Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

A few smiles a day help keep depression away

Little steps toward good mental health

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Kabilan Mohanarajan is spending the month of May encouraging Winnipeggers to make a commitment every day to good mental health and well-being. Through the Canadian Mental Health Association's Be Well Winnipeg campaign, he helps educate people about the little steps to take care of your own mental health but also toward building a stronger community that promotes wellness for all.

"The reality is that everyone has mental health," says Mohanarajan. "We can commit to being well together."

Mohanarajan, 23, is studying to become a teacher at the Ontario Institute for Studies in Education. Originally from Toronto, he decided to spend the next month volunteering as an intern in Winnipeg at the CMHA, helping spearhead the Be Well Winnipeg campaign.

Mohanarajan, who had an undergraduate degree in psychology, says volunteering for the CMHA is "right up his alley."

He has witnessed many of his close friends struggle with mental illness, including major depressive disorders, and found their journey to recovery through proactive commitments to well-being, awe-inspiring.

The concept of the Be Well Winnipeg campaign is simple, but it can create a ripple effect within the community. Every Winnipegger is encouraged to either go online at www.bewellwinnipeg.ca or visit a CMHA Winnipeg booth, which will be set up at a different mall each week (this week will be at Kildonan Place), and sign up to commit to a few actionable items every week throughout the month of May.

Possible commitments include spending 15 minutes outside every day, taking a friend out for a wellness activity or working to declutter a living space to reduce stress.

"So far, I've committed to saying good morning to the first person I see every day, to eating more healthy foods and to smiling at least three times a day," beams Mohanarajan.

People can keep track of their success online and for extra motivation, the CMHA Winnipeg is offering a variety of prizes depending on what commitment is made, including gift certificates from Ten Spa or Mountain Equipment Co-op, to a Xerox printer and autographed Winnipeg Jets gear.

"We are just so excited to bring this campaign to Winnipeggers, which recognizes the little commitments we can all take to make big improvements in our lives," says Nicole Chammartin, executive director of the CMHA Winnipeg.

"Our real hope is that people will understand that the Canadian Mental Health Association is here for all Winnipeggers," says Tessa Blaikie, a youth mental health promotion worker. "We're here to help all Winnipeggers live their lives to the fullest."

Mohanarajan hopes that through the CMHA's use of social media, youth will continue to stay motivated long after the campaign is over.

"Habits definitely make the person, and maybe if you commit one month to smiling every day, or going outside every day, you will continue to do so, and build not only a better life for yourself, but build a better community," he said.

Mohanarajan also hopes the campaign will help to dispel some of the stigma associated with mental illness.

"I think it helps to discuss mental health, mental well-being and mental illness out in the open. Too often things are swept under the rug."

He says that silence around these issues helps to breed false negative stereotypes about people who struggle with mental illness, such as all people living with a mental illness are "violent," or "hard to deal with" or "can't be treated." But the reality is that mental illness indirectly affects all Manitobans at some point in their lives whether it be a friend, a family member or a co-worker.

For Mohanarajan, it's important that everyone take time every day to take care of their mental health, and that is why he will be out in the community spreading the word.

The CMHA will kick off Mental Health Week on May 6 at Yoga Public with a karma yoga session at 10 a.m., followed by speakers Narda Singh, Winnipeg Blue Bomber Jordan Matechuk and emcee Ace Burpee.

For more information about how to get involved with the CMHA Winnipeg go to www.cmhawpg.mb.ca.

 

If you know a special volunteer who strives to make his or her community a better place to live, please contact Carolyn Shimmin-Bazak at carolynshimmin@gmail.com.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 29, 2013 B3

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