Mental Health, Self-Care and Addressing Burnout Within the Context of Work

By Aman Basra, CCYP Youth Council 2021/2022


With work, school, finances and social stressors, it can be easy to burn out.

This past May during CCYP's National Youth Summit we had meaningful conversations on what it means to be resilient as a young person in Canada through listening to inspirational speakers.


One of those speakers was Johannah Brockie, the founder of Menstruation Should Be Free, PERIOD, a seasoned educator and facilitator who led a presentation titled Mental Wellness & Advocacy: A Guide to Practicing Self-Care and Preventing Burnout in the Pandemic Age at CCYP's National Youth Summit.


In an interview with Johannah, we discuss burnout, its warning signs and tips for youth in the workplace to overcome it. We also discuss the social determinants affecting mental health outcomes and how we can employ intersectionality in this sphere.


 

Question: What is burnout? What are the common warning signs of burnout?


Johannah: When people neglect their needs, they may experience burnout, or a state of emotional, physical and mental exhaustion caused by excessive and prolonged stress. Burnout and stress are related but differ in how they manifest. Common warning signs of burnout may include the following:

  • Feeling withdrawn

  • Feeling drained and/or tired most of the time

  • Sleeping too much or too little

  • Loss of appetite

  • Backaches

  • Headaches

  • Difficulty completing tasks that would typically not be difficult to complete

  • Low confidence, and/or feelings of being a failure

  • Feelings of helplessness

Especially in circumstances where individuals are engaging in advocacy work as the CCYP does, our community’s leaders must prioritize their health and wellness above all else in order to continue engaging meaningfully and sustainably in this work.

Question: For youth that grew up in social and community contexts that did not openly discuss mental health, how can those youth facilitate a healthier dialogue for mental health in their relationships and workplace?

Johannah: That is such an important question. Fear and misunderstanding often lead to stigma and prejudice against people with mental illness, even among service providers. This can often lead to feelings of hopelessness and shame in those already struggling to cope. We know that nearly half of Canadians are unsure whether they would socialize with a friend who has a mental illness.


Evidently, stigma toward mental health and illness is still rampant across the nation and we must address this through constructive and empathetic dialogue. A crucial part of these conversations is ensuring we are using factual information to educate ourselves and interrogate our biases.


We do not need to be experts on the subject of mental health to begin having these discussions; bringing empathy and active listening skills to conversations with friends and loved ones will go far.


You can read more about mental health, mental illness, and stigma here:

Question: In your presentation at CCYP Youth Summit, you discussed the importance of prioritizing mental health, self-care and addressing burnout.


Under that context, what tips would you have for youth facing adversities like burnout due to a toxic workplace or struggling to land a job? How could they learn from these challenges and thrive?

Johannah: Being proactive is key! While burnout is a reaction our bodies and minds have to prolonged stress, proactively employing self-care strategies is the antidote.


Whether you are employed or job searching, asking ourselves simple questions like: “How can I commit to practicing self-care today?” or “What can I do today that will benefit my future self?” can be a great way to get the ball rolling on developing positive self-care habits.

Whether working remotely or in-office, this could look like setting a timer on your phone to know that it’s time for a break, getting outside for a walk on breaks, and even just separating yourself from where you work during breaks. As well, if you’re comfortable speaking to a supervisor about your needs in regard to mental health, that may be worth considering.

We know that 39% of Ontario workers would not tell their managers if they were experiencing a mental health problem which also reiterates the need to destigmatize conversations around mental health in all settings.


Taking small, but mindful steps can lead to big changes. It is vital that we practice good self-care as it will help us not only survive, but thrive, and prevent health implications that can be caused by burnout.

You can learn more about burnout by accessing the following links:

Question: You also discussed that the poorest mental health outcomes are for women, young people and low-income individuals due to the various social determinants of health including economic stability, health care access and social and community context among others.


Could you elaborate more on these outcomes – what are the statistics behind these outcomes? How can we employ intersectionality in providing mental health care for these affected cohorts?

Johannah: Mental illness has taken a toll on both people who were at risk prior to the COVID-19 pandemic, as well as individuals who have sought out mental health supports previously.


The International Labour Organization found that up to half of people between 18 to 29 years of age are subject to depression and anxiety as a result of the pandemic and up to 20% of healthcare workers are suffering from anxiety and depression.


In 2020, Statistics Canada crowdsourced data from nearly 50,000 Canadians on the subject of mental health:

  • Over half of people said their mental health declined since physical distancing began.

  • 64% of people aged 15-24 reported a decline in mental health overall.

  • 88% indicated they’d experienced a symptom of anxiety in the previous two weeks.

Factors such as physical distancing and being prevented from accessing our support networks in the ways we were accustomed to prior to the pandemic have, and will continue to take massive tolls on our population’s mental and physical health.


This data reiterates that social determinants of health including income and access to sufficient health care play a significant role in our wellbeing, especially during times of significant and prolonged stress.


Employing an intersectional mental health care system in Canada will take radical change from both a policy perspective and an institutional level. Having more funding available to conduct research so that these systemic issues can be named and better addressed is a small but crucial step in the right direction.


For those who are able, voting in elections municipally, provincially, and federally is a vital way to show up for your community, and communicate to your government what your priorities are. Of course, there are other ways to advocate at an individual level alongside one of the many fantastic organizations in the Greater Toronto Area and beyond that are working tirelessly for equitable healthcare.

There are intersecting forms of oppression that currently exist within our health care systems which often dictate an individual’s experience.


A recent CAMH study found that the following groups are more likely than others to experience symptoms of anxiety and depression at this time;

  • Women,

  • people who have lost their jobs as a result of the pandemic,

  • those who are worried about their personal finances,

  • people with children at home,

  • and young people.

While data in Canada is limited at this time, we know that in Toronto, communities with the highest number of racialized people have the highest number of COVID-19 infections and related hospitalizations.


The experience of Indigenous peoples during previous pandemics and the ongoing impacts of colonialism suggests that they are also at higher risk of infection and severe health effects of COVID-19.