Meeting the Demand for Mental Health Services During COVID

Meeting the Demand for Mental Health Services During COVID

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EPISODE SUMMARY

We speak to a recipient of the United Way Greater Victoria's Blue Love Campaign about the changes in demand for mental health services as the pandemic continues. We're also joined by a woman who uses those services.

EPISODE NOTES

We speak to a recipient of the United Way Greater Victoria's Blue Love Campaign about the changes in demand for mental health services as the pandemic continues. We're also joined by a woman who uses those services.

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Disclaimer : This interview has been edited for length and clarity.

Jackie: Hi, my name is Jackie Lamport. Today is Friday, May 7th. Welcome to the Capital Daily podcast. This "good news Friday" falls on Mental Health Awareness Week. So today, we speak to a recipient of United Way's Blue Love mental health campaign, and a woman who used those services, turned volunteer, about the power of talking about mental health.

Jackie: Today's episode of the podcast is sponsored by United Way's blue love campaign for mental health. Please donate at uwgv.ca/bluelovecampaign. United Way Greater Victoria's Blue Love Campaign is on a mission to raise $1 million by the end of December 2021. This money will fund counselling, peer support and outreach services across southern Vancouver Island. This, in part, is brought on by the exacerbation of mental health concerns brought on by the pandemic on Southern Vancouver Island COVID-19 has increased the demand for mental health services by up to 50%. United Way Greater Victoria reports that in some cases, the need for counselling services has doubled, outreach services are up by 35%, and peer support is up by 10%. And they want to make sure that the services being provided are able to match that demand. Today we speak to one of the recipients of the money being raised. Hazel Meredith, the executive director of Mental Health Recovery Partners (MHRP), along with Tracy, a woman whose life has been turned around after receiving the services from mental health recovery partners. Tracy had been suffering from anxiety and OCD, but after working with MHRP, she says she has a great quality of life and was even inspired to volunteer with them.

Jackie: Tracy and Hazel, thank you for joining the podcast today.

Tracy: So good to see you. Thanks for having us.

Hazel: Thank you.

Jackie: Hazel, could you first tell me about the work Mental Health Recovery Partners, South Vancouver Island does?

Hazel: Sure. We have a range of services that we provide. We have a lot of people who work here with lived experience of mental health issues and recovery. Our umbrella is basically to work from a recovery perspective, a very hopeful perspective for people with lived experience and their family members. We do that through peer support, counselling, wellness recovery action plan groups and their services like consulting and advocacy.

Jackie: Awesome. When did United Way reach out to you to tell you that you'd be involved in the Blue Love Campaign?

Hazel: I think it was about a month ago; we were so excited. It was such a great idea, and hearing the story of how the Blue Love Campaign came to be was very exciting and life-giving.

Jackie: Tracy, what made you first decide to reach out to the MHRP?

Tracy: I reached out because I felt I had no choice. I really was at my personal rock bottom, and I felt I had nowhere else to go. So I walked through those doors.

Jackie: How did they help?

Tracy: They listened, and they gave me some groups to go to. They supported me in going to a WRAP (Wellness Recovery Action Plan), which was really the cornerstone of my personal recovery.

Jackie: Can you tell me a little bit more about you and about what you've been through?

Tracy: Well, I was very unwell when I first came to MHRP, and I was sort of beaten up by the system. I didn't have much faith in the system, and I came here just looking for some hope and some self-esteem. That's what I found here, and that's where I'm at now.

Jackie: Hazel, what kind of programs do you offer?

Hazel: So we offer a range of programs so that people can usually find something that suits them best; it can be quite individualized. We have pure one-on-one support, where a person can meet with someone independently and explore their own recovery. We've got a WRAP group or Wellness Recovery Action Plan groups, a model that's used internationally to help people learn more about themselves and gain some strategies and insight into when things are going okay for them. WRAP plans provide support when the train starts to wobble off the track, and people need assistance with developing an individual crisis plan. We do that within a community of peers, so a person doesn't necessarily have to struggle alone and see that there is hope by seeing some mentors around. We also have family services; sometimes, a person is worried about reaching out to their family member or a friend who wants to find out how they can help. So we also meet people who are supporting someone who's struggling, and sometimes that they might also share some hope that the person might want to reach out for something a little different and connect with our peer supporters.

Jackie: Have you seen more people come to you to access your services since the pandemic started?

Hazel: The pandemic has really impacted a lot of services in town, and we're no different from that. Where we had served most people in person, we've moved a lot of our services online, but it's still highly personalized. We do include a friendly caller program, so we make about 60 outreach calls a week, with a range of trained volunteers. We also assist people in the hospital and post-discharge. So yes, service needs have gone up, and anxiety levels for everyone have gone up, but particularly when someone has been struggling with a diagnosis, it makes things a lot more challenging, and to reach out takes a lot of courage. It also takes a lot of faith, especially if there have been negative experiences in the past.

Jackie: Tracy, what point did you decide that you wanted to volunteer?

Tracy: I had been with MHRP for maybe a year, and I was doing significantly better. I wanted to increase my community because I really had no circle of community. Someone had been talking about community and said that volunteering is actually one way to put your foot in the door to do that. I also had a conversation with a staff member here, and they had said that was a way to increase your confidence. Volunteering in the library was a very minimal job, not that it's a minimal job, but it was a small amount of time in my week. It seemed like a good step for me, and I hadn't worked honestly in 20 years, not a paid job.

Jackie: Did you notice that working again impacted your mental health in a positive way once you started?

Tracy: Instantly, from day one, and there was so much support. I honestly needed help with the most menial, like what to say when I picked up the phone, and I was supported every single step of the way. It was great.

Jackie: That's fantastic. This is a question for both of you, so I'll start with Hazel. Do you find that there is still a stigma when it comes to speaking out about mental health issues, even as the pandemic has really highlighted the need to take care of mental health?

Hazel: Yes, sadly, there is a stigma. I would also say discrimination for folks who struggle with a variety of mental health areas. One of the basic misunderstandings that people have is that they think the opposite of something that we would call mental health is, and some think it's mental illness, and that's incorrect. So trying to help people understand that whether you have a mental illness or not, we all have mental health. We can struggle a lot with it, but we can also do a lot of things to promote our own positive mental health, and that's whether someone has a diagnosed mental illness or not. We have a lot more in common compared to what separates us.

Jackie: Do you find that more people realize that mental health isn't the same as mental illness and that everybody struggles? Do you find that the more people realize that, the more people are willing to reach out?

Hazel: Yes, I think that and as, especially as COVID has gone along and presented challenges connecting with people and trying to go on this epic journey of trying to get through this together. I think people are more apt to be speaking about what's happening for them, and the research shows that that's actually a very helpful and adaptive thing to do.

Jackie: Fantastic. Tracy, I also wanted to ask you the same question. Do you find that there is still a stigma when you speak out personally about your mental health struggles?

Tracy: Yeah, I find that people are not overly accepting. It's funny because I'll talk publicly in a forum like this, very willingly and very happily, and be very open. But I would not privately, for instance, my husband's workmates; I wouldn't bring it up. I don't find that's an accepting place. You still get the whole adage, we'll just make this lifestyle change or take this vitamin, which is not particularly helpful, and I find it judgy. I think it is a very judgmental world out there, and it's best just to stick to the people that know mental wellness.

Jackie: Do you think that maybe the more people are willing to share their own experiences, maybe even unprompted, the more it creates that environment where you will feel comfortable just talking about it to anybody?

Tracy: Definitely.

Jackie: And how important do you think that is to you and everybody?

Tracy: I think conversation is incredibly important, and I love to see that happening.

Jackie: Hazel, did you have something to add?

Hazel: Yes, I do. It's interesting. When we talk about mental health and well-being, it's often seen in the context outside of the workplace. But as we've talked about, like Tracy's experience, volunteering in the library, and then, and then going into roles here, having a supportive environment at work is incredibly important to people's mental health and well being whether they're impacted on their own mental health or caring for a loved one. So, there isn't an area where mental health doesn't impact us. So, the more that we can do, whether it's policies and procedures, to our attitudes, and even increasing our knowledge, about what helps and what can be done to assist us and have inclusive places there are, the better.

Jackie: Tracy, given your volunteer experience and experience as a recipient of the services at MHRP, what would you say has given you more confidence to discuss and solve?

Tracy: I certainly have a different language around it. I have been empowered by that language, and I'm better able to advocate for myself. I still don't talk about it a lot privately, but I certainly can advocate for myself and talk publicly in a forum like this.

Jackie: And again, this is another one that's for both of you. Tracy, I'll start with you this time. What would you say to anyone who is struggling right now that is trying to figure out what their next step is?

Tracy: I would say there is help there. It can be hard to find. However, there are so many resources, and a place like MHRP and the peers within MHRP have so much combined knowledge to help you find what you're looking for to help you advocate for yourself to find that support; it’s just getting there.

Jackie: Hazel, what would you say?

Hazel: I almost don't think I could say it better than Tracy. I think being able to reach out to someone who's been through a similar challenge and has moved through with the energy and mindset of recovery and focus. You can't help but kind of be inspired and feel more fuel, to advocate for what your needs are even identifying what they are because sometimes, even that can be hard when you feel overwhelmed—so having that chance to be listened to and being in a kind environment where one of our pillars is hospitality, feeling welcomed and sharing your voice. I think, especially working on levels of empowerment, that can help lift you out. So we provide some advocacy to folks to help them as they're moving along their journeys.

Jackie: Hazel, what do you think the value of people with lived experiences being the ones in the positions to help other people?

Hazel: I think it's absolutely critical. Not everybody wants to have peer support, but when you do, it should be available. The research shows that it's helpful, that it's also motivating and hopeful. It can even assist people in living a healthier life, and so often, the journey can be so painful and isolating. There's something special and unique that happens in pure support. It can be used alongside clinical services, not to replace clinical services. There's a special value that comes in that in that space, it's transformative, and the research backs that up. We've seen it happen in our hospital project where we help people in the hospital with discharge; we see them coming back into the community feeling more hopeful and connected. We see it for people that are on their recovery journey in the community. I just wish there was more available. One of the things that we're working on is we want to train more peer supporters and support them like we've supported Tracy and her recovery.

Jackie: Tracy, you mentioned earlier that you were frustrated with the way the system was, and then you came to mental health recovery partners. What made the difference in that experience that made you feel like this was the option that was right for you?

Tracy: At MHRP, I felt encouraged, incredibly listened to and not just listened to; my answers weren't always, or my questions weren't always answered, and I was encouraged to find my own answers, which is oddly very empowering. You grow in that process when you figure it out yourself. Whereas if you go to a doctor, they either pull out a prescription pad or they send you somewhere, or they just tell you there's nothing they can do. Here you grow, or I did my experience. I just grew and grew and grew. It was just a very empowering experience for me.

Jackie: Hazel, I'll leave on this. What is the impact that United Way Greater Victoria's Blue Love Campaign is having on MHRP?

Hazel: Blue Love, it sets in the heart of what we're doing and to know that there are champions out there that United Way is such a spectacular champion for peer support. Counselling outreach. We know that this works, and United Way is working with communities to strengthen it to have a healthier community. We hear that mental health and physical health should be on parity and United Way are leaders in helping the community grow and be healthy and lift people up so we can thrive.

Jackie: Thank you both for spending some time with the podcast today.

Hazel: Thank you.

Jackie: Thank you so much for spending a part of your day with us and the week if you've been tagging along. If you enjoyed the show, please share on your socials so that more people can find us and also rate in review so that more people can find this. And for your own good, subscribe so that you don't miss any episodes going forward. We post new shows every Monday to Friday. My name is Jackie Lamport. This is the Capital Daily podcast. We'll talk to you Monday.