“There is no health without mental health.” This sentiment has been expressed by the World Health Organization, by the Canadian Mental Health Association and by a myriad of community-based groups who hope to endeavor to improve mental health. In the Rural Avalon region, two such groups have made creative efforts to enhance mental well-being within our communities.
Placentia Area-Cape Shore Community Connections and St. Mary’s Bay Communities for Mental Health were formed in 2005 as part of primary health care renewal initiatives. These committees represent the area from Ship Harbour in Placentia Bay to Peter’s River in St. Mary’s Bay. Committee members, all volunteers, come from various sectors and background experiences while also representing their rural communities.
Eastern Health supports the advocacy and planning initiated by the groups in many ways – by participation on the committees and through ongoing connections with primary health care and other Eastern Health staff. Since 2005, they have focused on a range of themes including food security and rural women’s health.
In 2009, each committee determined that they would focus primarily on mental health with a dual focus, to look at:
- positive mental health as well as mental illness; and
- the impact of both on community wellness.
Since 2009, the committees have engaged the community in creative and effective initiatives to ensure that the communities have opportunities to share their experiences and perspectives. It is also important to note that both committees work to build on strengths and address challenges from a ‘determinants of health’ perspective. For example, the Placentia Area-Cape Shore group currently works with the community to explore issues related to housing.
Committee member Lee Everts of Placentia describes her experience with this work:
“We’ve been able to encourage more people to recognize the importance of mental health and how it factors into virtually all aspects of their lives! This has been reflected in the efforts we’ve made — mental health and mental illness, food security, homelessness and support groups, etc.”
Still to Come
With the assistance of Eastern Health’s research division, both committees, Placentia Area- Cape Shore Community Connections and St. Mary’s Bay Communities for Mental Health, worked together to complete a comprehensive community assessment and used the results to plan future initiatives. Each year, they lead events to recognize mental health and mental illness awareness weeks.
In 2013-14, each committee will narrow its focus to youth mental health, and work with youth and schools in the area to understand more about the intricacies of well-being in this age group.
The work of Placentia Area – Cape Shore Community Connections and St. Mary’s Bay Communities for Mental Health fits well with Eastern Health’s vision of Healthy people, Healthy Communities. Recognizing and celebrating the importance of mental health will positively impact the overall health of our communities.
“Although it’ll take more time, I think we’ve been able to slowly whittle away at the stigma, so it’s okay to say that you have a mental illness,” added Lee Everts. “What I love is the fact that while our group works towards these ends, in and of itself, being able to belong to a group with these goals; contributes to advancing mental health. So, oddly and perfectly, it comes full circle!” ■
This story was written by Priscilla Corcoran Mooney, a primary health care manager for Rural Avalon.