Rural Mental Health Project is starting to roll

In 2020, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) initiated the Rural Mental Health Project as a way for rural communities in Alberta to address mental health issues and areas of concern which needs specific attention. Instead of the provincial body of CMHA doing a top-down method of solutions, those in the specific communities are addressing the problems themselves.  

Jessica Turowski, Rural Mental Health Project Manager says it has been interesting to see how the groups have developed throughout Alberta.  

The idea is to have group leaders or what is referred to as animators organize a community networks that addresses certain pertinent issues for that community. For some it is youth or seniors’ bullying, some has to to do with isolation, perhaps it is suicide. These animators then develop an action plan to best address these issues with the group and take appropriate action such as setting up a communications network with those in need of one on one contact. 

The other aspect of this Rural Mental Health Network is that once the individual community groups are organized then these groups form a coalition which then connects with all of these other individual communities, not necessarily in the same geographical area unless it is important to do so. The idea is to exchange ideas, do cross community training and offer help to further campaigns or services for each other. 

“There are just under 100 communities so far so we are pretty excited with the amount of investment that different types of people are reaching out,” explains Turowski who says about 115 people have been trained. “The thing that is phenomenal is the diversity of different types of community members who are interested in being an animator (the group leaders) or that change maker in the community to bring people together to have these discussions. There is so much of an appetite right now. I think there is an appreciation and acknowledgement that are all of our mental health and well being is being impacted by the lack of social interactions that we have had over the last year. It is horrible… the discussions that we have had with our communities, not everywhere, but just in general trend towards a need for more openness.

“Quite happy with how things have been growing. It has been a year of exponential growth of delivering a lot of training every two weeks between January and June.”

Overall, Turowski says the training has been going well. Provincial organizers are excited that people were interested to wanting to get involved from different areas of the population like health and social services like FCSS (Family and Community Support Services), AHS-connected groups, family members, those in communications, various professionals, non-professionals, some in a variety of levels of law enforcement as well as indigenous and Metis groups.

“It has been really interesting to see the diversity of people that are wanting to help with a program built on community strengths,” explains Turowski. “It has been fantastic. It has been non-directive training. Our goal is around having a mindset; it is is shifting to help others in a broader way. There are animators who have come out of training who have unclear of have a little bit of ambiguity and take the training and the principles, some of that confusion has been sorted out, not only through us but through other animators and what their experiences have been. That has been rewarding where there isn’t that top heavy where it is telling what to do but they are getting inspiration and ideas from other animators on what they have been doing and being able to borrow, use and adapt and to get them started. It has been fantastic; this is exactly the kind of network learning we are trying to promote.”

Currently according to the Rural mental Health map, there are programs set up in Siksika Nation, Piikani Nation, Nanton, High River, Stirling, Claresholm, Coaldale, Taber, Duchess, and Cessford all have programs in place

According to the Rural Mental Project website, this year’s programming will allow CMHA to have $490,000 to disperse to rural communities with a trained Animator. The Adjudication Team received 28 applications for projects in 33 communities across Alberta and the total funds requested amounted to $715,064.

The website indicated 2021 Adjudication Team is made up of 17 Albertans involved in mental health, health promotion, and community development, most of whom are also residents of rural communities. The Adjudication Team met earlier this spring for an in-depth discussion of the applications and they are currently in the process of notifying all Applicants of the results.

Meanwhile work continues on developing each individual community’s priorities and making those in-community connections which for whatever reason haven’t occurred yet.

“There are a lot of trends in the early stages where there are a lot of discovery work and the building of a lot of relationships with important players in the community. This includes working with folks that are working around or related to service provision,” explains Turowski. “There’s more and more animators reaching out to underserved groups and other people within the community: mom, seniors, youth that they can also play a role in having this conversations and creating a vision of what a healthy community means there and so that variety around who are the types of people animators are building relationships with changes. 

“A growing trend with animators are that in 30 communities and is in really wanting to help men’s-centric activities that aren’t service-based and give space for men to work with tools and have that type of social connection. There is also a desire for youth and seniors (programs) almost equally and some are trying to connect youth and seniors, bullying suicide preventions, building healthy relationships with children’s sports being kyboshed with Covid-19. As well, 18-25 age categories not going through the normal life-expectancy type of activities like high school graduation, going to post secondary education and finding a job because there are no jobs to go to right now in this economy.”

To find out more about the Rural Mental Health Project please visit https://alberta.cmha.ca/documents/rural-mental-health/ and one can also contact Turowski at: jturowski@cmha.ab.ca

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