Winnie's Blog

Mental Health Myths and Misconceptions - Part One


Statistics show that almost one out of every five Canadians experience some form of mental illness at some point in their lives. Yet, misconceptions, stigma, misinformation and negativity prevail. According to the Canadian Mental Health Associations 2008 National Report Card, 46 per cent of Canadians think people use the term "mental illness? as an excuse for bad behaviour. The poll also showed that only 50 per cent of Canadians would confide with a friend or relative if they were diagnosed with a mental illness, compared to 72 per cent who would tell others if they were diagnosed with cancer.


Living with depression and anxiety is difficult enough without adding stigma to these experiences. Not to mention, many people struggling with these issues have grown up believing these same myths and misinformation themselves. Imagine feeling guilty or ashamed for having cancer or diabetes? Imagine struggling with a chronic life altering condition and feeling the need to hide your symptoms? It is unthinkable ? yet it happens every day.


In keeping with the recent mention of Mental Health Day in February, the next couple posts will exam some of the myths and misinformation surrounding mental health issues. To begin this myth busting exercise here are some questions and answers:



1. True or False: Anxiety Disorders often occur with other illnesses? This is true.


2. What is the most common mental health problem in Canada: Depression, Schizophrenia or Anxiety Disorders? The answer is that Depression hits 1 in 5 people and Anxiety 1 in 12 and Schizophrenia 1 in 100. Depression is the common cold of mental illnesses.


3. Depression is very similar to feeling down or "blue." This is false. Depression is much worse than having a blue day. We all have a blue day now and again. Depression is a chemical imbalance in the brain and it responds well to a combination of medication, talk therapy and exercise.


4. Most people successfully take control of the symptoms of anxiety by sheer will power and strength? This is false. You can NOT will it away. There are great treatments now for anxiety and it is most helpful if people ask for help. You don't need to do this alone.


5. People often won't talk about depression because they see it as a weakness or a personality trait? This is true especially for men. It is not a weakness or personality trait. It is an illness that needs treatment.


6. Christians (people of faith) get depression less often than non-Christians. False. Depression can hit anyone of any race, religion, colour or socio economic background. It is not a respecter of persons at all. People of faith often suffer more because they feel guilt that they shouldn't be feeling this way because they should be feeling the joy of the Lord. Shame accompanies their depression.


Come back for more about myths, misconceptions and stigma about mental health.

By: Winnie Visser in collaboration with Sharon Osvald


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Loving All Year Long

Happy Valentine?s Day!

Have you ever wondered how Valentine?s Day came about? According to there are a number of interpretations on how it began.

No matter what story you choose to believe, the consensus seems to be that St. Valentine was martyred for reasons related to his convictions of love and relationships. He was an ultimate giver. Valentine?s Day gives us the opportunity to celebrate the people we love for just one day of the year. But what happens after Valentine?s Day? How can we continue being selfless givers the rest of the days of the year as well?

Time and time again, in our "I?m doing this for me? society, we forget that one of the principle foundations of lasting, solid relationships is selfless giving. Relationships can be extremely fulfilling, however, they can also become the greatest source of pain when they?re not going well. This is especially true when each partner becomes self-seeking.

In light of Valentine?s Day and our upcoming Family Day, on Feb. 20th, let?s cover some tips for strengthening marriages and relationships.

?Marriages and relationships need to be intentional, including words such as honour, respect, honesty, vulnerability, healthy, open communication and forgiveness.

?When we don?t agree with or understand a statement our spouse or partner makes, be intentionally curious rather than attacking or blaming. Ask them to clarify what you think you heard them say.

?Speak respectfully to one another even when disagreeing. Don?t call each other names, withhold love-making or point out weaknesses when arguing.

?Be honest in your communication even if it may hurt you or your spouse. Honesty, with pain, is far better than brewing distrust through deception. Be honest about your own personal struggles. Everyone has them.

?Don?t try to change your spouse or loved one! You can?t change anyone, so stop trying! Instead, change your own responses.

?You are the only one that can choose to react or respond to a situation. Reactions produce chaos; responses produce thought evoked action. An old wise proverb reads, "A gentle answer turns away anger, but a harsh word stirs up anger.?

Honouring and giving to each other, meeting one another?s needs, knowing what each other?s needs are, communicating with honesty and respect and treating one another as cherished gifts are ways to enhance a relationship beyond Valentine?s Day.

May your Valentine?s Day and Family Day be one of celebrating your spouse and loved ones all year around!! Solid marriages make solid families and solid families make solid communities.

By: Winnie Visser in collaboration with Sharon Osvald

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Showing, Telling Love

Looking back and reviewing the topics shared on this blog, I realized the very first post back in October was about being intentional in our relationships.

The following quote from "The Word for You Today? (Canadian edition ? November 1, 2011) reminded me of the importance of this topic. It says, "Often our marriages are damaged not by big things like infidelity, abuse or abandonment ? but little things like criticism, lack of respect and taking each other for granted.?

Most of us can remember a time when we couldn't stop thinking about our loved one. Our long distance phone bills were out of this world! We knew everything about how their day went and what they were feeling.

As new parents we waited with great anticipation to see our children take their first steps and say their first words. But the newness and novelty fade and so often we forget. Instead, as we go about our days, we begin to slide into a pattern of apathy and carelessness. We stop listening ? really listening - not just to the words our spouses or children say, but the feelings and hopes behind those words. It is so easy to stop being mindful of the needs, disappointments and dreams of our spouses and children. It is equally easy to stop sharing our own hearts. As the above quote says, it isn?t the big things that break up families, but the slow and steady erosion of everyday life. How many times have you heard the words "I don?t know, we just grew apart,? by someone describing a break-up?

Sometimes we all need a reminder. Some of us need a wake-up call that happy families don?t just raise themselves. With February being the month of love, I would like to challenge you to really show and tell your love this month. Here is the challenge:

1.Put down the remote, the computer, the laundry or the telephone long enough to really ask your spouse or family how they are doing? Intimacy takes time and attention.


2.Don?t let your family members slide through life beside you. Engage them. Invite them to do things together ?even if it is just getting a hot chocolate or going for a drive to the lake. If this doesn?t work right away, be at their games, events and activities. Show them you want them IN your life, not just alongside it.



3.As parents, part of our role is to correct and discipline. However, it is not to critique, criticize, be-little and nag. If you have fallen into this habit, see it and change it. Discipline always goes hand-in-hand with un-conditional love. You can?t speak into someone?s life if they have tuned you out.


4.Ditto for your spouse. Criticizing and nagging your spouse in a manner that makes them feel small or stupid; especially in front of other people is not a great way to build a loving marriage. It is our job to build up and encourage our spouses. That?s what families are for.


By: Sharon Osvald in collaboration with Winnie Visser



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Making S.M.A.R.T. Goals

We?re half way through January, right around the time when New Year?s Resolutions start dropping off our to-do-lists. Did you make a resolution this year? Whether it is exercising more, quitting smoking or starting a new course in life, why is it that even with our best intentions, these resolutions so often fail?

Many social scientists believe it is because the goals we make are not S.M.A.R.T. goals. The first known use of the acronym S.M.A.R.T. ( as a goal setting tool) was by George T. Doran in the November 1981 issue of Management Review. Here?s what it means. In order to succeed in our goal setting our goals need to be:

Specific ?Measurable -Attainable -Relevant ?Time based.

Specific: The clearer your goals are the more likely they are to meet with success compared to more general goals. They must answer all five "W? questions.

What: What do I wish to accomplish?

Why: What are the specific reasons, benefits and purposes of your goal?

Who: Who is involved?

Where: Identify a specific location for this change to occur at.

Which: Identify the requirements and the constraints of your plan to change.

Measurable: If a goal is not measurable it is difficult to see if there is progress or completion. Giving yourself specific targets (I want to be at this spot by this date and so on) will keep you on track.

Attainable: Are your goals realistic? Deciding to lose 100 pounds in one week by going on a crazed diet may have some initial results, but since this is not sustainable over the long term you will usually fail. Goals cannot be out of your reach or below what you can accomplish. The question needs to be asked: How can this goal be accomplished? Develop your plan from there.

Relevant: This answers the question does this goal matterto me? If this is not something that really moves you, you won?t really embrace it. Ask yourself: Does this seem worthwhile? Is this the right time? Where does this line up with my other efforts/needs?

Time ?Based: Giving yourself a realistic time frame to meet a goal gives that goal a sense of urgency and a completion date. Life has a way of taking over our days if we are not conscientious about how we spend our time. Having a time based goal puts a little extra and necessary pressure on us to NOT have an excuse to neglect our goals.

Wishing you a very successful 2012 as you plan specific, measurable, attainable, relevant and time-based goals.

By: Sharon Osvald in collaboration with Winnie Visser



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Change Begins with Yourself

As we begin this fresh New Year, we can?t help but think of change. What was good about our last year, our goals, accomplishments our lives and what needs to change? As I do this in my own life, a reoccurring theme comes to the surface.

Change begins with yourself.

One of the principles to live by this year is that we are all responsible for our own joy and fulfillment in life. As a marriage and family therapist, I understand that many people have terrible things happen to them in their past. These things can be traumatic to overcome and drastically affect people?s lives. However, I believe: Don?t blame the past. Yes, it happened and yes, it was painful. However, it is easy to become stuck by something that happened to us thirty ? even fifty years ago. In the words of writer and speaker Joyce Meyers, "Let God restore you but don?t stay in recovery all your life.?

It is time we take the baton and become responsible for our own attitudes, our own habits and our own disappointments and stop blaming our parents, our husband, our wife or our kids for the life we now choose to live!

Blessings for a year of change! Only you can decide what that means and how you might go about changing it. No one can do it for you. You might be empowered by your faith or supported by others but it is you that needs to do this.

Believe me; I?m looking in the mirror when I say this.

By: Winnie Visser in collaboration with Sharon Osvald

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Christmas Grief



 Christmas really can be a wonderful time of year. It?s a time when families and friends make the time to reconnect, our homes and streets are decorated with lights and greenery and people pause to remember to help others in need. It of course, is the celebration of the birth of Jesus Christ, who brings hope and peace to a lost world.

However, as a marriage and family therapist, I also am aware that Christmas can be an incredibly painful time for many. We must be careful not to minimize the pain this season brings some people. Firstly, there are relationship stressors that seem to just jump off the page this time of year. Whether it is watching Christmas movies of perfect families when you?re struggling to stay in an unhappy marriage or sitting around the table eating turkey with people (family) that you?d rather not be around ? the unreasonable pressure for Christmas to be "perfect? can make the season less than bright.

Secondly, grief at Christmas time is so very real, conjuring up many memories. Christmas, like no other holiday is about family and sharing. A little like salt on the wound, knowing that it?s Christmas once again reminds us that there is an empty place setting. Who will carve the turkey now that dad is not here? Who will pass out the gifts? Whether our loss is experienced through death, divorce, distance or dementia ? the gap in our lives is felt.

If you are experiencing grief or loss this season, here is a little help.

  1. Allow yourself to be sad. Sometimes we feel guilty for grieving. We don?t want to "bum? everyone else out on a day that is meant to be happy. If you have been the primary joy-maker, baker, decorator for past Christmas times, this is especially difficult; You carry pressure to make the day perfect ? when all you want to do is cry. Give yourself permission to feel what you feel. It is totally normal.
  2. Adjust your expectations. If you have lost a significant loved one, it is going to take a long time for your Christmas to feel "normal? again. Accept and expect that this will be a process and communicate this to your loved ones.
  3. Keep it Simple. In the words of columnist, Stacie Ruth Stoelting in her column, Coping with Grief at Christmas, "Take a hands off and hands folded approach to the holidays. Reduce activity, increase prayer and companionship.? After losing her husband, one woman who was an avid baker, stopped baking all together during the holidays. The activity just reminded her of her loss. As a result, her kids took up the activity and even now years later; her daughters repeat their parent?s favourite recipes. Don?t feel guilty if you don?t send Christmas cards, have a huge meal or even put a tree, keeping things simple will help you manage your grief.
  4. Forgive. Often times when we lose a loved one there is unfinished "relationship? business that we now feel helpless to deal with. You may wish you said and did things ? but it is too late. The only way to let these feelings go is to forgive. Writing a letter to your loved one or speaking with a counsellor is a very helpful way of finalizing this act of forgiveness and freeing yourself from hurt feelings and regrets. Sometimes we have to forgive ourselves too!
  5. Diet and Rest. Watching what you eat is very important during the holidays. Over eating and experiencing sugar highs and lows are great ways of feeding depression. Be mindful of what you are taking in and how much sleep you are getting ? especially when you?re already feeling vulnerable.
  6. Marking the loss. When we lose someone it is so hard to see life just carry on without him or her. We can actually feel guilty for enjoying ourselves. Find an outlet to make a tribute to the person you?ve lost. Many churches and funeral homes have special services during the holidays that allow people to celebrate the life of someone they have lost. Whether it is hanging a Christmas wreath on a grave site, writing a letter or memorial, making a yearly donation in their name or posting a tribute online, acknowledging your loss is important.
  7. Reach out. This advice is two sided. One, reach out and receive support for yourself. Secondly, reach out to others. This is the season for serving the hurting. Helping at a soup kitchen, singing at a nursing home or taking clothes to a woman?s shelter is a lot more uplifting than sitting at home feeling alone ? for you and for others. It might even become a new tradition that you cherish.
  8. Talk about the good times. Often when someone loses a partner or a child, we try to protect that person by not talking about the one they lost. Instead, it helps to laugh and remember the funny stories and the good times. These memories can be very comforting.
  9. Reclaim Your Purpose. When we lose someone we love- especially if we were their caregiver ? we find it hard to remember why we were left behind. You may need help to find that focus again and to remember you are important and here for a reason.

Wishing you a wonderful Christmas Season and New Year!

Written By: Sharon Osvald in collaboration with Winnie Visser
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Making the Season Bright- Part Two

For many people, the Christmas season doesn't feel very much like a holiday. If you are feeling overwhelmed by the shopping, parties, concerts, baking and just aren?t enjoy it- read on.

Here is Part Two of "Making the Season Bright?:

  1. Start every day with a plan. The Christmas season is a busier time than usual and needs to be managed accordingly. Start your day a little earlier than usual. Begin it by making a list of the goals that need to be achieved and what you can reasonably accomplish today. This will give you a greater sense of control and will keep the demands of the moment from just taking over your life.

  1. Delegate! Many people live by the philosophy "If I have to ask for help, I?d rather do it myself.? This doesn?t work during the holidays. Your kids, spouse and peers can help you. Give yourself permission to take something off your list if it is reasonable to ask them to do it for you.

  1. Let it Go. Remember that list of goals I told you to make? Now take a red pen and cross the things off that are not do-able. If you don?t have time to do that extra baking, write those extra Christmas cards or attend that yearly event, allow yourself to say no and not feel guilty. If you are truly managing your time well, trying to reach your goals and there still aren?t enough hours in the day ? reassess what is important and what you can let go of. 
Written By: Sharon Osvald in collaboration with Winnie Visser

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Making the Season Bright - Part One

If you?re like me you are busy. Maybe you?re busy at your job, running a business, attending school or just trying to keep up with your family. Whatever it is, for many the whole Christmas season doesn't feel very much like a holiday. If you are feeling caught up in shopping, parties, concerts, baking and you just aren't enjoying it ? Read on. 

Here are some tips to "Make the Season Bright?.

  1. Remember the real meaning of Christmas. Remembering that the first Christmas was about grace, forgiveness and peace on earth should help us re-focus our frantic thoughts. Don?t miss the meaning behind the moment.
  2. Focus on people. Make sure the few days you get off work are centered on the people in your life, not swept up in the trappings of trying to make the holiday picture perfect. Spend less time fussing and more time talking and laughing. If you are separated from the people you love ? by distance, death or divorce, look around you. Many people are alone during the holidays. Reach out to a neighbour, a senior or a young mom. It will help them and help you too.
  3. Remember the Basics. As simple as it sounds, get lots of sleep, eat well and exercise. These three things are key to keeping us feeling well, rested and ready to cope and yet they are the first three things that get sacrificed when we are rushed. Take care of yourself so you can take care of everything and everyone else.

Come back next week for Part Two of Making the Season Bright 

Written By: Sharon Osvald in collaboration with Winnie Visser

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Changing You

Change is a tricky thing. We don?t like it when it happens in our own lives, resist it in our own personalities, but wish it would happen to most of the people around us. The desire to have others change is an issue that comes up many times in my practise and in my own life. However, I am learning one important truth:

When one realizes that one can only change themselves and not others, there comes tremendous freedom.

 I often encourage people to come and learn about themselves and grow into this freedom. Many times within our marriage or families we think, "If only so and so would do things my way! ? We say, "You should have done it the way I suggested. Why would you ever choose something like that?? or "If it were me, I?d tell them?? and the list goes on.

 While, men get a bad wrap for having poor communications skills, I see many women who try to make their husbands into "mini-me?s?. We need to understand that men and women are different and that is a good thing ? not a bad thing. Very often women can become nagging wives when they want their husbands to change. They leave hints around (that book on the coffee table) and demand chores not just be done ? but be done the way they like them done. Also, when it comes to discipline, many times women try to make things "right? with the children after Dad has disciplined them. While yes, fathers may have a tendency to be firmer and more rigid in their approach; most times it is wiser to wait and discuss the situation privately with their husband. Wives need to be supportive of their husband?s motive for disciplining and not undermine them in front of the children.

 The bottom line is only you are responsible for your actions and responses. You cannot change anyone. You can show people a different approach, but you still must allow them the freedom to choose. Try not to react to situations or conversations that are difficult. Watch that your own anxiety isn?t causing you to be controlling or nagging. If you concern yourself with your own responses and simply be curious about someone else?s, you will live a far more stress-free life.

 It truly is worth it. 

Written By: Sharon Osvald in collaboration with Winnie Visser



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Protecting the Children of Divorce - Part Two

Intuitive Parenting

One of the most important and yet, most difficult things for a parent facing a divorce or separation is being intuitive to your children?s needs. This is particularly hard if the parent did not initiate the separation. You are swamped with your own emotions or grief, loss and anger. Getting through one day can be a chore. Seeing your children?s emotions may not even be on your radar- understandably so. However, keeping in tune with your children from the very beginning willsave all of your greater problems down the line and is well worth the effort, no matter how tiring it is.

Often times children don?t want to add to your burden and find it difficult to share the feelings of abandonment, loss and anger they are facing. Rightly or wrongly, they may be processing feelings of anger or sadness directed at you. They are also younger and less mature and often cannot really understand the feelings that are washing over them. Since they may not be able to tell you, it is important to watch for changes in behaviour as cues to what they are feeling.

The feelings and behaviours of children will vary. They may be more quiet, sad, angry or confused. Some become defiant at times, getting into bullying behaviour to vent their anger. Others become despondent, withdrawn and weepy as a means of coping. During this time of instability children may be more vulnerable to peer pressure, skipping classes, drugs/alcohol and sexual activity. Because they don?t always know how to vent or even understand their feelings, rebellious or acting out behaviour is a way to say, "I?m hurting and I don?t have a clue how to deal with it.? Kids want to know they are loved and that they belong somewhere. A divorce can shake their confidence in this area and make them vulnerable to sexual activity because "Well, at least someone really loves me.?

As difficult as these times are, if managed carefully with intuitive parenting and love, kids can recover from the difficulty of divorce and separation. If you or your family is going through this and need a little help with the process, consider visiting a marriage and family therapist in your area.

By: Winnie Visser in collaboration with Sharon Osvald
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Protecting the Children of Divorce - Part One


Separation and divorce is one of the most painful and difficult challenges a person can face. Although the trial facing the couple seems obvious, often the damage done to children in these families is overlooked. "People get divorced all the time, kids are resilient, their friend?s parents are divorced ? they?ll be ok,? are some of the myths that get passed around when couples part ways. The fact is children can heal from divorce, but their pain and loss needs to be taken seriously and managed with care.

One thing that needs to be considered is that often children will feel they are to blame for their parent?s break up. "Maybe if I just cleaned my room up a little more? or "Maybe if I would have listened a bit more? are common concerns for children facing divorce. Parents need to be very clear that the divorce was not because of the children and that the kids are not responsible.

Secondly, parents who are separating need to "read between the lines? and see that their children?s actions more often than their words show their inner turmoil and grief. Some children become despondent and withdrawn while others might exhibit bullying-type behaviours in order to vent their anger. Parents need to be able to hear their children?s anger or pain and give them permission and help to voice these feelings. Parents cannot expect their children to go along with it, or "just get over it?. That doesn?t work. This is especially true if the parent suddenly introduces a new partner to the mix. Children need time and help to heal and move past their losses.

Finally, Parents need to find a way to communicate in a way that is child oriented. Mom and Dad simply cannot bad mouth the other parent in front of their children. Even when it is painful, they need to be able to hear from their kids that the new person their parent is dating with or living with is nice, without pressuring them to hate the new partner. For the sake of the child, parents need to be as amicable as possible. They should never pressure a child to like them more than their ex-spouse or use threats like, "If you don?t behave you can go live with your mother/father.? This is so detrimental to children!

See more next week in part two of Protecting the Children of Divorce.

 Written by: Winnie Visser in collaboration with Sharon Osvald

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Battling Burnout

Battling Burnout

Burnout is a phrase people throw around all the time. In fact burnout is very real and more serious than simply being tired, stressed out or over committed. When experiencing burnout a person becomes so completely overwhelmed and exhausted emotionally and physically that they literally shut down. This can last a few days or in severe cases much longer, even leading to anxieties like agoraphobia.

One man, on his way to speak at a conference, all of a sudden sat on the curb of the sidewalk and began to cry. He simply couldn't go any further. He had no idea he was experiencing burnout. Another mother described her experience after an intense time of caring for an injured son. As soon as he recovered she "crashed? and truly couldn't move off the couch for a week. Other clients have described experiencing burnout because of workplace trauma, which took a very long time to heal. No, burnout is not a simple thing at all.

The first thing to consider when battling burnout is the suddenness in which it appears. This is something that often creeps up on you without you even realizing it. Generally speaking we are not very self-aware. We push ourselves too hard, force ourselves to "suck it up? and underestimate our emotional health. People who have experienced and are coping with chronic depression tend to have learned this lesson. They understand the patterns of thinking and behaviours that lead to burnout. For some they recognize physical symptoms like chronic neck or jaw ache, stomach upset or insomnia as a warning sign that should not be ignored. Yet, for many who experience burnout, these cues are not noticed ahead of time and ignored as the stress grows into something unmanageable. Learn to look for your own small symptoms and take them seriously. You may need to speak with someone to help you see the patterns you don't see.

Secondly, self-care is essential and often overlooked when we're busy caring for everyone and about everything. It sounds too simple, but eating right, getting enough sleep and exercise (even just walking) is the key to avoid the slippery slope of burnout.

Thirdly, learn to prioritize. Too often we spend our energy doing instead of living. Ask yourself: What do I value in life? What are my priorities? What are my goals? Write these things down. If the things you are spending your time and energy on don't align with what's in these boxes, either move them to the bottom of your to-do list or get rid of them completely.

Finally, give yourself permission to take some down time each day. Whether it is watching a documentary, reading a good book or playing the piano, take the time each day to quiet your heart and your mind and just rest. You'll be glad you did.

Written by: Sharon Osvald in collaboration with Winnie Visser

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Principles for Real Living:

  1. I am responsible for my own attitude
  2. My attitude affects my actions
  3. I can not change others, but I can influence others
  4. My emotions do not control my actions
  5. Admitting my imperfections does not mean that I'm a failure
  6. Love is the most powerful weapon for good in the world

Desperate Marriages by Gary Chapman, Northfield Publishing, Chicago 1998, 2008