Getting Real on Mental Health Week
The Canadian Mental Health Association is a longstanding institution that promotes mental health advocacy, programs, and research. Around for over 100 years, the CMHA is a community mental health organization with the goal of maintaining and improving mental health and community integration. They want to help Canadians build resilience and support the recovery from mental illness. Right now they are promoting Mental Health Week, and I wanted to talk about this.
Here are the CMHA’s key values and principles:
- Embracing the voice of people with mental health issues
- Promoting inclusion
- Working collaboratively
- Influencing the social determinants of health (e.g. housing, justice)
- Focusing on the mental health needs of all age groups
- Using evidence to inform our work
- Being transparent and accountable
From May 4-10th, 2020, the CMHA is promoting Mental Health Week, with the goal of promoting improved communication and connection. The epidemic of loneliness is a big driver of this campaign. You can download the free tool kit here, or read articles they’ve posted here. The CMHA is promoting the hashtag #GetReal to encourage people to disclose how they are really feeling. They encourage us to go deeper than just saying, ‘I’m fine.’ For those dealing with a crisis situation, check out this link for suicide prevention, support, and more. In honor of this idea of getting real, I thought it was a good chance for me to rant a bit.
Accepting the Harms
First, we should all accept that cannabis does have both acute and chronic harms and risks associated with use. Just like eating red meat does, or not exercising, being isolated, and so many other determinants. I am really tired of people treating cannabis like it is the only personal detail you need to know to assess a person. Two people can smoke the same amount of weed in one day, while one gets plenty of exercise, drinks water, eats healthy food, and gets proper sleep. The other person may get high, sit on the couch, eat junk food, and binge-watch TV instead of getting proper sleep. I’m not here to judge either person for their choices, my point is that cannabis consumption is one part of your 24 hours each day.
Inclusion and Collaboration
Second, the CMHA suggests we promote inclusion and collaborative working relationships. On that note, can we stop judging stoners and start including them in the conversation about them. While Canadians were asked to provide feedback prior to legalization, it was overpowered by the paternalistic and conservative perspective of our government. They are telling us that an edible can’t be over 10-mg of THC to keep children safe. Yet we check ID’s before giving anyone weed and the product comes in a child-proof container. What does it really matter how much THC is inside a child-proof container? Yet it is the adults that are now limited to edibles with potencies far lower then we would buy if we could.
Embrace our Voices
Third, let’s follow the CMHA suggestions and embrace the voices of people with mental health issues. Cannabis can be part of the downward spiral many people suffer around their mental health, others use it their entire lives without major issues. I always struggle to balance my consumption with my daily activities and responsibilities. For those with mental health concerns, let’s listen to them and hear what is affecting them. They mention family, money, stress, and cannabis as factors promoting their unwellness. Why do we only focus on judging them for smoking weed? During this Mental Health Week, look at the bigger picture.
Don’t forget about Adults
Fourth, we are asked to consider the needs of all age-groups. So why are our cannabis laws all dictated around youth? The ID check is powerful enough to prevent youth from getting cannabis (who had no problem getting it from dealers prior to legalization, myself included). Beyond that, why are we not seeing support for adults who use cannabis? Adults who have the right to do what they want, whether it be alcohol, tobacco, junk food, cannabis, or pulling all-nighters. Each of these has detrimental effects, and we should be having an informed discussion about how each impacts your health and wellness. Instead of just scape-goating cannabis as the singular cause of your mental health concerns.
Consider all the Evidence
Fifth, the evidence is declared to be the foundation for the work the CMHA does. There is certainly research demonstrating the negative mental health impacts of cannabis use and withdrawal. We know that cannabis withdrawal can cause sleep difficulties, anxiety, irritability, and appetite disturbances, yet we ask people to stop smoking without providing them the support to maintain mental health through their withdrawal and beyond. There are also studies to indicate a lack of impact of cannabis on mental health.
For example, this study found that “Regular cannabis use was not associated with severity of mental health symptoms.” Another study found that “Daily cannabis use is significantly more common among persons with serious psychological distress and is increasing in this group, as well as among those without.” Now, look at this real closely. Basically, people who are distressed use cannabis and increase their use. The same can be said for those without this serious psychological distress. So why didn’t these people develop serious concerns? And if people who are distressed do have persistently higher consumption rates, is it helping or harming?
The Legal Harms of Prohibition
For those without legal access to cannabis, how does this influence their mental health, especially considering the constant threat of arrest and the outcomes of being jailed? The authors of this paper agree with the harms of cannabis use. They also discussed how the prohibition of cannabis also causes some harm.
I understand there are harms with cannabis use, and we should do a better job of supporting those individuals suffering from these harms. There are also millions of people who consume cannabis every day, yet are never part of these studies looking at people who have developed problems. We see that poor people suffer problems from cannabis. They are more likely to be arrested, stigmatized, and not receive the support they need. These things would all be similar for a poor person who doesn’t smoke weed. I’ve yet to see research specifically looking into those who have regular consumption habits without developing problems. This is the group that researchers don’t talk to while looking at specific groups of consumers.
Stop the Stigma
What I really want, is to stop with all the stigma. People who have mental health issues need support, whether or not they smoke weed or not. I’ve had periods of depression and intense anxiety while smoking weed. But I’ve also smoked for ten years and been perfectly functional and mentally healthy for the vast majority of the time. If I walked into a medical professional’s office, they would say it’s the cannabis and I should stop. This doesn’t add up for me when I can point to other major changes (job, friends, family) that are more acutely related to the problems I had.
All I’m saying is that my problems were bigger than cannabis, and many unrelated to cannabis use. Why only focus on getting people to stop consuming this one substance? Let’s talk about building healthy high habits like sleeping, eating, and exercising well. These healthy habits should be promoted for all people, whether they drink, smoke, or gamble. I think looking at the big picture is important during Mental Health Week.
Read more on the CMHA’s thoughts on cannabis here. There is no discussion about common healthy habits and the importance of exercise no matter if you smoke or not. They also state “cancer from smoking” as a vague health risk of cannabis without providing a citation to support the claim. All in all, it does provide some solid information, however. I hope you enjoyed my ranting on mental health week. I’ll try to dive into this topic a little bit further before the end of this years’ Mental Health Week.