Rural programming designated for each community's needs

2020 has been a year of severe stress and anxiety on a variety of levels due to many factors including the stress caused by the loss of employment, pandemic fears and subsequent socio-economic affects caused by COVID-19. 

There are over four million Albertans including  220,695 First Nations people. Those in urban Alberta, which includes the seven largest urban centres home to 62 per cent of the population, have much more direct and easier access to professional mental assistance or related support programs. 

Those in the rural areas have not had the same access. Enter: the Rural Mental Health Project. Back in 2015, the provincial government commissioned the Valuing Mental Health Report which had numerous recommendations which including putting an emphasis on improving mental health and mental health wellness in non-urban Alberta. In 2017, Alberta Health set aside $1.6 million to develop the Alberta Rural Mental Health network. 

Jessica Turowski, the CMHA Rural Mental Health Project Manager explains that since that time, there have been numerous meetings with not only stakeholders but with potential representative leader or as referred to my CMHA ‘animators.’ The idea is to bring together those in this specific communities to help them help themselves. 

“We do hope this project moves the needle on mental health awareness and action in these communities,” explains the enthusiastic Turowski.  “The 2015 and 2017 follow up reports underscored the rural areas were underserved.” 

There were 25 roundtables held and identified the key factors in improve rural mental health service including training, more positive mental health issue education, more resilience and training and action plans that needed to be identified for each community.

“If there was one thing we were told over and over again: do not parachute into those communities and tell them what to do and blanket it with one (plan),” Turowski adds. “Do not use just one strategy. Each community has unique nuances.”

Turowski came in 2017 and The Rural Mental Health Project was launched. Alberta Health provided $1.6 million dollars over three and a half years to develop an Alberta Rural Mental Health Network, and she adds of having the goal of supporting 150 rural Alberta communities in developing community mental health roadmaps and action plans.

Officially the CMHA describes it as “The Rural Mental Health Project supports CMHA’s vision of ‘mentally healthy people in a healthy society.’  The project aims to build the capacity of rural communities to consider their communities’ wellness, mental health, and mental illness. By coming together, grassroots coalitions can support community wellbeing activities that reflect on the assets, values, and priorities of the community. A trained local Animator will facilitate these grassroots coalitions to identify broad areas of strength, concerns and opportunities, and support communities to identify and work to build local projects and capacity.”

Turowski says this project’s development took about six months of research and development. Currently, they are learning about all the communities they are trying to serve. 

“We built the prototype of the network, we continually have contact with regional offices.”

The structure is built for all but where the communities individualities come into play is what each needs. For example, the needs or even the approach taken to deliver the messages or programs are different whether one is in the Crowsnest Pass, Oyen, Grande Prairie, Nanton or Brooks. 

The role of the animator is key because from there, the direction of how each community can identify the aforementioned factors is done. From there, what programs are needed, what information or personnel is required to administer it and how the information will be distributed: coffee shop talks, one on one or a more formal approach can be determined by those animator representatives.

The animators will be experts in a related field who have some sort of strong ties to the community whether it is through professions, the clubs and associations they have experience with volunteering and the connections they have within the community, Turowski says there’s a lot of factors which go into finding the right animator for that particular community. The whole idea and role is to “… facilitate these grassroots coalitions to identify broad areas of strength, concerns and opportunities, and support communities to identify and work to build local projects and capacity.

In order to help with trying to get organized there is four days of training with 50 hours of year to try and help in the educational and organizational process.” 

“45 communities have (people) trained for animators,” adds Turowski. See www.ruralmentalhealth.ca for more detail on that. “With so many types of communities in Alberta what the success looks like for that community will vary.”

For more information about the Rural Mental Health Project or to express your interest in participating, contact: rmh@cmha.ab.ca

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