for 15 minutes. One of the things I do to relax is crochet. By working on a crochet queen-size blanket, I’ve committed myself to hours and hours and HOURS of relaxation time!

There are many other ways to relax. Ways of relaxing often are the same things that people do to enjoy life. Some people garden. Some people meditate. Some people go to the spa. Some people read. How do you relax?

Tip #3: Practice positive self-talk.

I’m sure most people in this world have practised negative self-talk, including me. Negative self-talk is an unhealthy habit that erodes mental well-being. One of my bad habits is listing all sorts of excuses as to why I won’t be able to achieve something (negative self-talk). As an example, I tell myself that I don’t have adequate leadership skills. The positive self-talk that I give myself instead is that regardless of my past or current leadership skills, I can only improve on them from here on. I’m currently learning what it means to be a good leader in practice (rather than a leader in name), so I can identify how I can improve my leadership capabilities.

Coming up with positive self-talk is easier said than done, especially when negative self-talk has become a habit. It’s possible, and it takes effort and repetition (practice), but it’s worth the effort. Another example of negative self-talk is “no one is coming up to talk to me because I don’t look interesting enough” at a conference or event. This could be replaced with positive self-talk such as “like me, many people have anxieties about networking at events – perhaps I could take the initiative to break the ice by introducing myself first.” What negative self-talk do you practise, and what positive self-talk can you use to replace it?

Tip #4: Talk about it.

I am blessed that I have a husband and close friends with whom I feel comfortable talking to when I have something on my mind. I didn’t always have this, so I know that not everyone has someone they feel comfortable talking to. In the past when I had no one to talk to, I wrote in a journal, and that helped.

There are different people that can offer insight. It could be a spouse, a family member, a friend, an acquaintance, a co-worker, or sometimes even a stranger. It could be face-to-face, over the phone, or online. Who can you talk to when you have something on your mind?

Tip #5: Eat well and keep active.

I try to eat more organic and fresh foods and less junk food (oh, why do I have to love chips!). I’m not a jock type nor do I like going to a gym. To keep active, I stretch and do some exercises every morning after I wake up and before I start my day. I don’t own a car so I either take the bus or walk to my destinations. I take the stairs up to the fourth floor at work.

Everyone has different preferences when it comes to eating and being active. The important thing is to be doing something towards eating well and keeping active. For example, if you find it too hard to give up chips entirely, you could reduce the amount you eat, say from one bag a day to one bag every other day or to half a bag a day. As you get more used to this, you could then change your goal, like down to one bag a week. If you find it hard to be motivated to exercise, you could do something active with a friend, even just going for a walk. What can you feasibly do to eat better and keep active? (For example, if you don’t like going to the gym, don’t say that you will go to the gym every other day.)

Tip #6: Ask for help – when you need it.

I’m fiercely independent so I tend not to ask for help in general (which isn’t necessarily a good thing, because as the saying goes, “no man is an island, entire of itself”). Over the years, I’ve learned that I’m not losing my independence when I ask for help. People are generally glad to help me in whatever way they can. I appreciate their help and always try to offer something in return, whether it’s a small gift, a thank you card, or offering to do something for them in return.

Asking for help in relation to mental illness or mental well-being may be slightly different than asking for help in general, such as how to use a computer program. Unfortunately, mental illness still carries a stigma and although we have some knowledge of mental illness, there is still a lot that we don’t know. Mental well-being may be suppressed because society seems to expect us to be tough and resilient, like we should be born that way and stay that way. This is unrealistic, as other living things are also affected by stresses and respond to them. For example, if a plant doesn’t get enough water, it dries out and wilts. It does not thrive.

The hard part about asking for help when you need it is realizing when you do need it. It requires self-awareness, but it’s often difficult to have self-awareness when you are facing stresses, especially if the stresses feel overwhelming. It is not uncommon for people to deny that they have a mental illness or even a physical illness. Do you think you will know when you need to ask for help in relation to mental illness or mental well-being (or at least be aware of what you are going through and how you could resolve it)?

Final Words

Mental well-being is something to work towards every day, not just during Mental Health Week. However, Mental Health Week has reminded me to keep working towards my own mental well-being and supporting others for their mental well-being. I wish you mental well-being and thanks for reading my post. Feel free to post Comments about how you maintain your own mental well-being, and how you support the mental well-being of others.

If you are in Vancouver, Canada on Monday, March 4, 2013, you are invited to attend Smoking on the Margins? Effects of Outdoor Smoke-Free Bylaws in BC as part of the CIHR Cafe Scientifique series. The event is from 5-7pm at Take Five Cafe at 62 West Cordova Street. Please RSVP to wrice@cw.bc.ca. Click here to view a poster that provides more information.

We are saddened over the recent death of Clyde Hertzman. He was a great advocate of childhood development, and was Director of the Human Early Learning Partnership (HELP) here at the University of British Columbia. If you wish, you may contribute a remembrance of Clyde on a special webpage on the HELP website.

P.S. (March 4, 2013):
There will be celebration of life for Clyde Hertzman on Sunday, March 17, 2013 at the Chan Centre for the Performing Arts (6265 Crescent Road) at the University of British Columbia (Vancouver). Guests are welcome at 1pm. Programme will begin at 2pm. Reception immediately following. The celebration is open to the public. Donations to Clyde’s Legacy Fund can be made at the event or by clicking here.

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