Demand for mental health services increasing with acceptance

Support organization sees growing waitlist, particularly for youth and families with children

With growing awareness and acceptance of mental health issues, demand for services and counselling in the Shuswap have also risen.

Patti Thurston of the Shuswap Family Centre says demand for mental health supports, particularly for youth and families with children, has been higher recently than in the nine years she has been a part of the organization.

“We personally are seeing numbers we have never seen. Since I started nine years ago, I would say the need for services for children, youth and young adults have tripled, let alone for families,” she says.

Read More: Shuswap Family Resource Centre celebrates 30 years

Though it is encouraging people are no longer afraid to seek help, Thurston says this demand has created challenges with getting people the resources they need.

“There are wait lists everywhere – we are still able to see our clients once a week but I think we have 17 people on our wait-list which is fairly new. We probably have a five to six week waiting list just us and just here in Salmon arm,” she says.

While demand for support is higher, Monica Kriese, coordinator of the Wellness Centre in the Salmon Arm Secondary Sullivan Campus, notes this increased demand doesn’t necessarily equate to an increase in mental illness rates.

Read More: Salmon Arm Secondary Wellness Centre helping youth

“I wouldn’t necessarily attribute it to more mental illness showing up, but we are talking about it finally,” Kriese says. “It’s now something that everyone talks about and doesn’t hide as much anymore. That makes the numbers seem very large, but then when you go into them you have to determine where on the spectrum of mental health are we talking about?”

Both Thurston and Kriese identify a lack of clarity on available resources as a common challenge faced by families and individuals seeking mental health support.

“What we learned as part of the local action team that formed the Wellness Centre is there are resources available but a lot of people don’t know where to go for these resources,” Kriese says. “So what we identified was a need to communicate to people as to what agency does what – they need one place to go and get information.”

Dawn Dunlop, executive director with the Canadian Mental Health Association Shuswap-Revelstoke office, says they are constantly busy with people coming in.

“I think that we live in stressful times and I think we always see significant numbers of people reaching out and trying to access help,” said Dunlop, noting a huge amount of the work CMHA does is reducing the stigma and shame surrounding mental health. “The stats will show that people will have 10 episodes before they reach out for help. We’re trying to reduce that barrier so that people won’t have 10 episodes before they reach out. They will reach out the first time.

“Talking about your mental health should come as naturally and normally as talking about your physical health.”

Dunlop notes CMHA’s work isn’t just about addressing mental illness, but promoting a proactive approach to mental health management – something that can help reduce demand for service.

“Mental health is about everyone, it’s not just about managing an illness,” said Dunlop. “Mental health is important to everyone. It should not be about waiting for a crisis and then getting help. It’s about us thinking about, ‘are we living a mentally healthy life, every day?’ It’s about managing your health.”

CMHA’s annual Ride Don’t Hide annual fundraising event plays a big part in getting out that message. This year’s Ride Don’t Hide takes place on Sunday, June 23.

Dunlop notes the event was started with Michael Schratter, who used to teach in Vernon.

“He became ill after some difficult life situations and had a dream that he wanted to bike around the world and talk about mental health openly and honestly,” said Dunlop. “And he did it; he biked across the world, and then he partnered with CMHA and now we have a national fundraising ride across Canada.”

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Patti Thurston, executive director of the Shuswap Family Resource Centre, shows off the community’s generosity in the five-years-and-under gift room. (Martha Wickett/Salmon Arm Observer)

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