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How occupational therapy can help address mental health concerns

Sabrina Anand

OT

Occupational Therapist

Monday, Mar. 1, 2021
 
woman on a couch using her computer

When you think of seeking support for mental health conditions or symptoms, do you think of an Occupational Therapist?  Most will think of psychologists, psychotherapists, social workers or even psychiatrists and picture themselves lying on a couch with someone looking over them (like the scenario shown in movies).

Did you know that Occupational Therapists have the education, training, and skills to help support people of all ages with challenges they may be having due to mental health conditions? And, that Occupational Therapists, or OTs for short, are readily and easily accessible in your local community and are likely covered under extended health plans?

Who are OTs and how can they help with mental health conditions?

Occupational Therapists are regulated health care professionals who work with individuals that are having challenges completing occupations that are meaningful to them. What is an occupation? Well, it is not just our ability to go to work, as the word suggests. It is also our ability to take care of ourselves, our families, and our homes. It is our ability to earn an income, volunteer in our community, and engage in activities we enjoy both alone and with our family and friends.  

Symptoms such as worry, frustration, low motivation, sadness, feeling overwhelmed and a sense of failure can disrupt our ability to engage in the occupations that are important to us. Sleep may be impacted. We may be napping more during the day as an “escape.” We may be struggling with forgetfulness and having challenges focusing. We may find that we are falling out of routine, falling behind and falling out of contact with those we love and care for. We may fall into negative thinking patterns. 

While mental health awareness is moving more to the forefront in recent years, this past year specifically has presented individuals with unexpected challenges and stressors that have impacted emotional well being.  

Occupational therapists are unique when compared to other mental health care providers in that they look at the person as a whole - mind, body and spirit – and the interactions between each individual, their environments and their occupations. Here are some examples of how occupational therapists can work with clients to regain participation in meaningful activities and occupations, even in the presence of a mental health condition:

  • Helping clients to identify their strengths 
  • Informing them of sleep hygiene and fatigue management strategies to reduce disrupted sleep or poor sleep patterns 
  • Educating them on how to set attainable and realistic goals, to build routine and to problem solve through challenges
  • Enabling the development of healthy coping and stress management strategies 
  • Providing strategies to help reduce challenges with memory and attention 
  • Understanding the connection between our thoughts, emotions and actions
  • Learning how to recognize and change unhelpful thinking patterns. 

Life does not have to stop because of our mental health. Occupational therapists can serve as part of the treatment team that allows us to learn to focus on our strength and learn new skills so that we can return to the activities that are important to us.

If you’re interested in scheduling an appointment with an occupational therapist, you can book one online or contact a clinic near you.  

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