The brain, the brain, the centre of the chain

When we hear the term “stay healthy,” a lot comes to mind.  We often think about how much exercise we get – or don’t, or feel regret about splurging on that second serving of dessert at dinner.

Sadly, too often we forget about the most important organ of the body – the brain. With mental illness on the rise, it can be very challenging to seek treatment for a loved one when it comes to the sensitive topic of mental health.

On Sept. 15, The Scarborough Hospital joined with several mental health experts to show community members just how vital the brain’s health really is.

Larisa MacSween, manager of the Young Carers Program, discusses what the program offers and explains the importance of working with youth who act as young carers of the family.

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The second “It’s Time to Talk” event was titled “Breaking Barriers: Stigma, Families and Mental Health.”

Susan Engels, Patient Care Director and moderator of the event believes the only way to fight stigma against mental illness is through education.

“No matter what ethnic group, race or religion, anyone can get a mental illness,” she said. Engels says it’s crucial to take away the fear of mental illness and admits, “sometimes, it’s hard to take that first step.”

Doy Pandoo and her husband Frank know all too well how difficult it can be to seek treatment for a loved one’s mental health.

“We’re here because a family member of ours was diagnosed with a mental illness,” Pandoo said. “We want to learn more about it.”

The couple said it was difficult finding access to available resources in the area and noted that the help available wasn’t always understanding of the illness.

The event welcomed community members to visit various information booths, each touching upon different mental illnesses and the abundant resources available within the Scarborough community.  From the Schizophrenia Society of Ontario to the Young Carers Program of Toronto, no topic was off limits.

Larisa MacSween, manager of the Young Carers Program, emphasized the importance of working with youth to educate them on mental illnesses.  With an increasing number of youth acting as caregivers in the family, MacSween believes they can be at a potential risk for developing mental illness.

“The most recent stats are about 12 per cent of all youth and children are young carers,” she said. “If they don’t get that chance to get that support themselves, whether it’s their academic performance or social skills, often they can find themselves overburdened with the stress which can lead to more serious consequences such as developing their own mental health issue.”

Shefali Raja, occupational therapist at the hospital says there are many ways to keep the brain healthy.  Some methods include, minimizing alcohol intake, getting plenty of sleep, managing stress in a positive manner and avoiding smoking.

“Like I always say, if it’s good for your heart, it’s good for your brain,” Raja said.

Raja also says we should think of the brain as a muscle that needs continuous exercise.  She says reading newspapers or magazines, doing puzzles and word games and engaging in social events will help keep the brain healthy.