Poor mental health exists, but with support and treatment, things can get better.
That’s the message members and supports of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Prince Albert branch (CMHA-PA) wanted to send as part of the annual Mental Health Week walk on Thursday.
CMHA-PA executive director Doug Kinar mental health isn’t as stigmatized as much as it was two decades ago, especially among youth. While there are still challenges ahead, he’s hopeful the walk can keep the conversation going in a positive direction.
“We like to do our annual walk just to make sure that everybody knows it (mental illness) exists, that there’s awareness, and just to promote positive mental health,” Kinar said. “
“I think a lot people are more aware of it, but there’s still a stigma out there,” he added.
Kinar said COVID-19 made more people aware of the importance of mental health. The Nest, the CMHA-PA’s drop-in centre, primarily deals with patients who get referrals from a mental health authority.
Kinar said COVID didn’t lead to a significant change in what they did at the branch, but he did notice more people having to cope with the stress of being isolated and alone, or not having the freedom that they had in the past due to the pandemic.
“The awareness that we’re developing and we’re building hit a lot closer to home during the pandemic,” he explained. “A lot more people seem to be more aware of it, more willing to talk about it, and to be a little bit more understanding to the other people around them who may be experiencing mental health issues.”
Awareness about poor mental health isn’t the only thing that’s changed. Kinar said the stigma that prevents people from reaching out for help is disappearing too. He credits that to youth education and awareness programs, which help people feel more comfortable talking about their challenges.
“I think there’s a definite improvement, just because of the awareness,” he said. “There’s a lot more empathy and compassion that people are showing, and that might be a generational thing.
“Along with that awareness, we have new people with new attitudes,” he added. “Our youth are a lot more accepting than they were 20 years ago, for example, just because of the education.”
As for the future, Kinar said properly treating mental health patients will require more housing and more support workers. The CMHA-PA currently operates 27 units as part of its residential program, with one full-time support worker, and has plans to open a new apartment unit in the next month.
Kinar said many patients who start in the approved home system will eventually start living on their own, and that helps grow their self-esteem, sense of purpose, and independence.
“That overall helps their health,” he said. “they are not manifesting symptoms of their illness as often, simply because they are more self-reliant.”
For more information about the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Prince Albert Chapter, please visit princealbert.cmha.ca/about-cmha/.