'Every little bit helps,' says mental health award winner who survived residential school, addiction

A Dauphin, Man., woman who survived residential school and addiction to become a support for youth in her community is being honoured with an award for making change in mental health.

Helping Hands Hope Award from Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba to be presented Saturday

The Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba is awarding three Helping Hands awards. Bev Harvey will receive the Helping Hands Hope Award. (Shutterstock)

A Dauphin, Man., woman who survived residential school and addiction to become a support for youth in her community is being honoured with an award for making change in mental health.

Two decades ago, Bev Harvey says she wasn't in a good place. She battled substance abuse problems. She had dark moments of defeatism, suicidal feelings and self-harm. Like her parents and grandparents, she had survived the residential school system.

Harvey worked through trauma, depression and relapse to find recovery. She met her soul mate, learned to love herself and hasn't used drugs or had a drink in years. She moved to Dauphin, about 250 kilometres northwest of Winnipeg, where she now works as an elder and cultural advisor to support young girls at the Dauphin Friendship Centre.

"I believe each and every one of us has a place where we can thrive and excel, and mine just happened to be in Dauphin, Manitoba," Harvey said in an interview on CBC Manitoba's Up To Speed.

On Saturday, Harvey will receive the Helping Hands Hope award from the Mood Disorders Association of Manitoba, where she volunteers in addition to her volunteer work at her local food bank. The award honours excellence in creating change for those with mental illness.

Harvey said she hopes it sends a message that "every little bit helps."

"Regardless of your colour, your race, your level of education, your level of income, that volunteering — giving that helping hand, smiling at strangers even when you have nothing — it goes a long way," she said.

'A big light went on'

Harvey will receive her award at a gala at the Fort Garry Hotel in Winnipeg on Saturday, alongside two other recipients.

Dr. Margo Lane is receiving the Helping Hands Health Award for her work at the Health Sciences Centre, Children's Hospital and in the community, according to a news release from the association.

"[Lane] takes particular satisfaction in caring for vulnerable teens, including those who live in the care of Child and Family Services and those who have mental health challenges," the release states.

Mary Ann Baynton will receive the Helping Hands Heart Award. The author helped develop the National Standard of Canada on Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace and is the program director for the Great-West Life Centre for Mental Health in the Workplace.

Harvey said she started to change her life when she met her future husband, who gave her space to work through childhood trauma. They got married in 1996 and she checked herself into rehab that year. It was a long struggle to recover from her addiction and she did relapse, but she hasn't used drugs since 2007.

A turning point came when she was diagnosed with depression in 1998.

She was helped along the way by people she calls "earth angels": group workers, elders and others who supported her when times were tough.

She wants people who are struggling to know they're out there, and that anyone can get out of the dark place she once was.

"I tell them about my dark moments and I tell them how I came out of it, and that anyone can do it. Anyone can do it. It is all within us," she said.

"Happiness is within us. It's not in a bottle, pill or another person. We have that key to happiness inside of us all."