Guest Blog – Mental Health and Sexual Health: The Connection

Blog written by Maree Rodriguez, Mental Health Advocate & Former Teen Talk Peer Support Volunteer in honour of National Sexual & Reproductive Health Awareness Week (#SRH2018).

We all have health. We all have experienced some sort of illness or condition that has hindered us from going to school, being at work or helping us take care of the people close to us. Usually it is a physical aspect that may involve a common cold or a broken arm. When our peers are made aware of this, there is usually little hesitation in telling us to stay home, take it easy and encourage recovery. Physical health is easier to see, especially by the ones close to us. There is usually little hesitation to aid when one’s physical wellness is being hindered.

But there are other aspects of health and wellness. This includes mental health and sexual health. Unlike physical health, these two aspects of health have a stigma associated with them due to misunderstanding and lack of awareness.

According to the Canadian Mental Health Association, 1 in 5 Canadians will experience a mental illness. For youth, 10-20% are affected by a mental health condition. Like a broken arm, it is important to look out for ourselves and each other when we are struggling with our mental health. Our minds and bodies work together to keep ourselves strong. The stigma of mental illness prevents some people from reaching out for help, worrying they may be seen as weak, be shrugged off or labelled negatively by their friends, family and even the community. People dealing with mental illness might deal with it in silence and prevent them from getting the assistance they need to cope. It is important to be able to talk about our mental health, openly and safely in our communities.

The Winnipeg Regional Health Authority states that Chlamydia, Gonorrhea and Syphilis are the most commons STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections) in Winnipeg. Talking about sexual health is seen as a taboo subject for a lot of people. With a lack of education around sexual health, people engaging in sexual activity may not know how to properly protect themselves from STIs and unwanted pregnancies. To be safer in engaging in sexual activities, condoms, birth control and STI testing are important in taking charge of one’s sexual health.

Most importantly, communication and consent are key in ensuring that both parties feel safe in their choices. Sexual violence is an unfortunate reality that people can or have experienced. A sexual act that is done against someone’s will is considered sexual assault. Because of this, it is important to keep lines of communication open and be sure that there is consent when engaging in sexual activity.

Taking charge in all parts of our health is important. Whether it is physical, mental or sexual. We feel better about ourselves and are stronger when we are in good health. Recognizing when our health may require self-care or assistance from others is not a sign of weakness. Rather, it is having a self-awareness that we care about our own health.

By: Maree Rodriguez

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