Monday, 4 February 2013

Strong, Free and Happy Across Canada . . . promoting exercise as a means for mental health


My name is Jessica VandenBussche and I’m from Norfolk County ON. This is something you might not hear often enough but . . . I want to talk to you about mental health.

Mental health is the cornucopia of activities that promote well-being, the prevent  mental illness, and treat and rehabilitate people affected by mental disorders.  It is integral to overall well-being as people  have lived life to the fullest and died happily with many varieties of physical ailments yet many do not enjoy life plus become physically ill if they are mentally unwell. Mental illness makes up 14% of the world's disease and 75% of the people affected do not find appropriate care.  Nationally, mental illness is quite common. Health Canada states that 1/5 of Canadians will experience a mental illness in their lifetime. Many more will be affected by it. More personally, I’ve had difficult times myself when it comes to mental health as have family and friends. It’s quite common, not a character flaw, or a sign of weakness, and it’s not always chronic. Sometimes the environment and genes just mix in a way that makes life really difficult. That’s okay because when faced with a challenge, people learn. It’s an opportunity to examine priorities, develop strategies and find strength. For 3%  of Canadians - still a large number - it will be a serious mental illness that they will live (or die) with. 

Our hands are not tied and the next statement is one we all need to remember: There. Is. hope.

One of the challenges when it comes to mental health is that there is no ‘best practise.’ No one existing strategy will work for everyone.  If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health, I encourage you to shop around for sustainable, healthy and effective interventions - and not to be discouraged if the first thing you try doesn’t help. I would suggest you start with physical activity.

Increasing your physical activity to a level that allows you to maintain a balanced life can have great benefits on your mood and overall health.

Exercise has been shown to enhance brain function. This can be important, for example, as a person with depression learns new strategies for dealing with negative thoughts. Exercise also helps increase a person’s ability to do what they plan on doing and helps the brain release its own feel-good chemicals – two important aspects of dealing with addiction. Exercise helps with anxiety, sleep troubles and, according to some doctors, is more effective than therapy or medication. I’m not suggesting someone with a serious mental illness self-medicate with exercise rather than see a mental health professional, but I am suggesting that people exercise to help them keep their mental health and that they talk to their mental health professional about the benefits of exercise in their treatment plan.

To help get the ball rolling and to raise awareness of the benefits of exercise, I’m planning a bicycling tour  across to promote physical activity as an important psychological intervention and to raise money for the Canadian Mental Health Association because there is no health without mental health.

The mission of the CMHA is to facilitate access to the resources people need to maintain and improve mental health and community integration, build resilience and support recovery from mental illness. They do this by building capacity, influencing policy, providing services and developing resources.

I’m doing this because Mental health is an important indicator of quality of life; mental illness affects many Canadians, mental health resources are difficult to navigate and insufficient (hence the fundraising to CMHA to make improvements); travelling across the country is an attempt to bring Canadians together (important and relevant since loss of connection/belonging is a major symptom of depression; exercise is an underused treatment; personal experiences have called me to action.

The tentative route is Innuvik NT in the North to Beaver Creek YK to the West, through all the provinces to Long Point in the south and St. John’s to the East, visiting as many rural communities, schools and health centres or other community gathering places as possible. Part of the tour will be spent on the TransCanada trail. The tour, Strong, Free and Happy across Canada, has an aggressive 4-6 week timeline from the last week of May to the first of July.  I hope to use the tour to inspire sustainable action, empower people, open communication, promote mental health and prevent mental illness.

This is a pretty big challenge and I’m going to need some help. If you’d like to get involved, spread the word, consider/contact me about being a sponsor, and lend me some expertise. I’ll need someone to help with public relations and event planning along the way, and website development, and would like to learn from your own experiences. 

Don’t wait for me though! You can make an immediate impact by having a conversation with someone you care about, telling a friend about this video, examining the balance in your life and change it if you’re not happy with it, going outside, finding a physical activity you like and doing it.
Just do it. Better yet, start training so you can bike with me!

If you would like more info about mental health resources, go to If you’re a child or teen in need of assistance, call 1-800-668-6868 or visit You can also talk to your family doctor for a referral or call 911 in an emergency.

Thank you very much for taking this all in. This conversation has been quite one-sided so far, but I hope to hear from you soon. Take care.

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