St. Andrew’s continues mental health facilitation

Reverend Lynne Donovan was recognized for her community work with a Rotary Paul Harris Fellow award by the Picton club last week. (Adam Bramburger/Gazette staff)

Peer support focus of follow-up meeting

ADAM BRAMBURGER

STAFF WRITER

A Picton church community has pledge to continue taking a leading role in the fight against mental health-related stigma for as long as is necessary.

After more than 100 people attended two separate meetings under the “Mental Health: Yours… Mine” banner over the past two weeks, a team at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian has been conducting follow-up discussions with participants around setting the next steps in the process.

“We’ve engaged everyone who left information and talked about what they hope to achieve,” said Rev. Lynne Donovan. “People have been quiet receptive to the idea of peer support networks.”

Donovan said that while people may be concerned about limited resources to address mental health issues in the community, there was less focus on advocacy and more interest in grassroots efforts to change the culture locally. “We want to get everyone in the same room to see how we can support each other,” she said.

To that end, there will be a follow-up meeting April 18 at noon at the church.

The first order of business will be discussing ways that people who have lived through their mental health issues and stigma — either their own, or at that affecting a friend or family member — and other caring community members can directly help one another through support groups or networks.

Another outcome, Donovan said, may be organizing regular public events to get people talking. Dr. Heather Stuart, the Bell mental health and anti-stigma research chair at Queen’s University has offered to continue to aid that process.

“We’ll probably facilitate a conversation to articulate the goals of people who have come to the table,” Donovan said.

According to Donovan, the possibilities for peer support to make such a difference were illustrated during the first of the two initial sessions when 60 people attended a lunch-hour discussion. After Frank Wright shared his own experiences with depression and Stuart gave some context about research and cultural trends, people really opened up.

“I didn’t know how it was going to happen,” Donovan conceded, noting her team at St. Andrew’s really struggled with the concept of creating safe spaces and encouraging people to disclose and speak freely about mental health issues. “What came out of that was a most positive outcome where people felt safe in front of a room of people they didn’t know to talk about their experiences of stigma, grief, hardship, and personal pain.”

If that atmosphere can be replicated and expanded upon, there’s a good chance that more people can be reached if stigma can be broken down. Donovan said the decision to hold the follow-up meeting again over the lunch hour is a reflection of the success of that first meeting. So, too, is the idea to focus on adult mental health moving forward.

The effort has also attracted some interest from professionals in the field as a board member with Addictions and Mental Health Services Hastings Prince Edward asked to be notified on future events.

Donovan said she was hopeful more parents would have attended a session on adolescent mental health last Wednesday evening, noting many attendees were grandparents and other community members. She acknowledged it may take some more time to raise awareness on that front to effect change.