Susann Collins is the executive director for the Canadian Mental Health Association’s branch in 100 Mile House. Collins is reminding the public of the importance of a person’s mental health, especially in times of uncertainty, such as right now with the curtailment and closures of mills. Millar Hill photo

South Cariboo organizations stress the importance of mental health

“We are encouraging a mind-shift and looking at the supports people can access and getting to a place where it’s okay to ask for help or offer it.”

Emotional distress might be a result of the recent mill curtailment and closures. During this time, local support officials are reminding the public on the importance of their mental health.

“Every person’s situation is different,” said Chris Pettman, executive director of the Cariboo Family Enrichment Centre. “People can experience trauma, which can affect their mental health. It can be subtle, complex, multi-layered or on-going and they can keep having triggers regarding that trauma.”

A person’s mental health can be affected by numerous factors – work, stress, relationships, finances, traumatic events and so on. Even though services are available, Pettman said some people who might be living in trauma or chaos could have a hard time accessing those services. Something that is seen as unfamiliar, like seeing a counsellor or psychiatrist, could be extremely daunting to that person and therefore they don’t seek help made available to them.

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According to the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), roughly 17 per cent of British Columbians, or about 800,000 people of the total population – are experiencing a mental illness. Susann Collins who is the executive director at the South Cariboo Canadian Mental Health Association branch said it’s important to normalize that everyone has mental health and do feel an impact by certain things or events.

“We are encouraging a mind-shift and looking at the supports people can access and getting to a place where it’s okay to ask for help or offer it,” Collins said.

The more attention brought to the topic and help that is sought, the more it becomes a norm in society. Collins said there has been a lot of progress in regards to breaking that stigma around mental health but feels there is still a long way to go.

“It (mental health) is becoming normalized,” said Pettman. “People are accessing help for mental health and reducing that stigma. I think that is why we are seeing a larger amount of the population accessing those services. Mental health is just as, if not more important, than physical health. Since the wildfires, the government has put a spotlight on mental health in British Columbia. The province has a minister of mental health.”

Pettman says the centre has seen more and more people use the services ever since the Wildfires of 2017. He suspects even more with the recent mill curtailments.

“We have noticed that and we have had a lot of people leveraging the drop-in sessions,” said Pettman. “As we get closer to that final date (of the curtailment), I think we can see the request for services sort of increase all throughout the summer.”

The wildfires of 2017, prompted the centre to start a drop-in counselling service – no appointment is necessary. It is free to the public and based on a first-come, first-served basis. The service is offered on Mondays and Fridays between 1 to 3 p.m. A full counselling program is also available outside of the drop-in dates.

“This can be really good for individuals being affected by the curtailment of the two mills,” said Pettman. “We’ve seen a lot of people use this service and it’s great to see people using that. Our counselling can do any number of services – grief, anxiety, relationships etc. Really a person just has to come in and say they need counselling and we make that happen.”

Currently, individuals needing on-going counselling are faced with a long waitlist. It can take up to roughly two months before they receive that service because there has been an influx in people using the counselling services. The enrichment centre has three counsellors – two of them are full-time and one who is part-time and works with children.

“I do have another counsellor starting in the organization come September,” said Pettman. “We will have four counsellors, this is a byproduct of not only the wildfires but now the curtailment.”

Collins couldn’t speak for every organization but did say there are group programs being offered as an alternative to the waitlists for one-on-one support – until that service is available.

“If you aren’t used to asking for that (help), it can be really hard and to get to that point where you’re in a crisis, you’re needing help now and not down the road,” said Collins. “If you get the help you need and it’s in a timely matter, that’s what makes the difference, not just because a person had a strong enough will.”

The wildfires prompted the CMHA to hire a community navigator who helps assist people to access the services, support and resources they need.

“If people are struggling or have a problem and are not sure what to do about it, they can come to our community navigator and she can help them get the services they need,” said Collins. “When people are in a crisis, they might not be the best person to take care of themselves or make those connections that they need to make.”

Collins reiterated the importance of a person’s mental health, especially in times of uncertainty, such as right now.

“I can only encourage people to be kind to themselves and take care of themselves,” said Collins. “Find ways to reduce stress and take control of the things you have in control.”

For more information in regards to counselling and other programs, contact the Canadian Mental Health Association, 250-395-4883 or the Cariboo Family Enrichment Centre, 250-395-5155.

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