Community groups brainstorm ways to overcome mental health challenges

As mental health resources on P.E.I. become more in demand, community groups and non-profits are sharing ways to address some of the root causes and be better prepared for events that make existing issues worse.

Charlottetown gathering aimed at keeping people from falling into crisis mode

Patsy Beattie-Huggan, with Atlantic Summer Institute.
Patsy Beattie-Huggan, co-ordinator with Atlantic Summer Institute on Healthy and Safe Communities, says it became apparent during the COVID-19 pandemic that more intervention and mental-health supports were needed. (Tony Davis/CBC)

As mental health resources on P.E.I. become more in demand, community groups and non-profits are sharing ways to address some of the root causes and be better prepared for events that make existing issues worse.

About 20 representatives from those groups gathered Tuesday at Beaconsfield's Carriage House for a discussion led by the Atlantic Summer Institute on Healthy and Safe Communities. The meeting was the sixth of seven held throughout Atlantic Canada.

Patsy Beattie-Huggan, a co-ordinator with the Atlantic Summer Institute, said mental health, especially in youth, came to the forefront during the COVID-19 pandemic, when many were isolated from their friends and schoolmates. She said it became apparent that more intervention and more support were needed.

Now is the time to look ahead and make a plan, she said.

"How can we prepare our services and our approach so that in the next challenge that we have, the next crisis, the next Fiona or the next pandemic, that we are more equipped to handle them?"

The groups were shown a video explaining the concept of "upstream initiatives" as a way to combat mental health issues.

"We talk about the kids in the river, and people keep catching all these kids that are falling in the river," Beattie-Huggan said.

"Finally someone asks: 'Why are all the kids falling in the river? Maybe we better go look why they're falling in the river.' And they go upstream to see what it is."

Ted Lockie with the Boys and Girls Club.
Ted Lockie of BGC in Charlottetown and Montague says the well-being and success of Islanders 'takes investment and effort from all of us.' (Tony Davis/CBC)

The point, she said, is to get people to change their way of thinking and realize society is spending a lot of resources on crisis management — "which needs to happen, no doubt, but we also need to build those strengths and assets amongst ourselves and our children so that we don't have them falling in the river and needing as much crisis management in the future."

Isolation a 'huge barrier'

Ted Lockie of BGC, formally known as the Boys and Girls Club, was one of the speakers at Tuesday's meeting. He said isolation is a "huge barrier" to long-term mental wellness, and BGC works hard to make sure young people feel welcome, valued and part of a community.

"We are in a time of real need on the Island, and so any conversation around how we can impact that in a healthy, robust way is a conversation we're happy to be a part of as an organization. And I think that every Islander is interested in Islanders being more successful for the long run, and that takes investment and effort from all of us."

Julie Pellissier-Lush with L'nuey.
Lennox Island band member Julie Pellissier-Lush says it's important for Indigenous voices to be heard. (Tony Davis/CBC)

The meetings hosted by the Atlantic Summer Institute are a good way for groups in the same sector to collaborate and pool resources as they work toward similar goals, he said.

Food insecurity and a lack of affordable housing, which also have an effect on mental health, were other topics that were addressed.

Julie Pellissier-Lush, a Lennox Island band member, spoke about the importance of including Indigenous voices in program development.

"I think that we are conscientiously working towards making sure that our leadership is involved and being more, you know, invited to the tables that make power so that our voices are still heard."

With files from Tony Davis


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