Spread­ing Seeds of Hope

Stanstead Journal - - FRONT PAGE - Vic­to­ria Vanier, Lennoxville

“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.

Find­ing fund­ing

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.

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