Spreading Seeds of Hope
“One in five people will suffer from a mental illness some time in their lifetime, so it’s hard to imagine families out there who have not seen a family member affected,” commented Tanya Gibson, the newest member of Mental Health
strie, during Mental Health Awareness Week. Ms. Gibson joined enta
earth strie’s previously one-person team of Judy Ross last year, a welcome and needed addition to the organization that is now celebrating its tenth year.
Founded in 2005 by a working committee, including Ms. Ross, of Townshippers concerned about the lack of English services around mental illness, its mission has not changed: to help Englishspeaking families manage the impact of mental illness; provide support, information and education to family members and those who are ill; try to eliminate the stigma around mental illness through public awareness; and partner with other service providers and organizations to promote services for mental illness.
“Ten years ago there was very little offered in the English language. There was no way for families to get help or support, except medical, for themselves. We thought if we could help families understand what was happening to their loved one, it would help the whole family,” explained Judy about why the organization was founded.
She continued: “In the beginning we didn’t even have a place to meet. We had just a very small office so Townshippers’ Association used to lend us space for group meetings.” Both organizations are housed in Lennoxville’s Marguerite Knapp Building. “Since then we’ve gained an activity room and a library in addition to our office space. We can now have support groups meeting regularly.”
“But not everyone who comes here is looking for group support. Some are just looking for knowledge or resources. Our one-on-one meetings are also very important to us; we’re here to guide people but we’re not a treatment facility,” added Tanya.
Other beneficial and popular activities organized by Denta earth
strie include in-house educational sessions, public information sessions with guest speakers and panel discussions in collaboration with Bishop’s University and the University de Sherbrooke, a recent partnership. “We try to find specialists from this area to speak and we’ll be re-activating our presentations by professionals from Montreal. They are ‘chock-a-block’ full of information,” said Ms. Ross.
“People have responded enough to our services that we now have two regular groups that meet: one for people with a lived experience of mental illness, and another group of family members and caregivers. And we’ve been at it long enough that we can see the difference belonging to a support group can make. We see changes in attitude and the understanding of the importance of selfcare. We see more empathy and understanding of the loved one’s experience,” commented Judy.
Tanya, who has not been “at it as long” as Judy, nevertheless seems
just as passionate about working in the area of this often neglected and misunderstood health challenge. “I returned to school as a mature student to go into the helping field,” explained Ms. Gibson, a graduate of Champlain College’s Special Care Counseling program. “And being a born and raised Townshipper, it’s an honor to work with the English speaking community that I grew up in, and an honor to be part of the
enta ea th strie team which includes a wonderful Board of Directors and many volunteers.”
Although public awareness about mental illness seems to be improving, there are still many challenges. “What’s hard is getting people to come and benefit from the services,” said Judy. “Especially to get family members and caregivers to come and get support too,” said Tanya. “But the biggest challenge for anyone with a lived experience of mental illness is to find help, professional services, in a timely fashion. Mental health is the ‘poor cousin’ when it comes to financing. We were the last of the G8 countries to develop a strategy for mental health care. We’re really pleased that in the new budget there is funding for another ten years for the Mental Health Commission of Canada,” added Judy.
for Mental Health Estrie has also been challenging. “After six years we finally started to receive a modest grant from the ‘ Agence’ after applying every year. That grant covers half of our operating expenses and we must raise the other half. We have some generous donors and foundations and local organizations, like the Tillotson Coaticook Region Fund
and the Townshippers Research and Cultural
Foundation, have given us a lot of support,” mentioned Ms. Ross. This year, a group of psychology students from Bishop’s University held a big raffle and raised $15,000 for three local organizations to share: the Bishop’s Champlain Refugee Sponsorship Program, the Centre NuHab and Mental Health Estrie. “That was pretty nice to have students, not even from around here, do that for the community.”
“It’s hard to see a person or a family suffering but it’s very rewarding when we see that we’ve made a difference, when someone tells us that something has helped their situation or they’ve renewed a hope that has been lost,” said Tanya. “Unfortunately, people don’t often look for help until it’s a desperate situation but it’s important to remember that recovery is possible,” said Judy.
For more information about the services of
Mental Health Estrie, call
Judy Ross (left), one of the founders and the Director of enta ea th strie, and the service’s new counsellor, Tanya Gibson.