A crucial first step to mental wellness, according to Sarah Hamid-Balma, the director of mental health promotion for the B.C. division of the Canadian Mental Health Association, also known as CMHA BC, is recognizing mental health challenges for what they are.
“Knowing that what you’re experiencing might not just be ups and downs, that it might be something different, is key,” she said. She likens recognizing mental health symptoms to knowing “when a scrape is a scrape, or a sprain is a sprain. We learn those things a little bit earlier than I think we do with mental health symptoms.”
Thanks in large part to decades of mental health and wellness promotion and literacy initiatives, times have changed for people with mental health and substance use issues.
“I have young children and what they’re learning around mental health in school is something I never saw in the ‘80s and ’90s,” said Hamid-Balma, who has been with the organization for nearly 20 years. “There’s an increasing recognition that we need to embed this in schools and not wait until people get ill.”
Hamid-Balma and her colleagues at CMHA BC have been part of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Substance Use Information, or the BC Partners, since 2003. They are a group of seven non-profits who believe they can accomplish more together than apart, and who share the same goals of promoting mental wellness through education, literacy and knowledge exchange.
"Knowing that what you’re experiencing might not just be ups and downs, that it might be something different, is key."
The coalition is funded and stewarded by BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, part of the Provincial Health Services Authority, as part of its provincial mandate to promote mental wellness, fight stigma, contribute to knowledge exchange about mental health and substance use, and ultimately act as a vital provincial resource for mental health and substance use professionals.
One of the BC Partners’ key projects is called Beyond the Blues, an annual campaign established in 1995 that encourages people to learn more about mental health and related issues like risky substance use. At education and screening sites, attendees can watch videos, play games, and take part in other activities to learn more about stress, mood and anxiety problems, effective treatments, supports and self-care.
They can also fill out a short self-test on various aspects of mental well-being and substance use, talk privately with a clinician about next steps, and find out about local community resources and supports. The events are free, anonymous, confidential and walk-in.
The Canadian Institute for Substance Use Research, another one of the BC Partners, partners with CMHA BC on Beyond the Blues. Last year, Anxiety Canada and the BC Schizophrenia Society, two other BC Partners, also collaborated on the project.
Beyond the Blues represents only one of several projects that the BC Partners have recently identified as key provincial priorities.
Two other priority projects that all the BC Partners contribute to include the HeretoHelp information website and Visions: BC’s Mental Health and Substance Use Journal. Funding is provided by BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services, which creates even more opportunities for collaboration, resource sharing, and other provincial partnerships.
“Having access to different networks and professionals and family members has helped strengthen the magazine,” Hamid-Balma said. “I definitely see the value of the partners and I hope we continue to grow and collaborate.”
CMHA BC often has access to more resources that many of the smaller partners, some of which grew out of grassroots organizations. Thanks to the partnership, all of the BC Partners can benefit from those resources. CMHA BC will often include information about the BC Partners in displays at strategic events like the Nurse Practitioners Conference.
"We do know from research that the more people that you know who have been helped, who have sought help, the more likely you are to seek help."
Although encouraging progress has been made, there’s still lots of work for all the BC Partners to do to end stigma, Hamid-Balma says.
“We do know from research that the more people that you know who have been helped, who have sought help, the more likely you are to seek help. We have this kind of invisible army of people who could be champions for recovery but would rather not, because discrimination is still real. People still use pseudonyms in our magazine. They wouldn’t do that if they had, say, diabetes. It’s happening less than it used to, but we still have a far way to go.”
This is part six in our series on the BC Partners. Learn more: