“Inspiring”: An inside look at a special place for adults living with disabilities

DSWs help clients cope
Andrew Miller from the SEIU Healthcare communications team toured Choices in Hamilton, Ontario and spent a day meeting the centre’s clients and learning about the special contributions that developmental service workers make in our society.

“On paper, I knew what a Developmental Service Worker did. But […] I got to experience part of what they deal with on the day-to-day,” said Andrew, calling the visit “inspiring.”

This video shows DSWs from Choices working closely with clients, who live with a range of developmental disabilities and/or mental health issues:

DSWs at Choices work with adults with high-intensity behaviours and have experienced high much success in helping clients integrate into their community. Using a “person-centred” approach, DSWs assist clients with many life tasks and therapeutic skills, including working with animals, running errands, and doing physical exercise. DSWs also help clients with housing and job training, among other services.

It is clear that DSWs make a big difference in their communities and we applaud the work that they do every day.



Sports fandom, a cure for many ails?

We talk a lot on this blog about what a given activity does for your health, physical and/or mental, from more obvious things like walking, to more subtle actions like cooking good food.

What about sports? Not playing them, which we know is good physical exercise. Watching them. Following them.

Two weeks ago a lot of Canadians were feeling the pressure; not just because of the looming federal election, but thanks to the Blue Jays, who for the first time since 1993 (also the last year they won the World Series) had entered baseball playoffs, and, for a while there, were doing very well.

Blue jay

Die-hard fans celebrated and many other proud Canadians jumped on the fan bandwagon. Social media exploded. It seemed as they everyone was talking about the Jays. On the Dundas streetcar in downtown Toronto on election night, passengers alternated between talking about vote day and updating everyone on the latest home run Donaldson had hit.

The happiness that the Jays’ playoffs success brought to cities and town across Canada was contagious. They eventually lost, leaving a historic season nonetheless. And the question remains: was this pressure, this happiness, this rallying around a common cause good for our health?

In his 2001 book Sports Fans: The Psychology and Social Impact of Spectators, psychologist Daniel Wann says that because of our human need to belong, being a sports fan could improve our health on several different levels. Perhaps it makes us feel simultaneously more secure and more hopeful. It is nice when “our” teams do well, but following sports allows teaches us that failure is a necessary part of life. We must learn to process feelings of disappointment with grace, to pick up and move on while trying to look at the bright side.

And keeping up with professional sports this winter? We’re great at that. We can always follow the Canadian teams who qualified for the Major League Soccer playoffs, or keep an eye on the Raptors who start their NBA season tonight, or the ongoing hockey season.

Even though baseball has ended, with the NHL and NBA (We The North!) seasons underway, there could be more heartbreaking moments for fans ahead – or maybe more surprisingly heartwarming times!

Once in a while it would also do us some good to leave the screens off and play around outside, or cheer on some local teams while they play.

And the Jays will be back next year.

Clean home, cool brain?

Environmental Services and Houskeeping Week

It’s environmental services and housekeeping week here at SEIU Healthcare and it got me thinking about the role that organizing, tidying, and cleaning our spaces has on our day-to-day lives.

In a hospital or nursing home environment, the people who do environmental and housekeeping services are crucial to keeping the facilities clean and safe. They interact with patients and their families what they need and try to make everyone as comfortable as possible.

Imagine how much calmer we feel when we can see that staff is taking good care of a facility, and how unsettled we are if we can tell a building messy or disorganized, or hazardous in any way. Now imagine what kind of impact the cleanliness of our own homes and other social spaces must have on our mental health.

But unlike places with staff such as a hospital, we must do that work for ourselves, and that requires thinking about how much we want to do, how, and when. It’s easy to let things slip and not even notice. What kind of impact does that have on us?

Clutter in the home has been linked to emotional and mental issues. Meanwhile the actual exercise of cleaning at home can improve mental health by relieving stress and anxiety.

Maybe it’s the physical work, maybe it’s the sense of accomplishment, maybe it’s the practical benefits of having more space and knowing where things are, but it does appear that much like we would expect a nice clean nursing home when we visit, we would be happy to have the same at home. Whether that is achievable is another matter!

5 ways to cope when your kid moves out for school

Grace and her daughters

Grace, centre, with two of her children. Mira, 18, right, just moved out of the family home and into a student dorm for her first year of university.

Back to school can be an exciting yet troubling time for all. New and returning students suddenly have a lot to manage, but what about the families who go through a major life change as a result? We spoke to Grace, a single mom from Vaughan, Ontario who helped her eldest move out at the beginning of this month.

1.       Get a soundproof room and scream it out (physically or metaphorically)

Grace states simply:

“I’m dealing with loss. My daughter doesn’t live with me anymore.”

This feeling of loss causes a roller coaster of emotions. It’s important to recognize this, and forgive ourselves when we have a hard time managing.

Grace, who works full-time in SEIU Healthcare’s organizing department, used to manage her household of 4 with the help of 18-year-old Mira. Now that Mira’s moved out for university, she is adjusting to the reality of being a single mom without another adult in the house. Plus, the other kids are also dealing with the recent change.

“It’s okay to scream and shout at each other once in a while. Then sit and hug it out. You’re not a bad mom if you do that.” Grace also recommends a few sessions with a punching bag at your local gym.

2.       Ask for help

Parents may suddenly find themselves with a lot more work once an older child moves out. Putting aside one’s pride and reaching out for help can be one of the smartest things to do for good mental health during a life change.

“The best advice I got was to lean on people and allow them to help me because I was not created to do everything on my own,” says Grace.

She gave the example of asking her neighbours to help take care of the younger kids when Grace had to go to work and Mira to a job interview, just before school started up again. They spent the day with the neighbouring family, happily swimming and playing.

“I felt so safe knowing there was a security net.”

3.       Go with the flow

When school starts and the family unit changes, there is a lot going at once and it is difficult to process it all in a calm manner.

Grace recommends taking it easy and trying to not let things get on your nerves at home, for example around cleanliness, while everyone adjusts to the new living situation.

Perhaps things that normally are considered important for running the household can be temporarily downgraded in the name of sanity.

4.       Focus on new routines

That being said, with a new living situation generally comes a need to develop new routines. Grace says that focusing on this has really helped her feel grounded while dealing with her sense of loss.

She has made time to bond more with the other kids, and looks for new ways to do things at home. Her youngest, 5, now helps tidy up after he plays, for instance. Her 13-year-old helps make lunches at night.

5.       Keep in touch

When someone moves out after many years together, the whole household faces the change and each person deals in their own way. Keeping in touch using modern technology is a good way to figure out how to manage the new relationships that will emerge after a young adult moves away for school.

Even though the sense of loss is there, there is also opportunity. Grace points out that Mira and her 13-year-old daughter used to fight a lot at home. “Now, they miss each other,” she says.

Collectively, using some of these tricks and pointers, the family will adjust to the new way they do things—just as all new students must create new ways of doing things for themselves.

Let’s talk about suicide and our responsibility

Like many, I have had friends and family traumatized and impacted by the suicides of close ones. In the 1960s a great-aunt of mine died this way but it was kept a secret from most of the family for years out of shame due to the taboo nature of it at the time. She had three young kids.

Despite the awkwardness and pain of talking about it, suicide is not entirely unusual.

Ten times more people died from suicide than from homicide over the last few years in Canada. That’s more than 3,000 people each year. All ages, genders. Think of how much time we spend in fear of others hurting us. It’s harder to talk about our own mental health, and for healthy people, it’s hard to understand the urge to die.

A quote from the American novelist David Foster Wallace about suicidal depression is floating around the internet, from his book Infinite Jest. The writing is quite good, and heart-wrenching.

Take a minute to let it sink in, to empathize with and imagine the pain and the discomfort so tortuous that a person would actually rather not live than continue their life under those circumstances.

“The so-called ‘psychotically depressed’ person who tries to kill herself doesn’t do so out of quote ‘hopelessness’ or any abstract conviction that life’s assets and debits do not square. And surely not because death seems suddenly appealing. The person in whom its invisible agony reaches a certain unendurable level will kill herself the same way a trapped person will eventually jump from the window of a burning high-rise.

Make no mistake about people who leap from burning windows. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking out the view; i.e. the fear of falling remains a constant. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames. And yet nobody down on the sidewalk, looking up and yelling ‘Don’t!’ and ‘Hang on!’, can understand the jump. Not really. You’d have to have personally been trapped and felt flames to really understand a terror way beyond falling.”

As a society, we have to do better than be able to talk about suicide. Now that we have started lifting the stigma around mental illness and conversations about different mental conditions and disabilities are starting to enter the mainstream, we have to put our money where our mouth is: we actually have to make sure healthcare system works well for those who are in crisis, or getting there.

Unfortunately right now our public healthcare system is lacking in that regard; waitlists are full, solutions hard to find, the system confusing and intimidating to navigate for anyone but the most mentally calm and healthy, and the good doctors costly.

Warning signs for suicide include extreme mood swings, talking about suicide, talking about being a burden. To talk to someone for free and confidentially, call your local Distress Centre.


The best tool for health – walking

As someone who spends a significant among of time at work sitting down at a desk (most of the hours of the day!), I try to pay attention to the signs that my body needs a bit of movement: aches and pains, tender muscles, feeling heavy.

And then while on a brief walk at lunchtime I remembered a video I saw a few years ago.

I’m going to spoil it for you now, but it’s still a great watch. It was made by Toronto doctor Dr. Evans (who I believe still works at St. Mike’s and thus alongside many SEIU Healthcare members) and the main point is: try to limit your sitting and sleeping to just 23.5 hours a day.

That means moving, or walking, for the remaining half hour. It doesn’t sound like a lot, but sometimes with our busy lives, we don’t fit this in. However if it all possible, we all should. According to Dr. Evans and the research he cites in the video, simply walking for 30 minutes a day could be the single best thing we can do for our health.

Being sedentary is bad for our health but just 30 minutes a day of movement improves our figures, our heart health, and even our memory and mental health. It really helps mitigate risk factors for chronic disease.

It’s free and easy to go at your own pace. Walking 30 minutes a day may be the best preventative health trick out there. Check out some more pointers from the Mayo Clinic.