Seminar focuses on mental health stigma

By Chelsea Kemp,
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter
Brandon Sun

A two-day seminar on mental health and illness focused on breaking down stigmas and connecting community members with essential supports  and resources.

As part of its mental health promotion, the Prairie Mountain  Health (PMH) mental health program offers mental health first aid to all  community members and agencies, said PMH clinical services specialist  and instructor Tess Lelond. The program covers a variety of different  themes, including a basic version and seminars directed at youth and  seniors.

The program is centred on early intervention and prevention,  along with proactive support of positive mental health and wellness.

“It’s not going to prevent mental illness, but it is going to  help individuals and support people [to] identify early what is  happening and how to get the supports,” Lelond said. “It’s how to  identify individuals that are in a mental health crisis or experiencing  mental health problems and how to open that conversation up with them  and then direct them to individuals, their natural supports … and also  professional supports if necessary.”

Starting conversations about mental health and illness helps  reduce stigmas about the topic, she said, therefore having an overall  positive effect on the community.

“There is still a stigma. People remain embarrassed or ashamed when they are struggling. If we can open people’s eyes to mental health  issues and how really disabling some mental illness can be for people,  then they will seek help and not feel and not sit in that shame and  embarrassment,” Lelond said.

People are getting better at recognizing when they or someone  they know are experiencing languishing mental health or mental illness,  and are becoming more active in seeking and asking for help when they  are in need.

When someone experiences a mental health crisis or illness,  they may have strong feelings of isolation, she said. Connecting with  critical resources and support can give people a sense they are not  alone during a turbulent time in their life.

Lelond added it can be tricky navigating and learning how to  access support and resources. Mental health first aid can serve as a  step in helping build these paths to healing and help in the community —  in some cases, it can be life-changing for participants.

“We need people, family and friends, just people educated to  have eyes on people so that we can identify them early enough to prevent  any crisis or any further deterioration,” Lelond said. “Support comes  from education. If I understand something, it opens my eyes to those  struggles of others.”

The training seminar at the Mahkaday Ginew Memorial Centre on  Wednesday and Thursday focused on youth in the community and included  topics covering substance-related disorders, mood-related disorders,  anxiety and trauma-related disorders, psychotic disorders, eating  disorders and deliberate self-injury.

Brandon Friendship Centre mental health counsellor Nellie  Copitz said staff had been looking to host a mental health first aid  course, and the need for training has only been magnified over the last  two years.

“We needed to do this for our staff,” Copitz said. “We wanted  to give staff that basic education on how to provide that mental health  first aid to the people they work with.”

The Friendship Centre staff work with diverse sections of the  community ranging from young children to seniors. This made it  imperative to have the skills to help the people they work with when  they are in need.

Copitz works in the area of mental health as a psychiatric  nurse. She said as an Indigenous person, she sees how there are very few  other Indigenous people in the profession, and mental health illness  and crises can disproportionately affect Indigenous communities.

“Sadly and unfortunately, [with] Aboriginal people, there are  things and stats that are higher in our population, like we see a lot of  suicides, a lot of family violence and all of these things,” Copitz  said. “Mental health is involved in these.”

She has been working with the Friendship Centre for more than  20 years, and she has seen incremental changes in how people talk about  and seek support for mental health or illness.

Friendship Centre Four Directions intake worker Destiny Vivie  said it was empowering to learn more about mental health because it is a  major struggle for community members.

Participating in mental health first aid has changed her outlook when it comes to her professional and personal life.

Mental health and illness can be an unfamiliar topic to talk  about, she said, and there is a need for awareness to understand how it  affects people and the impacts mental health has on the community as a  whole.

“A lot of people just push it to the side or think it’s  something else,” Vivie said. “There are problems and they need to be  helped and they need to go see professional help but also have the  support of family and friends there for them.”

Lacey Roulette of Aboriginal Health and Wellness said mental  health first aid training allowed staff and community members to learn  more about mental health and well-being.

She said the course gave participants the skill sets needed to  provide mental health and promotion in the community, since it’s  important to have the ability to better navigate resources in the  community and benefits the community as a whole when it comes to those  looking to access mental health resources and support.

There has been a noticeably increased interest from people looking to better understand mental health and wellness recently.

“A lot of people started to look at mental health … as  something to strive for. It’s more looking at mental health as  contributing to a person’s overall well-being,” Roulette said. “We want  our people to be healthy … and to be able to strive for a better future,  and that accompanies mental, emotional, physical and spiritual health.”