Does Revelstoke have adequate mental health and counselling services for men in crisis?
Two high profile incidents in the past months involving men who ended their lives has underscored the need for awareness of services and resources available and a discussion on what more can be done in Revelstoke.
As a community, Revelstoke is full of passionate and active advocates for a spectrum of community services. High profile local organizations and individuals champion services for children, youth, seniors, women or families – I’m sure you could list a couple for each category.
Who would you turn to if your brother, son or father was struggling with family challenges, mental health conditions, relationship breakdown of substance abuse problems?
In a two-part series, we speak with service providers and advocates about services currently available in the community and what more can be done.
Interior Health emphasizes responsive network of services
I spoke with two senior mental health representatives at Interior Health on conference call. Cliff Cross is the Director of Mental Health and Substance Use Services for Interior Health’s community integration portfolio. Diana Gawne is the Mental Health and Substance Use manager for Vernon, Revelstoke and Salmon Arm.
Gawne, who grew up at Rogers Pass and Revelstoke, explains that our community has high levels of medical mental health services compared to regional communities of a similar size.
While the services may not have as high a public profile as others offered in the community, Cross and Gawne emphasize that there are a range of mental health and counselling services available through an accessible network
At Queen Victoria Hospital, staff include a full-time psychiatrist, a full-time nurse clinician, counselling services, a full-time substance use clinician, and part-time workers in counselling, life skills and community support outreach.
The services in Revelstoke are linked to regional programs and services, including a 17-bed mental health unit in Vernon.
“The resources in Revelstoke stack up better than anywhere,” Cross said.
Although a perception may be that mental health services for men (and all residents) aren’t as visible as other community services, both Cross and Gawne say the support network is responsive.
It can be accessed, “in any way that one could imagine,” Gawne said. Individuals, family, friends and anyone within the support network can start the process. Hotlines and websites (see list below) channel community members into support services. Speaking with a doctor is a common route, as is calling up Queen Victoria Hospital or Community Connections Revelstoke.
“I think we try to meet people where their needs are,” Gawne said. All of the contacts can channel those making enquiries to appropriate services, and crisis situations are prioritized.
In addition to services provided through Interior Health, the health authority partners with the Canadian Mental Health Association to provide programs here.
One popular program is called Bounce Back. It’s for those “looking for tools that they can support making changes in their lives,” Gawne said, adding that it had been received well by physicians who referred patients to the program.
Another is Living Life to the Fullest, a 12-hour program that utilizes Cognitive-Behavioural Therapy principles to help participants get inspired to make positive differences in their lives.
Cross also pointed out Revelstoke has made strides as a community to better coordinate social services, including mental health and community counselling.
“[The City of Revelstoke Social Development Committee] is a really healthy way of providing a focus within a community. It’s a central point – Revelstoke’s on the right track. Identifying where people can gain access for basic services is critical for us all,” Cross said.
He sees an opportunity for additional men’s services such as group therapy. “The more we can create safe, positive environments for men to take risks [that are] seen as becoming healthy and not seen as a weakness. Depression is not a weakness, depression is a fact with so many of us in society. How we phrase it and how we look at that deals with that whole stigma for communication,” Cross said.
He said there are a spectrum of men’s self-help group models out there. “I think we’re learning that there is benefits for creating safe environments where men are with men and women are with women,” he said. “It’s easier for people to communicate and learn from each other in those settings. But also mixed groups are critical as well.”
Following trauma, daughter urges community to tackle men’s mental health
It may a personal reaction to trauma, or just normal for a Millennial generation used to sharing personal experiences in public; either way, Nanton, Alberta resident Leslie Ralph feels the public needs to know what happened at a fatal Jan. 17, 2013, house fire in Arrow Heights.
The 25-year-old escaped the intentionally-set house fire that claimed the life of her 52-year-old father Mike Ralph. She awoke before dawn to a room filling with smoke and escaped by jumping out her window. The fire investigators have yet to complete their report into the traumatic incident, and a regional BC Coroners Service spokesperson said their report is three to six months off. However, Revelstoke RCMP spokesperson Sgt. Kim Hall confirmed police believe the fire was intentionally set by the victim, and are classifying the act as suicide. At Mike Ralph’s funeral, the fact was disclosed openly to mourners.
Leslie Ralph didn’t have contact with her father for much of her adult life, and had only been visiting with him in Revelstoke for a few days. He was struggling with a recent separation, but she wasn’t familiar enough with him to judge how much he was impacted — she had just moved to Revelstoke to start a new life here.
“Walking into that situation I knew that he was upset and affected by the situation,” she said. “I don’t think I would know where to go if he had [asked for help].”
She said her father was also struggling with the recent suicide of his acquaintance Dr. Roger Morrison, and had show her photos of them together. That incident led to national television coverage after a family member questioned the suicide — although police firmly maintain their belief that it was. Both incidents followed family breakup.
Leslie Ralph is seeking a public focus on the issues, partly to help her deal with the trauma, but also to spotlight the issues.
She said a Global Television crew from Calgary had interviewed her on camera for an upcoming piece.
“There’s lots of issues at hand,” she said, urging community members in Revelstoke not to ignore them.
She hopes that an exploration of the subject will lead to better awareness of services available and ways they can be improved.
Lawyer sees need for support for men in personal crisis
Revelstoke lawyer Melissa Klages sees the negative and sometimes traumatic effects of family breakdown, substance abuse and stress-induced mental health issues in both family and criminal court. Although there certainly is an overlap, the issues are distinct from medical mental health issues.
She joined a sub-committee of Revelstoke’s Social Development Committee that was struck to explore support services for men. (There were two men on the sub-committee, she notes, but most of those involved were women.)
They saw the need for accessible pamphlets describing the services available, and for group therapy initiated by men.
She perceives a lack of support services for families and men. In larger communities in B.C., families going through separation are required by the court to take counselling sessions that prepare parents for the challenges of parenting after the divorce. The services are not provided here due to the community’s size.
She notes innovative group therapy classes available in other communities that are tailored to appeal to men. One program holds sessions in barber shops, for example. Men experiencing divorce or living in its wake meet to hash over issues together in a supportive environment. Klages feels the format would be good for Revelstoke.
She notes that many of her clients struggle with similar circumstances. In a rural resource community, males work in high-paying, sometimes remote jobs — the oil patch, CP Rail, hydro projects, seasonal work, resource camps, remote tourism, forestry — and don’t have good access to their children even before a separation or divorce.
Afterwards, they felt cut adrift when they lose primary custody and face significant support payments. If not managed well, the resulting tension affects the whole family. She feels the industries that employ men in work situations that are disruptive to normal family patterns should take more responsibility for the consequences, perhaps taking a role in offering services (and some do).
“There are lots of services here … but if you’re a man and you’re facing marriage breakdown, where do you go?” Klages asked. “I think there’s some stigma for a man to walk into Community Connections and ask for counselling.”
She feels the need for more tailored and targeted services. “Maybe you need to do something that targets men the way we do with women.” We talk about different models for services. Klages feels a group or individual advocates from within the affected community need to come forward to establish targeted services. Not only to deal with the aftermath of crisis, but to help men working through issues to avert crisis.
The legal system, said Klages, is a reactionary process that’s not set up to deal with these needs.
Social development coordinator explores work in progress
Revelstoke Social Development Coordinator Jill Zacharias said some of the work done by the subcommittee of the Social Development Committee exploring men’s issues has been put into action.
The committee focused on supporting single fathers, but then expanded the scope to look at men’s support issues.
They completed a Revelstoke Survival Guide that provides links to mental health services in town. The committee has explored parallel topics of substance abuse and youth mental health, and has made strides on those issues.
She said that men’s mental health and crisis issues still need work. She noted there has been an increased demand for services by seasonal residents. Mental health providers have seen a “phenomenal number of calls” from temporary residents, further straining service levels.
As part of Mental Health Awareness Week (May 6–12, 2013), service providers are planning to focus on men’s mental health awareness.
The Times Review will run the second part of this series in the Feb. 27 issue.
Mental health, crisis, family, addiction and substance abuse services list:
Interior Health provided a list of online resources available locally and provincially, as well as a hotline that connect you to services.
—The Interior Crisis Line Network can be reached at 1-888-353-2273.
Online listings for services available in Revelstoke:
— Shuswap-Revelstoke Branch of Canadian Mental Health Association BC Division: http://shuswap-revelstoke.cmha.bc.ca/
— Community Connections Revelstoke: http://www.community-connections.ca/clinical-services/
— Shuswap Family Resource and Referral Society: http://www.familyresource.bc.ca/
— Crisis Line Information: http://www.peopleinneed.ca/crisis-line-service/
Online listings for services available in B.C.:
— BC Mental Health & Addiction Services: http://www.heretohelp.bc.ca/
— Canadian Mental Health Association BC Division: http://www.cmha.bc.ca/how-we-can-help/adults
— Men’s Health Initiative of BC: http://www.aboutmen.ca/mens-health/health-areas/mental-health
— Mood Disorders Association of BC: http://www.mdabc.net/
— Anxiety BC: http://www.anxietybc.com/