Category Archives: mental health

Keep It Real with the Medicine Wheel

I went to an amazing education day earlier this week. It was about bringing “Culture in the Clinic”, particularly first nations culture from the aboriginals that first inhabited these lands. I live in British Columbia, in the Snunymuxw territory. It is one of the most beautiful places in the world to live I am certain.

Unfortunately much of the First Nations culture – with it’s strong connection to plants, animals, spirit, ceremony and community, was brutally devastated by colonization of Europeans and the creation of residential schools. These “schools” opened in the 1870’s by the new settling Europeans and families were forced to say goodbye to their kids usually at about the age of 5. At the schools, children were abused in every way. Many died and many are still unaccounted for.

When children arrived at the schools they were young and alone.  They were not allowed to contact family and they certainly were not allowed to practice any of their cultural ceremonies, or speak their own language. And their hair, which was traditionally kept long, was cut short. Could you imagine living through this? How might this affect your sense of self? How would it affect your mental health? Your physical health? Your spirit?

Prime Minister, Stephen Harper, apologized for this publicly in 2008, but in 2009 stated “we have no history of colonialism”. This ignorant statement basically erased his apology in the eyes of many.

It may seem as though all of this happened a long time ago, however the culture still suffers, with 50% of the children still in alternative care, whether it be foster homes or adopted families. First Nations people are now all of higher risk of heart disease, diabetes, addiction, poverty and many other health concerns.

This remains a current issue that needs to be recognized as a problem and needs compassionate attention.

One way to give compassionate attention is to learn about the culture. And what an amazing culture it is. Something that stood out for me in the learning of the day was the Medicine Wheel as a personal tool.

This is a tool that can be used, regardless of your history or your culture. Firstly, you must see your body as your house. Like any house, the foundation is key to keep it standing. Typically in First Nations culture they have ceremonies in a wooden, rectangle shaped long house. This house has four posts as part of the foundation, just as the wheel has four foundational sections.


Take a look at the wheel. It’s four pillars, or quadrants are Mental, Physical, Emotional and Spiritual. In our culture, we are really great at the mental component – we put a lot of value on academic education and individuality. We are beginning to get better at the physical component, maybe, with more programs to build community and more awareness of healthy nutritional choices. We have much work to do to get our emotional and spiritual posts in order to find balance. (The First Nations culture could help us with these pieces…)

But now lets look at the medicine wheel as an individual, because really, we are all individuals first. We all can control only ourselves, and even that is harder than we would like most times.

The better we care for ourselves, the better our families, our communities and our towns/cities, and world will be. But it all starts with us as an individuals first.

For any of us to function at our highest capacity, all four of these sections need to be in balance. For example, A student who spends all his waking moments studying will be unbalanced and will be less productive than the person who is studying but also getting a full nights sleep, connecting with a higher power, and spending time feeding healthy relationships.


I challenge you now to take a blank sheet of paper. Draw a big circle on it. Now draw two long lines on the circle, splitting it in 4. Now label each quadrant, one MENTAL, PHYSICAL, SPIRITUAL, EMOTIONAL.

Write down one thing in each quadrant. It can be something you are already doing and want to continue to do, or it can be a goal. Don’t chose something you are already doing as a regular habit, but rather chose something that you are working to continue. Put your wheel somewhere where you can see it on a daily basis. Maybe a good place for it would be on the fridge or on your bedroom door.

Some basic examples;

MENTAL– Learn three new phrases in Spanish

PHYSICAL– Exercise for 30 minutes 3x this week

EMOTIONAL– Notice my self talk and how it affects my mood this week, spend five minutes at night recording my findings in a journal.

SPIRITUAL– Take time to walk slowly through the forest 3x this week

Now make your own. Look at it every day and begin to build your four pillars of a healthy home that is your body.

Enjoy :)

“I am not what happened to me, I am what I choose to become”
–Carl Jung



Think Yourself Out of Mental Illness

“This isn’t me, I’m actually a high functioning, smart person!”

This is something I hear people say when they are accessing mental health services. Stating this as if they are smart enough to think themselves out of mental illness.

Typically the person saying this is well-educated and, in our societies terms, an overall high functioning person. Having mental health challenges does not mean you’re not smart. This idea is bogus.  The fact that I hear it so often, shows the stigma- still stuck to like glue mental health challenges and the people who access mental health services. Many highly functional people do have mental health challenges at some point in their lives.

In fact, According to Stats Canada, one in four Canadians experience an anxiety disorder in their lifetime.

17% of Canadians 15 and older perceived that they required mental health services in 2012.

In the US, 2.5% of the population have Bipolar and 1% have Schizophrenia.

All kinds of people access mental health services. No matter how smart you are, you can’t think yourself into mental health. In fact, often the opposite is necessary. Often one needs to stop thinking, slow the thoughts, and calm the mind. Doing this reduces anxiety and gives ease to the mind and body. These two things are the most common symptoms I see people accessing services for, followed by suicidal ideation which trots along shortly behind, if things aren’t dealt with.

In life all kinds of things can and will go wrong. Things will get hard and there will be times when you aren’t taking care of yourself as well as you could be. You might need help along the way from a mental health professional. If and when you do, understand that this is you in this moment. It’s not all that you are, but it’s a part of your experience of the now. This is  a part of your journey. It’s okay, it doesn’t mean that you’re not smart.

Smart people have mental health challenges. Famous people have mental health challenges too and slowly more of them are publicizing this aspect of themselves including the following:

Vincent Van Gogh, John Nash, Carrie Fisher (Princess Leiah), Kurt Cobain, Mel Gibson, Brooke Shields and of course Robin Williams.

In fact, researchers at the University of Toronto and at the Samuel Lunenfeld Research Institute of Mount Sinai Hospital found a protein, called the neuronal calcium censor protein 1,  that is linked to curiosity and spacial memory. This protein is also linked to Bipolar and Schizophrenia.

They found is straight A students are more likely to have either of these disorders, more so for people who excel in humanities than people who excel in sciences. Another study found similar correlations between A grade students in music and language courses and a diagnosis Bipolar.

The correlations found have not been consistent enough to be used for anything further than interesting findings; however, they do provide one an appealling flavor of  food for thought.


Your mental health is never stagnant. It’s changing with every moment you live. You don’t know your future and that’s what makes life interesting. If you stumble across mental illness along your journey, it doesn’t mean you are not smart. It doesn’t mean that you are smart either. It simply means that you are a human going through an experience. Embrace it’s teachings.