Canadian Mental Health Association - Calgary Region
Our Story Why We Exist
The reality for many people dealing with mental health challenges, is that they have adopted a mask – one that camouflages the threads of shame, misunderstanding, and sometimes loneliness.
But in Calgary that is changing, thanks to the Peer Options programs at CMHA. Here, the peer movement has moved into plain sight for everyone to see!
With the various Peer Options programs to choose from, each curriculum provides individuals a concrete understanding of building healthy relationships and creates a safe place to share with fellow peers their lived experience who are now focused on wellness and recovery just like them.
There are four different streams for Peer Options including, Art of Friendship, Community Art of Friendship, Community Circle of Friends and Welcome Wednesdays. In each program, peers have the opportunity to set personal recovery goals, connect with the community, build self-awareness and apply effective recovery tools to live their best quality of life.
Many graduates of the Peer Options programs give back through peer leadership offering inspiration, understanding, mentorship and hope.
This especially rings true for two peer advocates at the CMHA Calgary office – both graduates of Peer Options now supporting others who are reaching out for help.
Catherine MacAllister, is a 21 year old peer in the Calgary main office, who moved from Ireland as a teen. She recalls suffering from anorexia and using other unhealthy coping mechanisms to silence her demons of demeaning self-talk and feelings of isolation and loneliness. Just seconds from the gym doorsteps, she received an alarming phone call from her doctor that she must retreat immediately from any workouts, as her heart beat was too low. That was the turning point for Catherine. “It was either get help or be consumed entirely by my thoughts, and for my own sake and sanity I reached out” she says about her decision to make the positive changes she required to begin her road to recovery.
With similar heritage of English and Welsh descent, Donna Shukys too is a peer advocate at CMHA Calgary. After graduating as a peer support specialist, Donna volunteered with the Community Education team at the CMHA where she was introduced to the peer options program. “I had gone through a lot of change in my life and it was too much for me to process and move through. My anxiety levels ran high and my depression was hard to manage. Once an overachiever, it all became a blur” she explains.
Both Catherine and Donna maintain that there is a fine line between feeling supported and feeling pitied after breaking the silence of suffering from mental health concerns.
While some members of the community applaud and connect on a different level because of the honesty, others turn a blind eye and begin to treat you differently – “it’s as though there’s an ‘us’ and a ‘them’” Catherine says.
“For those who knew me, my journey and supported me, nothing changed. I was perceived as brave by some and others were concerned that by supporting an issue that carries so much stigma, I would open myself up to being harshly judged. In many cases this did happen, but I didn't take it personally because although it involved me, it wasn't about me.” Donna realized.
“Just knowing that you’re not alone and that options do exist, creates an instant connection” Catherine added. “The more we openly talk about it, the more it normalizes a topic that should be normal in the first place.”
“When we are not well, we can hurt others without realizing” Donna explains. “I believe as we progress through our journeys, we learn more things about ourselves. Recovery is possible! I am living proof of this.”
When asked separately to describe their experience with Peer Options; hope, community and empowerment are the attributes both Catherine and Donna used almost unwaveringly.
“I wanted to start living not just surviving” Catherine expressed. After the curtains close and the charade is over, the only masks being worn are by those who don’t understand what mental health really is. We all have it, and it’s time we all start talking about it!
Our Impact What We Do
30,599 total individuals served through all CMHA - Calgary programs/services. That was CMHA's social impact on our city last year.
2016 was a productive year at CMHA Calgary. Despite the challenges in our city which directly impacted us, we saw more clients and connected with more Calgarians than ever before. And we were able to do this by being adaptive, resilient and changing how we work.
We have often referred to 2016 as "The Year of the Peer" at CMHA Calgary. Peers, those with lived experience, have a special role in supporting others along the mental health journey. Their support is based on an implicit understanding of having experienced this journey. We are very proud of the fact that with the financial help of Calgary Foundation, Bell Let's Talk, Calgary Herald, City of Calgary, FCSS, First Energy and the Government of Alberta we have built a Peer School. Twenty peers have completed training and many are now part of our day-to-day supports as people reach out to CMHA in record numbers. Imagine meeting a friendly face and hearing a supportive voice coupled with a helping hand when you or a loved one is facing a mental health challenge.
Beyond strengthening our agency by adopting a recovery focused model of care, we have managed to make other significant inroads which have benefited the community.
We have spent a large part of the year adapting to funder requirements and community need by re-evaluating every part of our agency. As we've come to the end of the year our programs have all been stringently reviewed for impact, and for building community capacity. This exciting work sets the stage for the agency for years ahead.
Mentally healthy people in a healthy society.
A leader in reducing the impact of mental disorders and addiction in promoting mental health, wellness and recovery through community-based services.
OUR VALUES - R.E.S.P.E.C.T.
- Recovery - we will use recovery-oriented practices in our work with clients.
- Empowerment - we will empower our clients to be healthy and independent.
- Self-Awareness - we will take the time to assess how we individually contribute to quality client care and a psychologically safe workplace.
- Partnership - we will look to grow our programs and services using a partnership model.
- Excellence - we will look at new work practices and models of care that support creating a culture of excellence in client services.Client-Focused - in every decision or action we will ask how this effort will serve our clients.
- Teamwork - we will f urther develop and support healthy teams that contribute to a healthy organizational culture.
Our Programs How We Do It
There Is No Health Without Mental Health
In any given year, at least one in five Calgarians experiences a mental health problem or illness. And mental illness does not discriminate based on age, gender, religion or race.
If you have a brain you can have a mental disorder!
CMHA Calgary supports our community through our three key pillars - Peer Support, Youth and Community Engagement and Community Impact. It is a client-centric and aimed at creating efficiencies in service that will result in better outcomes for our clients. Our Program and Services available include:
Community Helpers: a peer-selected training initiative available in schools, workplaces and community groups for people who demonstrate a natural tendency to help others.
Education: offers presentations focused on Living Life to the Full, Community Helpers and Suicide Awareness to junior and senior high schools, post-secondary instituations and community organizations.
Family Support: support for family members of individuals with a mental health disorder, including one-on-one, couple or family counselling, as well as informal and formal support groups.
Independent Living: provides referrals for clients to community agencies, government and health services that will help manage their lives independently.
Peer Options: offers support in building healthy friendships, peer support networks and transition to the community. Many graduates give back through ongoing mentorship as volunteers.
Peer Support: offers the opportunity for anyone - individual, family member or professional - looking for a connection with others, who is new to the mental health and/or addiction community or looking for information about a mental health diagnosis, the chance to speak with someone with lived experience.
Street Outreach & Stabilization: links hard-to-reach homeless individuals to essential community services through referals to supports such as psychiatric and medical treatment, income support and housing.
Suicide Bereavement: a program specific to individuals who have experienced a loss by suicide through one-on-one counselling and indirect services such as support groups, as well as organizing and hosting the annual Survivors of Suicide Loss Day.
Our Requests What You Can Do
The statistics read one in five Calgarians are affected by mental health or addiction challenges at some point in their lifetime. But that number doesn't reflect the impact these issues have on the other four out of the five, those who know and love someone who is fighting this difficult battle. It is an issue that affects all of us, and there are many different ways we can contribute to creating positive change.
Ways to Give
Donate: Donate by phone, mail or online, pledge a monthly donation, host a barbeque, silent auction, or community corporate event with proceeds supporting our programs, give in memory of someone special or honour a special occasion such as a birthday or anniversary. You can access our Donation page online at http://cmha.calgary.ab.ca/get-involved-2/donate/ or contact us directly firstname.lastname@example.org or 403.297.1700
Volunteer: When it comes to extra help - we love it and need that support! For example, helping out at fundraising events, using life experience to support our programs, and even community outreach through our Ambassador program which gives us an increased profile in the city. Please contact our Volunteer Services department. You will be asked to attend an interview, where we can get to know you and your interests. Appropriate training will be provided. Email email@example.com or call 403.297.1700
Voice / Advocate: You can help give a voice to those struggling with mental health and addiction challenges by embracing the cause on social media, or through attending events. Your actions can help convert public thinking and break down the stigma.