Islanders turn to peer support for mental health issues
The P.E.I. chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association says it knows of about 40 groups on the Island
More Islanders are seeking out peer-support groups for mental health assistance, according to the P.E.I. chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association.
Staff say in the past two years they have been getting more inquiries from people wanting to attend groups and from those interested in starting their own group, compared to 10 years ago.
"Some of our groups have started out of necessity and some of our groups have started because people might be needing to speak to someone but not on a professional level," said Tayte Willows, community development manager with CMHA in P.E.I.
'They are not alone'
That is something that Josephine Power has experienced. She is a family support worker with CMHA and also started a support group for depression, bipolar disorder and anxiety 15 years ago, after dealing with depression and addiction.
"I got the help myself and I really wanted to reach out to other people, to help them, to go and get on their journey," she said.
"I think what was really good about it was I was doing it for myself at first, but I reached out to so many people and it's just seeing the people grow in this group … people are back to work full time which makes me feel very good when I see them."
There's a huge benefit in hearing from people who have lived through the same experience as you.- Tayte Willows
Power said she brings in experts from time to time, such as pharmacists or dietitians to give presentations, but most of the time her group of between 10 to 15 people just sit around the table and talk.
"I think that they find out that they are not alone, the biggest thing, they're not alone," she said.
Some groups meet online
Some other groups simply meet online. Johnadeen Albertini started an obsessive compulsive disorder and anxiety support group on Facebook in 2017, while he was living in P.E.I., because he couldn't find a group for OCD on the Island.
"A long time ago I never got the chance to speak about my OCD," Albertini said.
"The point of the group is getting people to use creative ideas to help them with the anxiety and OCD, if it's meditation, journaling, therapy and the like."
A long time ago I never got the chance to speak about my OCD.— Johnadeen Albertini
Albertini said sometimes there are people who present as needing more professional support and he does his best to point them in the right direction to relevant services.
The group has grown to about 170 members, with members from all over the world.
Albertini has since moved out of province, but he continues to run the group. He is hoping someone local will be able to take over facilitating and that the group can start to meet in person.
Taking it to the next level
Another group that started online is Moms in Mind. It now holds in person meetings, where members talk about everything from postpartum depression to relationship issues. Lisa Carmody-Doiron said she and a few friends started the online group because they were seeing mothers who needed to talk about the struggles that come with being a mom.
"It sort of blows everything up when you become a mother. You have to re-identify yourself in someways without losing who you are," she said. "It can be lonely and it can be a time where you wonder if other people are feeling the way you feel,"
I do think it does provide a service that is not being offered otherwise, whether through another grassroots organization or through government programming.— Lisa Carmody-Doiron
In just over a year and half, the online group has grown to 700 members, and the meetings will see anywhere from two to 20 people attend, where in addition to open discussion they also offer special guest speakers and yoga. Recently, the group has incorporated as a not-for-profit.
"We don't have a lesson plan. We show up and when the women introduce themselves they give as little or as much information about why they are there as they want and then that sort of starts the conversation," she said.
"I do think it does provide a service that is not being offered otherwise, whether through another grassroots organization or through government programming. And I think that women are noticing that … and they're coming, they're coming out."
Support from CMHA
CMHA provides guidance and training for anyone wanting to start a group and will also help promote the group and provide space if it is available. Willows said currently the P.E.I. chapter has about 40 groups it supports, although it recognizes there could be many more on the Island. She also said the range of groups continues to grow.
"I think in my experience in working in mental health there's lots to be said for getting professional support, but I also think there's a huge benefit in hearing from people who have lived through the same experience as you," she said.
CMHA maintains a list of the groups it supports and says if anyone wants to start a group, they can reach out for support. There is an upcoming free training for group leaders on May 15.
This story is part of a project CBC P.E.I. is doing on mental health services in the province — Peace of Mind. You can read other stories from the project here.