"Mental health matters."


Our Blog

An ongoing series of informational entries

Our Latest Blog Entry

July 31, 2018 

The Fortnite Phenomenon - Concerns of a Mom and a Therapist

Fortnite is a relatively new online game that has taken the world by storm. With an anticipated 3.4 million concurrent players at the beginning of February 2018, one can see how this game has skyrocketed in terms of popularity. However, I am yet to be convinced that this game is increasing healthy development of children and young people.

I must admit – I find the dances quite entertaining to watch and have even learned how to ‘floss.’ I am encouraged by my son to try ‘orange justice,’ amongst many others, but after the fun is done with the dancing, the obsession with actual gaming comes into play. This is concerning to me, as both a mom AND a therapist. 

The more I counsel children with anxiety and behavioral issues, the more I am drawing connections between Fortnite (and other online games) and issues that have serious implications in a young person’s development: Nightmares; symptoms of withdrawal and isolation; obsessive and impulsive behaviors; lack of sleep or difficulty sleeping; increased symptoms of anxiety; disrespectful behaviours; use of foul language; distorted reality; symptoms of depression; and disinterest in healthy activities.

Jennifer Powell-Lunder (Psychology Today) warns about the dangers of Fortnite, especially in children with impulsive personalities: “…its appeal can easily result in obsessive play. Because the game can be accessed on multiple types of devices (from consuls, computers, tablets, and phones) an engaged child could literally play all day long. I know more than a few kids who admit that unbeknownst to their teachers, they actually play during class too.” A client (whose permission has been given) explains that her son, who was always very well-liked and respectful, started isolating himself from friends, stopped doing activities he enjoyed (e.g., fishing; quadding), and if he was FORCED to participate in above mentioned activities, would have a blank stare and anxiety because all he could focus on was getting back to the game. He stopped getting invited to his friends' houses because all he wanted to do was game. He started having nightmares and developed a fear of the dark, and started using foul language. Unfortunately, this is a going theme in my practice.

I want to take time to discuss my observations. Many of the above mentioned interact, both causing and influencing each other (e.g., anxiety can decrease sleep; decreased sleep can cause anxiety). This  further complicates  mental well-being. The question is do we allow unlimited gaming time even if it is having negative physical- and emotional- influences on our child?

Here is some food for thought...

*Please remember the following are my observations, and may not be applicable to all

1. Symptoms of Withdrawal & Emotional Issues

Take a second and watch how your child responds to you saying “NO” when they ask to play Fortnite, when they anticipate playing, or when they are playing:

i. Restlessness – Cannot sit still; cannot wait to get back to the game

ii. Irritability – Whining and angry responses are common

iii. Negotiation – “If I go outside for an hour, can I come back in and play Fortnite?” Negotiation goes both ways: A child will try to negotiate with you (see above example), but parents will also negotiate for performance purposes (see below). Similar to an individual with substance issues, I find children will go to great lengths to get their next fix. And that is what it is — a fix. Children are negotiating and bargaining to fulfill their addiction

iv. Depressive Symptoms – Feelings of loss and sadness; isolation; and believe it or not, worthlessness. In my practice, children who play Fortnite (and many others) are not only upset when they lose, but are often told they suck or they are not wanted on the ‘team.’ While many may not recognize this as bullying, it is. And unfortunately, there is not a whole lot we can do about it

2. Cognitive Difficulties

i. Difficulty concentrating on anything but the game – Cannot respond to you while playing; are not paying attention; unable to sit for extended periods of time (e.g., at school) but able to sit for hours gaming

ii. Difficulty falling asleep or staying asleep – All they want to do is play Fortnite. Nightmares and a sudden fear of the dark has been a common theme in-session as well. If you notice your child is suddenly sleeping with the door closed because the hallway and dark freaks them out, are talking in their sleep (e.g., sound scared), cannot settle into restful sleep, or waking up at 5:00 a.m. to game, shut it down.

iii. Difficulty with memory… other than where they will land/glide on the Fortnite map, what time their online “friends” will be on, and what activities they may or may not have that will prevent them from playing (i.e., what time they can get back to gaming). When our attention is focused so intently on one thing, it is difficult for us to retain new information or learning. For individuals with obsessive personalities, this might hit home a little harder.

3. Swearing and Disrespectful Behaviour

i. Potty mouth – Listen to some of the players who have headsets. I can almost guarantee you will not like what you hear. Some kids have yelled “You suck! Newb…” When I ask my son to turn the volume off, he tells me he cannot because he will not know what his team is doing, and he needs to listen. This is a common theme not only in my household. On top of that, children are learning swear words, as it is next to impossible to regulate what comes out of the mouths of other children. It is no wonder young people come into my office with a well-rounded swearing vocabulary. Add hurtful words to a child with insecurities, and you may have more complicated issues on your hands.

ii. Shushing – Many, and I mean many parents have come into session because their child has ‘shushed’ them while playing. In my world, that is basically telling your parents to shut up. That is not okay. 

iii. Take the L

I cannot speak for everyone, but in my day, when a child made a ‘L’ using their hand and put it up against their forehead, it symbolized ‘loser.’ While the dance is entertaining and seemingly harmless, a child with low self-esteem or an emotional disposition may internalize this. Call me a softie, but I know I did not like being called a “loser,” and I am sure many others do not appreciate it, either. While we cannot control everything negative that is said to our child, or negative experiences they encounter, we can certainly limit this by monitoring the thoughts, feelings, and behaviours that manifest as a result of Fortnite.

4. False Sense of Reality and/or Hope

Online “friends” are not the same as individuals we have face-to-face interactions with. Period. Sure, our children may speak to one, two, or three other players (depending on the number of individuals on their team) at any given time, but that does not mean they are friends. Please — explain this difference to your child. Friendships are formed on not only verbal communication, but on spending face-to-face time with another person, interacting, observing non-verbal gestures, and real-world, organic “gaming” that involves the use of the imagination. Please - explain the importance of establishing and maintaining positive and reciprocal real-life relationships. 

These are only a FEW of the issues discussed in session and noticed at home. Now do not get me wrong, balance in important, but boundaries need to be put in place.

Here are some tips to curb the Fortnite itch:

1. Set Boundaries – You make the call when your child can play and what that looks like. End of story. “You can play for one hour.”

2. Have a list of readily-available activities which promote healthy habits. Some ideas might include: Going for a bike; calling a friend to play; taking your child/ren on an outing; getting your child/ren involved in sport; outside time… Basically anything that encourages not sitting fixated on a screen.

3. Hold your ground. As parents, we only want what is best for our children, but that does not mean we have to give them everything they want or feel they need. I am guilty of this – I work long hours, and sometimes feel like giving-in will make me a nicer mom (or feeding my own insecurities). Children must understand that there needs to be healthy balance in life, and this includes participating in many activities that do not revolve around Fortnite.

4. Provide direct communication: “You can play for 30 minutes.” Leave nothing open for interpretation and stick to your guns (no pun intended).

5. If you do allow screen time, shut it down at least an hour before bedtime. Our brains need time to unwind and 'shut' themselves down, too. Encourage mellow activities like reading, journaling, or talking about the day. Talking just before bedtime promotes connectedness.

6. Involve your child/ren in household chores/activities that would otherwise separate you (e.g., going downstairs to do laundry). The kids can-, and should- be helping. If they are capable of handling a controller, they are old enough to fold laundry and unload the dishwasher!

Author: Ashlee Schmidt


Wow. The only word I can think of to describe the tragedy of this past weekend in Saskatchewan. A bus, full of young hockey players, coaches, and support members, excited to get on the ice and kick some butt during a playoff game, was in a collision that ended many lives. 


Like so many others, this news hit home hard. As a hockey mom, a billet mom, and a mental health therapist, I sat in disbelief as I read text messages, emails, answered phone calls, and listened to the radio. How could this happen? That could have been my son. That could have been my billet son who had played with the Humboldt Broncos several times this past year. Those poor families. The kids... Oh my god, the kids. Will they ever play hockey again? Who lived? How will those that 'survived' ever get through this tragedy?

The answer is: They will. You will, they will, and I will. 

While each and every one of us deals with grief, and sudden loss in a unique way, there are a series of stages that many of us experience. While I would never downplay one’s suffering, there are effective coping strategies we can put in place to help. I want to take this opportunity to reach out and provide you with what has been effective in my practice, and in my life. 

Following sudden death, many will experience shock-like systems. "Did this really happen? Is my [child] really dead?" Anger, anxiety-like symptoms, denial, sadness, and fear accompany the 4 to 6 weeks following (sudden) death. It is important that individuals experiencing these symptoms seek the help of family, close friends, or professional assistance in dealing with their loss. Tell these people you need their love and support, however this looks. Do not be afraid to ask for help. There is nothing to be ashamed of. 

Spend time in a place where you feel safe (e.g., home). Create a safe space if you need to. Find inspirational quotes and hang them on your wall. 

Talk to the person you lost. After significant loss, talking to someone who is not physically present does not mean you cannot still talk to them. Tell them about your day. What did you struggle with? What reminded you of them? What good came of your day? What did you learn? Tell them you miss them, but that you are going to get through it. 

Try to sleep, even if it is for a few hours at a time. Sleep is imperative to the healing process, but understand that some days, sleep will be minimal. Accept that. 

If you need medical assistance (i.e., medication) to get through the first while, then go and talk to your doctor. Sometimes, it takes more than talking to get you through a tragedy, and while most would agree that counselling is first line, there is absolutely no shame in seeking medical assistance. 

 If you are having difficulty eating, try snacking on healthy finger foods. Ask family and friends to cut vegetables or fruit for you. Make mini sandwiches. Anything healthy that you can eat, even in small amounts, is better than nothing. 

Get outside as much as you can -- the fresh air will help you clear your head. 

Show emotion — so many of us try to fight crying, getting angry, or showing any other type of emotion. You are a human being, and you are allowed to feel. If you need to cry, cry. If you feel embarrassed doing so in public, create a safe space for yourself at home, and cry. If you need to punch a pillow to release anger, create a space, alone, and punch that pillow. Repressing or avoiding your feelings will undoubtedly create mental consequences. Feel what you need to feel, let it out, accept it and yourself for feeling that way, release, and repeat as needed. 

Remember: You are going to get through this, and continue to tell yourself this over-and-over. Our brains have the capacity to believe what we tell them. This is fact. 

Following the 4 to 6 week initial grieving period, it is common for individuals to experience continued insomnia, excessive irritability, feelings of guilt, intrusive thoughts (e.g., suicidal thoughts), feelings of unfairness and bitterness/anger, nightmares, and sadness. For most, at least one of these symptoms is present. This is a ‘normal’ part of grieving, and you have to understand that your journey will take you down many different paths, and that is okay. Accept where you are in your journey. Do not compare your grieving to others. Share your story, and find comfort in knowing you are not alone.

If you or someone you know is suicidal -- go and get help immediately. 

Sometimes, people experience more severe mental impairments following the loss of a loved one. Some of these include: Post-traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD), phobia(s), substance/alcohol abuse, and manifestations of stress (e.g., losing excessive weight; constant physical/mental pain). If you or someone you know is experiencing any of the above -- ask for help. These are ailments that have the potential to create very intense and damaging effects to your mental health, and they need to be responded to.

Here is a list of telephone numbers you can call if you need help:

  1. Ashlee Schmidt, registered Victim Services therapist: 306.922.9355 (during the week)
  2. Telephone mental health services: 8-1-1

  3. Victim Services (direct involvement or witness), visit: https://www.saskatchewan.ca/government/directory?ou=8c21ef67-fb4d-469a-b9c6-ba6c79dd37bb

  4. Saskatchewan 24/7 Crisis Support, visit: https://sk.211.ca/saskatchewan_247_hour_crisis_hotline

Please Note -- Aspen & Oak Professional Counselling is available and on-call to meet the needs of this tragic event, and Ashlee Schmidt has made space in her schedule to meet the demands of our community, and province. As a service to our province, Ashlee is willing to travel, free of charge, as needed.

Support in this difficult time, as a hockey community, town/city, and province, is so important, so please get the help you need!

We are #humboldtstrong​!

Author: Ashlee Schmidt

Our Blog

An ongoing series of informational entries

Our Latest Blog Entry

July 7, 2017

You’re Separated, Now What?

On that day when you recited your wedding vows, never in a million years did you think that you would end up being separated or divorced.   A separation or divorce can be one of the most stressful and emotional experiences in one's lifetime.   Many people feel that their whole world has been turned upside down and this triggers all sorts of quickly changing emotions, ranging from relief to despair.  It is important to understand that the loss of a relationship and a future due to a relationship breakdown is similar to any other type of significant loss. There are  a number of stages that people typically go through following a split, which are completely normal and natural.  The initial stage, denial,  is described below.

Whether you choose to end the relationship or whether it ends against your wishes, it is common to initially want  go on with everyday life like nothing has happened.   Some people describe the feeling as a numbness or a sense of shock.  Although you are going about your normal routines, you may feel emotionally disconnected from events. You still need to do things like drive the kids to school, get to work, and grocery shop, although you often feel like a bystander in your own life.

Like in an episode of CSI, you probably want to do an autopsy on the relationship and come up with a cause of breakup.  At this initial stage, many find it beneficial to look at the reason you got married or into the relationship in the first place.  During this stage a few questions to consider may include:

1. Did I get married to overcome loneliness?

2. Did I get married because I thought it was expected of me?

3. Did I get married because we fell in love?

Reflecting on your relationship, you may want to consider the following questions:

1.  Were you and your partner friends?

2.  What interests did you share?

3.  Did you trust each other?

4.  Did you allow each other time to be alone?

5.  Were your goals for yourself and relationship compatible?

It is often quite common to find cracks in the foundation of the relationship.  Working through these questions will help bring you to the next stage in the healing process which is discussed in a counselling session.

If you're newly separated or having difficulty with the end of your relationship, and would like to explore how to regain your self confidence and happiness, please contact Aspen and Oak to book your first session. We can help!

Author: Corey Lillis

Our Latest Blog Entry

July 17, 2017

Progressive Mental Health?

Despite advances in mental health initiatives and research over the past decade, there continues to be stigma associated with seeking therapeutic intervention. Not only are those suffering from mental illness concerned or influenced by how others might perceive them, but there is considerable self-stigmatization attached to mental illness.

"Why can I not just be 'normal?'"

"When will this end?"

"I am just going through a phase."

"I do not need help."

"There is nothing wrong with me."

Well, there is one true statement in those listed above --There is nothing wrong with you! Mental illness does not mean there is something wrong with you. It means you have a mental illness. It means there may be limitations, commitment to new regimen or routine, or additional hurdles to jump, just like any illness. But I assure you -- there is nothing wrong with you.

Time-and-time again, I hear: "I don't have a mental illness," or "I am only taking a small dose of medication [for said illness]." As a counselling therapist, I am not concerned with others' perceptions of you, but I am concerned about how you internalize these perceptions. It does not matter to me what dose of medication you are taking, only that it is effective for you.  As a counselling therapist, I do not diagnose, but I work with a diagnosis to help alleviate symptoms associated with said diagnosis. I am not a magician, but I can help you find the magic in living life to its fullest. 

Regardless of mental health status (acute or chronic) or psychotropic dosage, if you need help, you get help. We need to stop making ourselves feel bad about our mental health. We need to stop waiting until our illness or situation is unbearable. We need to invest in our mental health the same way we invest in oral care, lunch or dinner dates, taking vacations, or  visiting our physician for a checkup. We need to include mental health counselling as part of our life.

Did you know that generalized anxiety disorder (GAD) is dubbed the most expensive illness in healthcare? It is no surprise, as GAD often presents somatically, and patients seeking general medical treatment often complain of migraines or persistent stomach pain. Physicians (at no fault of their own) treat physical symptoms, rather than screening for mental health. Patients suffering from underlying mental illness often find physical symptoms are not relieved, likely because their mental health is affecting physical health. Health is health -- it is not a static, exclusive process -- It is an integrative, all-encompassing, dynamic process. This process includes mental health screening and assessment for best possible therapeutic outcome. 

Do not be afraid of stigmatization -- talk to your doctor. Talk to your family and friends. Talk to a counsellor.  Tell them what's going on. We cannot help you if you are not considering how your mental health might be affecting you. Stop the suffering. 

You need to ask yourself: Are you surviving, or thriving?

"Unless someone like you cares a whole awful lot, nothing is going to get better. It's not."

- Dr. Seuss


                                                                                                     Author: Ashlee Schmidt

Our Latest Blog Entry

August 4, 2017

"People feel sad sometimes, and that is okay."

Children (and adults) often enter a counselling environment with skewed visions and highly improbable expectations. Some of these expectations include the psychoanalytic couch, where a client lays down and the therapist sits behind them, asking very deep, personal questions straight off the hop. Others see counselling as an institutionalized environment, where we load individuals with medication and send them on their merry way. Some believe that others, including their therapist will judge them, or make them feel inferior because they are experiencing stressful or uncomfortable situations. Some believe they will be perceived as weak because they have a mental illness, and do not want to enter a business that is associated with mental health. And some believe that counselling is scary, that we wear white coats, and have a cold and sterile environment.

Expectations kill hope.

A common theme in the beginning stages of counselling with children is debunking the myth that it is not okay to feel, or that they should put on a face even if they feel the need to express their feelings. Many times children unknowingly express their discomfort using nonverbal gestures, such as rubbing their hands together, avoiding eye contact,  telling me they do not know how they feel, or getting defensive when I ask about their feelings:

"It's none of your business;" "feelings are for sissies;" "I don't do feelings."

They are afraid of being made fun of, and they do not want to talk about their feelings. I often spend the first three plus sessions trying to build rapport and work on freedom of expression. 

I have to ask myself why children, as early as 4 or 5 years, perceive difference or feelings as negative? When/where did our children's perception(s) of feeling and emotion become so skewed?

Growing up, mental health was not even a topic of conversation. We never discussed it at home (at no fault of my wonderful parents), we never discussed it at work (even though people often booked off sick due to their illness), we never discussed it at school or university (unless it was in a psychology course that fixated on abnormal scenarios in the early 1990s), and we sure as hell never discussed it with our healthcare professional(s), as we believed they would perceive us as crazy (even if they were incredibly supportive).

If you really sit down to think about it, our brain (and its components) control pretty much every function in our body. So why do we continue to treat it like a foreign object that requires little attention? I will say this with certainty: Mental health, whether positive or negative, affects every single aspect of your body, and your life. So start taking care of it. 

I remember my experience with mental health in high school. Mainly because the only time we ever discussed it was after reading and watching 'One Flew Over the Cuckoos Nest.' Everyone in the movie is locked up in a mental institution, where there are literally white coats walking around (note above), people are heavily restrained (both chemically and physically), and locked in like a caged animal trying to escape. There is something seriously wrong with that situation. 

As a mother, I do not want my son growing up feeling like it is not okay to tell me if he is sad, scared, nervous, worried, happy, excited, confused... We have this discussion in our home frequently. I want to know what my son is feeling. I want to teach him that accepting the way he feels is part of who he is, and there is no shame in that. I want him to teach others that it is okay to be human. Let's face it -- every single person in the world has feelings. 

Children absorb everything around them, so we need to start making it okay for them to feel what they need to feel. They need to feel comfortable expressing themselves, and develop coping skills before these feelings consume their lives. And we need to start this process as early in life as possible. This is preventative medicine for the mind.

Feelings are not facts. Positive or negative, they will pass.

Let you child feel.

                                                                                                     Author: Ashlee Schmidt

Our Latest Blog Entry

August 14, 2017

5 Things That Will Help You Survive A Personal Crisis

Throughout our life, we will be forced to deal with many different personal crisis situations. Whether it's the end of a relationship, death in the family, job loss, or any other traumatic event there are a few things everyone should know to help you develop coping skills:

Develop a mission statement- Tell yourself that no matter what the crisis situation, you will get through this. Life may not be the same but be determined that you will be a survivor!

Find support- Finding a qualified therapist or support group to assist you. Talking about the issue you're facing will help you get through it. It can assist you in decision making and keep the situation in perspective

Stay in the moment- A "one breath, one moment, one day " approach helps you to focus on the here-and-now rather than attempting to predict the future. This is an important trap to avoid! It is very common to spend time thinking about the past or future when dealing with a personal crisis

Gratitude- Start a gratitude and/or intention journal. Begin and end the day by listing something you are grateful for, big and/or small. This practice will help you appreciate even the smallest thing in life

Take care of yourself- It is very important to focus on getting enough sleep at night, eating healthy and staying physically active

If you're going through a personal crisis and would like more information and support on how to work through this difficult time, please call Aspen & Oak. We would love to assist you in your time of need.

                                                                                                     Author: Corey Lillis

Our Latest Blog Entry

June 6, 2018 

Suicide Prevention and Emotional Wellness

Suicide is an uncomfortable reality for many to discuss. However, it is an important one. Every day someone dies by suicide. Knowing the warning signs of suicidal ideation is the first step to saving a life. Raising your own awareness can ensure that you know when it is time to seek help and prevent further escalation.

Know the Signs

According to Dr. Kathleen Smith, there are many factors  that lead to suicidal thoughts, including: a history of substance abuse or mental health issues, difficult life situations, isolation or illness. The markers of self-harm or suicide might be verbal, behavioral or emotional. They include depression and a sudden lack of interest in the things you typically enjoy, as well as mood swings or bursts of anger. If you find yourself talking or thinking about how things are futile, how you may have no purpose or be a burden, or of not wanting to exist, you need to act. These are especially worrisome if you find yourself engaging in risky behavior, such as reckless driving or relying on substances to alter your moods. Isolation from friends and family, and giving away- or planning to give away- personal items, are other troubling signs. If you exhibit any of these, it's imperative to seek help.

Seek Help

If you find yourself having intrusive or suicidal thoughts, the best approach is to call 9-1-1. However, there are other ways to seek help if you are worried that your mental or emotional well-being is deteriorating. If you are experiencing passive suicidal thoughts, one of the best ways to combat further degeneration of emotional wellness is to see a doctor. Even your family doctor can be useful in developing a treatment plan. They may refer you to a specialist, or may be able to help you themselves. If you have a history of substance abuse, it may benefit you to seek inpatient treatment for addiction. Inpatient, or residential treatment, will ensure you remain in a safe environment where there are people to help you through whatever stage of addiction you find yourself, including withdrawals. It is a supportive and structured environment designed to give you the best tools to overcome addiction tendencies.

Break the Cycle

Remind yourself that these feelings are temporary as you have not always had these emotions, no matter what it feels like in the moment. A good way to break the cycle of negative thinking is to have a list of things you enjoy living for, and a list of things you’re grateful for. Have a group of your favorite uplifting DVDs on hand to distract you from persistent thoughts. Have the phone numbers of at least two friends ready to call when you need someone to cheer you up. Having at least two is important because you may need a backup if your chosen friend is unavailable. Speaking to friends and loved ones openly and frankly may help you get the thoughts plaguing you out of your head.

Take Action

It can be difficult to take positive steps when in the midst of a depressive episode, so it’s important to act quickly when you notice the signs. Make it a priority to get out of your home, especially to see friends or loved ones. Exercise and healthy foods can help to boost moods, so try to incorporate what you can into your daily habits. We won’t always have the energy to cook, but try to get at least one healthy meal a day. Enforcing a strict sleep routine can aid you in sleeping through the night, which depression is notorious for disrupting. Take time out for yourself each day to re-center, and plan something for the future, preferably with others. If you have something to look forward to, you may find it easier to hold out.

Ideation, passive or active, is dangerous. Take action immediately to get the help you need and deserve. From safe and structured environments, like inpatient care, to reaching out to loved ones for support, make certain you have people around you to lift you up.

Image Courtesy of Pixabay.com

                                                                                                                                     Author: Melissa Howard