Mental Health Week puts focus on storytelling

By Elisa Nguyen
Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Mental health can feel like a taboo subject. It’s difficult to talk about, not often prioritized, yet something we all have.

Next week, two mental health organizations are partnering for an awareness walk and free community barbeque to help residents get connected with resources and start the conversation surrounding mental health. The events will take place on Wednesday, May 3, during the heart of Mental Health Week.

The day will begin with an awareness walk starting at 10 am at BHS (601 Kings Highway). Tanya Hughes, Director of Behavioural Health Services at Giishkaandago’Ikwe Health Services, formally known as Fort Frances Tribal Area Health Services, reminded residents to dress in accordance for the weather. She also invited people to come earlier to hear the elder begin the walk with a sharing and “open us up in a good way.”

Most importantly, the walk will be aligned with this year’s Mental Health Week theme surrounding storytelling. People will be encouraged not just to share their story, but also to listen and honor other people’s stories when it comes to mental health, she said.

“I just hope everyone can come out the day of our events, enjoy a nice walk together, followed by a nice barbecue at the Canadian Mental Health Association, just to really recognize the importance of us working together as a community,” Hughes said.

With a similar goal in mind, CMHAFF is hosting a free community BBQ to strengthen the community through storytelling.

Pauline Hyatt, Director of Services at CMHAFF, said the goal of the BBQ is to build social connections. “Just to come out, get some information, connect, see what services we have, but also just be just be part of something in the community,” she said.

The BBQ will run from 11 am to 12:30 pm and take place at 612 Portage Avenue. Residents are invited to stop by, enjoy a free lunch to-go, and connect with staff and other residents in town.

“We’re trying to reduce the stigma. And we’re getting there! I definitely feel more people are open to sharing their story and we just want to support people in that,” Hyatt said.

Mindfulness is a way of paying attention to the present moment in order to cultivate positive mental health. To introduce people to the concept, and celebrate Mental Health Week, CMHAFF will hand out free mindfulness colouring books in coffee shops in 6 communities across the Rainy River and Kenora districts.

“The idea behind the coloring books is it’s a good introduction to a mindfulness activity. And it’s really taken off adults mindfulness coloring books because it helps reduce anxiety, depression and stress. And it actually helps at any age. It also can improve your attention and focus. So a lot of people do color, but some don’t know that this is an easy outlet. So we want to promote that and we have staff handing them out, and we’re super excited about that,” said Hyatt.

Noting a few locations where residents can pick up a mindfulness book, Hyatt said they will have volunteers hand out the booklets on May 2 at McDonalds in the Rainy River District, on May 4 at Cloverleaf in Emo, May 5 at Woods Quality Bakery in Rainy River.

While the target demographic will be adults, espeically since staff will be handing them out during the day while many younger people are in school, Hyatt said anyone is invited to make use of the colouring books.

The mindfulness colouring books will also be distributed with a box of Crayola pencils. Norma Reather, a counsellor from the Older Adult program at CMHAFF started the initative and recieved a donation from Walmart to put together the booklet and crayons.

“One in five Canadians experienced some mental illness or mental health issue, however, five and five of us, that’s all people, have mental health. So it really is important that we be looking at mental health that we’ll be talking about our mental health, and then have some strategy on how to be the best version of ourselves,” she said.

Inaugurated by CMHA in 1951, May 1 to 7, 2023 marks the 72nd annual Mental Health

Week in Canada.

Storytelling, in all its forms, supports mental health and reduces stigma. People are encouraged to spread awareness by using the hashtag #MyStory on social media to join the CMHA campaign.

For more information on Mental Health Week, call Giishkaandago’Ikwe Health Services at 807-274-2042 or CMHA Fort Frances at 807-274-2347.