In recognition of Mental Health Awareness Month and in conjunction with the launch of Tennis Canada’s revamped Mental Timeout Initiative supported by Beneva, we spoke with Dr. Sommer Christie, a Certified Mental Performance Consultant for Tennis Canada, to put together a four-part article series about the importance of mental health, both in tennis and in life.
We’re all becoming more and more aware that it’s important to acknowledge and take care of our own mental health. After all, there’s no health without mental health. But what does this important exercise entail exactly and how can we recognize that we are struggling more than usual or may need to seek help?
READ: MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH: THE RELATIONSHIP BETWEEN MENTAL HEALTH AND ATHLETIC PERFORMANCE
Dr. Sommer Christie recommends using the Mental Heath Continuum Model as a guide. It recognizes that mental health is not black or white and outlines the symptoms at each of the four phases which go from healthy, adaptive coping (green), through mild and reversible distress or functional impairment (yellow), to more severe, persistent injury or impairment (orange), to clinical illnesses and disorders requiring more concentrated medical care (red). Being a continuum means there is always the possibility for a return to full health and functioning regardless of how severe the problems may be. Christie says it’s a good idea to do a regular ‘stop light check-in’ and see which colour we are on the continuum so that we can take the necessary actions as quickly as possible. Most importantly though, we need people we trust to look out for us.
“When we talk about reducing stigma, it’s about opening the door to ask someone how they’re feeling and making it obvious because a lot of people won’t be able to recognize that they are struggling,” explained Christie. “So, if we don’t talk about it and aren’t comfortable bringing up those conversations then we won’t develop the reflex to reach out when somebody really needs it.”
READ: MENTAL HEALTH AWARENESS MONTH: DEVELOPING A CHAMPION’S MENTALITY
While there’s plenty that can be done on a daily basis to improve our mental health like regular social interactions, staying active, getting lots of sleep, taking the time to relax, and eating a healthy diet, psychological safety is the most crucial element of all. Psychological safety is defined as the belief that one will not be punished or humiliated for speaking up with ideas, questions, concerns, or mistakes. Simply put, people dealing with mental health issues need to feel comfortable being open about their state of mind and have the confidence that their support system will assist them.
It’s perfectly normal to feel sad or angry. Christie encourages people to deal with their emotions, but to be wary of any significant and unusual change in mood or behaviour that could set alarm bells off. Don’t forget, any course of action begins with the first step of asking for help.