Shelagh Turner

Shelagh Turner is executive director of Canadian Mental Health Association-Kelowna. Learn more at cmhakelowna.org.

This weekend, the city of Swift Current will welcome home hockey star and former NHLer Sheldon Kennedy while also celebrating the 50th anniversary of the Western Hockey League.

Earlier this week, Swift Current Mayor Jerrod Schafer issued a public apology to Kennedy and other junior hockey players who had been sexually assaulted by their coach in the 1980s.

Events in Swift Current highlight the need for communities — including Kelowna — to keep children safe and to make the appropriate services accessible after trauma has occurred.

But in order for more people to get help, we have to first create an environment where asking for help is OK. One of the most important ways we can do this is by eliminating the culture of shame and blame that we have built around trauma and mental health issues. Brené Brown, a brilliant scholar, author and public speaker, suggests “empathy is the antidote to shame.” I wholeheartedly agree.

The impact of abuse can be severe and far-reaching. For Kennedy and countless others, unsafe alcohol and drug use, risky behaviour and damage to important relationships are some of the signs common when people are trying to cope or self-medicate after traumatic events. Rather than recognize these signs for what they are, and assisting people in finding help, our society tends to moralize and blame.

When addiction and mental illness are still commonly framed as a lack of willpower or laziness rather than genuine health issues or symptoms of trauma, is it any wonder that abuse can continue under the radar?

Schafer and Kennedy are working in different ways to ignite dialogue and build bridges between important services and resources.

In Kelowna, the Canadian Mental Health Association has similar initiatives underway.

To eliminate the culture of silence and the stigma attached to mental-health issues, we’ve launched the #GETLOUD pledge. It’s simple: make an effort to talk openly about your mental health, show empathy and support for family and friends, and share the pledge. Being a role model and practising empathy, or taking a moment to put yourself in someone else’s shoes, can have a profound impact on a child.

CMHA Kelowna is also proud of its relationship with the West Kelowna Warriors, part of the B.C.-wide Talk Today partnership between CMHA and B.C. Hockey League. For athletes, there can be pressure to “pull it together” or “snap out of it” when struggling.

These messages in a competitive sports arena can be particularly harmful for players experiencing mental-health issues or survivors of trauma. This innovative partnership is having real impact, providing support for players to look out for each other, have open and honest conversations and to seek help without feeling shame.

Another barrier to recovery and stability is simply knowing how to access services.

CMHA Kelowna offers tailored programs for parents and caregivers and youth and young adults to connect the dots between referrals and services, and to foster a sense of community between participants.

A unique aspect of our youth navigation program is the LINC (Living Independently Needs Connection) Hub. Small but mighty, LINC offers an integrated service for young people and their families. LINC brings a number of providers, including mental-health clinicians and alcohol and drug workers, psychiatrist, doctor, vocational service experts and others into one room to streamline access to housing, life skills, mental-health services and addiction services for youth and young adults ages 16 to 24. LINC helps to keep young people transitioning into adulthood from falling through service gaps.

None of these initiatives would be so successful without community collaboration.

CMHA Kelowna has been bold enough to provide the leadership and we have realized there are many who know that by working together, doing things a bit differently, we make a much more significant impact.

Although it may be a stretch to refer to a town two provinces over as our neighbour, it’s important for Kelowna to show solidarity with Swift Current. If we can teach our children to be empathetic, and if we can find that ability in ourselves, we can eliminate the silence that allows abuse to continue and prevents people with mental-health issues from receiving the help they deserve. We must also continue to work together and challenge the status quo to improve access to community supports and treatment.

Wondering what you can do to help? Start by visiting getloudkelowna.com to sign the #GETLOUD pledge.

Shelagh Turner is executive director of Canadian Mental Health Association-Kelowna. Learn more at cmhakelowna.org.

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