It’s a question that sparks discussion, but people can’t seem to find a definitive answer: What causes mental health disorders and addictions?
A panel of mental health workers and community members tackled the issue Jan. 23 at A Vital Conversation on Mental Health, Addictions and Healing. It was part of Vital Signs, a project by The Winnipeg Foundation looking at the quality of life in the city. A report will be released in October.
Panelist Dr. Lisa Monkman said people have mental illnesses and addictions for a variety of reasons, but one main cause is chronic stress. Oppression, abuse and marginalization are factors that can increase chronic stress, she added.
Tessa Blaikie Whitecloud, another panelist and mental health advocate, said for some people, mental illness and addiction is a neurochemical issue — it’s just how their brain works — but for others, there are triggers.
During round-table discussions on the causes of mental health disorders and addictions, participants agreed triggers come from the environment we surround ourselves with. This includes TV shows we watch, people we associate with and expectations we feel we have to meet.
Angeline Rivard, a program co-ordinator at Youth Agencies Alliance, gave a personal account about the social anxiety she has experienced involving other people’s expectations.
While she was completing her undergraduate degree in human rights, she said at family dinners, people would ask her what she could do with it and questioned whether it was a “substantial” degree.
“It makes me not want to talk about it,” Rivard said. “Even subtle little things like that, when that is persistent over time — no wonder we have problems, because we attack every person.”
Some of this pressure to meet other people’s expectations comes from fear of failure, she said, adding that it’s OK to fail sometimes, and society needs to reinforce that.
“What is failure even?” she asked, throwing her hands in the air.
People at the discussion also agreed poverty can lead to mental health disorders and addictions. Participant Katrina Tinman, who works with organizations focused on schizophrenia, said while some people can afford to go on vacation to take a mental break, those living in poverty don’t have that option.
This may lead to substance abuse, she said, adding that we need to get people to realize drugs and alcohol aren’t an escape — they’re an illusion of escape.
Panelist Sean Miller, who works at the Canadian Mental Health Association, Manitoba and Winnipeg, and keynote speaker Robb Nash, a motivational speaker and musician, also spoke at the community conversation.
Winnipeg’s Vital Signs® initiative, a project of The Winnipeg Foundation, is a check-up on the vitality of our community. As part of Vital Signs®, the first in a series of Vital Conversations was held on Mon. Jan. 23, focused on Mental Health, Addictions and Healing.
For more stories on this event, go to “Digging deep on mental health and well-being“. You can also view a full recording or a recap of highlights from the discussion by visiting The Winnipeg Foundation’s Facebook page.