Smoky River Family and Community Support Services – In Focus

Jean Moore-Lemoine
Community Development Coordinator

A “Rural Mental Health Project”

I recently attended a conference called “Now We Are Stronger”, a provincial conference advancing community mental health services. The conference provided information for a Rural Mental Health Project that will, hopefully, encompass 150 rural communities by its completion.

Did you know that in any given year, one in five people in Canada experiences a mental health problem or illness? Only one in three of those people report that they sought and received services or treatment. Most of the more than 4,800 Canadians who commit suicide each year were confronting a mental health problem or issue. Did you know that women are more likely than men to experience anxiety and depression? Did you know that girls and women attempt suicide at higher rates BUT men (particularly older men) die by suicide more often?

A recent study shows that only 50 per cent percent of people with mental health issues seek help and only 63 per cent of people hospitalized for depression had a follow up visit with a physician within 30 days of discharge compared to 99 per cent of those who have heart problems. Many families and individuals struggle with depression and other mental health issues often hiding the issue because they fear there is some sort of stigma attached to mental health issues. But, it is a concern that needs to be recognized and treated as any other illness. Unfortunately, this is not always the case. Almost half (48 per cent) of adults with mental health issues reported unmet needs for one or more services – either they needed services but did not receive them or did not receive enough help or support. This is equivalent to approximately 311,355 people in Alberta or 1 of 10 adults. Lack of counselling services is a major issue while the second issue is the inability to afford services (many qualified counsellors operate privately). Most surveyed programs indicated that they did not have the resources to services the number of people seeking support.

Those of us who work in the Smoky River FCSS office have often seen someone admitted to the hospital for a mental health issue one day and out on the next day. Too often we are told to “deal with it” ourselves because there is no one available or because it is “not our jurisdiction”. We are told the client needs to go to Grande Prairie of High Prairie. Or, we leave a message and hope someone gets back to us.

It is very difficult for many agencies to understand that our clients oftimes do not have a way to get to another place, that they do not trust “the system”, that they want someone they “know” to be there with them. This is all part of being “human” regardless of our mental health state. We all want someone who understands us. We have many clients who come into our office simply because they want a hug or want to talk to us about something they saw or think they can do. They want someone to listen!!! To hear them and reassure them!

Sometimes I think this is one of the biggest problems in our world today……we try so hard to be “politically correct” in our work places we forget we are working with people, individuals who want to hear you ask “How are you? What’s happening?” They want someone to hug them, to understand them as they are and to tell them they are OK!

The Alberta Mental Health Patient Advocate believes that “every person has the right to be involved in decision making that impacts the management of their illness and their life, to participate in their self care to the extent they are able.” However, before anyone can make decisions, they have to have support – from family, friends and the health care system. Too often, especially in rural areas, there is not the support from health care due to shortage of staff and facilities. According to the Mental Health Advocate, advances have been made. However, even in a large city like Calgary people are saying “we don’t have the services needed for persons with chronic mental health issues”. Mental health concerns need to be addressed now, not three or four days or even a week later! The Alberta government “Rural Mental Health Project” will, we hope, be the first step towards making mental health as important as physical health. It will allow an individual with a mental health issue the same opportunity to see a counsellor or doctor as the person with diabetes or arthritis.

Mental health wellness is as important, if not more important, than physical health. If the mind is not in a healthy state, the body will not survive. I am looking forward to being a part of the “Rural Mental Health Project”. The Smoky River FCSS office has already signed up to be a part of this new initiative and will be looking for others to help by becoming “Community Animators” by scanning and recognizing the issues of mental health and addictions in our region. So, please watch for upcoming information on this very important health happening!!

Studies indicate that in any given year, one in every five Canadian adults under age 65 will have a mental health problem. Indirectly, all Canadians are affected by mental health issues because we know someone in the family, a friend or fellow worker who has an illness. In spite of these startling facts, most people know very little about mental illness aside from what the media tells us, or from word of mouth. Twenty per cent of the people in our communities experience mental illness at some time – isn’t it time we learned the truth about these conditions and separated fact from fiction?


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