Nfld. & Labrador

Be a light in the dark for people in hospital due to mental health, says advocate

While many people think warmly of Christmas and the holiday season, there are those among us who are not so lucky.

A warm blanket, some soft tissue and fresh pyjamas can go a long way, says Christa Steeves

Christa Steeves is one of the organizers of the Shine a Light for Mental Health fundraiser campaign, which seeks to help provide items of comfort to people under psychiatric care over the holiday season. (Paula Gale/CBC)

While many people think warmly of Christmas and the holiday season, with images of family, friends, music and laughter in their heads, there are those among us who are not so lucky.

That's something mental health advocate Christa Steeves hopes people will keep in mind this month.

"We're all just one major life event from a mental health crisis," says Steeves, one of the organizers of the third annual Shine a Light for Mental Health campaign.

The campaign, which has a donation box set up at the Royal Newfoundland Constabulary headquarters in St. John's, seeks to get basic care and comfort items that people in psychiatric care this time of year would appreciate.

Items like soft facial tissue, blankets, pyjamas and slippers, for example, would make a huge difference, Steeves said.

I just don't think that anybody deserves to not have some of those comforts.- Christa Steeves

"When you're in a counselling session for an hour and you've been crying for a long time into the, I'm sure, cheapest to tender tissues that Eastern Health is able to provide — and I know they're doing the best with what they have — they're like sandpaper," Steeves said.

"And there's something really comforting about having a soft tissue that doesn't sort of tear your face apart when you're in such a vulnerable and difficult place."

The aging Waterford Hospital, which is slated for replacement, is also not a place one might consider cosy during a time of emotional crisis, Steeves said.

"Things like a blanket and something soft to provide comfort to somebody with anxiety. It can be cold at the Waterford, for instance, and just to not be cold and be able to be comfortable," Steeves said.

The donation boxes in the front lobby of RNC headquarters in St. John's, waiting to be filled. (James Cadigan/RNC)

It's something she herself has experienced: Steeves was hospitalized in 2014, and again on New Year's Day three years ago.

What she saw while receiving psychiatric care was startling for Steeves.

"I saw patients who were walking around in socks because they had no slippers — they were brought to the hospital with no shoes, for instance, given the nature of their mental health issues," she said.

"I just don't think that anybody deserves to not have some of those comforts."

Steeves said her stay in hospital was something that she needed in order to go through the recovery process and be where she is today, but it's an experience that stuck with her.

"Some of these people don't have visitors at all because, of course, when it comes to mental health issues there's often other systemic issues, such as addictions or homelessness and poverty," she said.

"It just was sad to me that I was lucky enough that I had friends and family and support and a bag full of clothing and pyjamas and slippers, but not everybody that I met on that journey was that lucky."

'It's sort of bittersweet'

Since then, Steeves has found herself in the position of being an advocate for people who aren't in a position to speak for themselves.

"It wasn't really a choice, it's just something that happened," she said.

"And I think that when we are in a place of privilege — which I consider myself to be, with the support and things that I have behind me — I think it's imperative for us to stand up for those that can't necessarily stand up for themselves."

From left, Kelsey Muise, Christa Steeves and Sarah Furlong are the organizers of the Shine a Light for Mental Health campaign. (Facebook)

People wanting to donate items in St. John's can drop them off at the main entrance lobby of the RNC headquarters, Steeves said, or visit their Facebook page, 2019 Shine a Light for Mental Health, for information on how to make monetary donations.

The deadline is 8 p.m. on Dec. 19, so Steeves and her fellow organizers can deliver the items to the psychiatric units — something that will make for a special, albeit difficult, day.

"It's sort of bittersweet," she said. "You see some things that you would hope have changed in three or four years and have not changed, and that's difficult and can be triggering.

"But it's also a day of a lot of laughs and a lot of joy, and bringing that joy to other people, I think, has been a huge part of each of our recovery … People with mental illness and in the hospital in particular seem to be quite forgotten about."

Read more articles from CBC Newfoundland and Labrador

With files from the St. John's Morning Show