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Making it easier to say ‘I need help’

​Stigma is one of the biggest obstacles when it comes to seeking help for mental health issues. Couple that stigma with other problems, such as poverty, and you have an even stronger barrier to getting help for a mental illness.
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"There can be cost-prohibitive factors, or geographic factors, or just the fact of being intimidated by the idea of leaving your home if you're dealing with anxiety or depression," said Megan Kriger, the director of health for The Lookout Housing and Health Society's Mood Disorders Association of British Columbia, which is one of the BC Partners for Mental Health and Substance Use Information.

"But there's a lot of shame that comes with saying, 'In addition to how my life may be tough on a day-to-day-basis, now I need additional support.'" 

In 2016, the Mood Disorders Association of BC merged with Lookout Housing and Health Society. Lookout has helped people who are vulnerable and marginalized, and who often have issues with poverty and housing. Over the years, however, Lookout has realized that the people it supports also need health services. Today, thanks in part to the merger, in addition to housing and shelter programs, Lookout's services also include harm-reduction programs, supervised consumption sites, and medical and dental clinics.

"Putting a roof over a person's head is one piece of the puzzle," Kriger said. "We also want to provide support for that person, so they can be well and potentially make better life choices and be self-sustaining."

Mood disorder and other mental health treatment and services

The Mood Disorders Association of BC hosts an adult psychiatric clinic as well as a counselling and wellness centre (both located at the agency's West Pender Street location). The organization treats people with mental health conditions such as depression, anxiety, bipolar disorders and substance use. Counsellors have training in a variety of therapeutic models, including cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT), eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR), process-oriented therapy, solution focused therapy (SFT), dialectical behavioural therapy (DBT), positive psychology, and mindfulness-based approaches. 

The association also offers repetitive transcranial magnetic stimulation (rTMS), a treatment that uses an electromagnetic coil to deliver pulses to the brain to change the way in which one deals with depression and anxiety. 

BC Partners: Health literacy and stigma reduction

Besides offering treatment, the association is also dedicated to health literacy and destigmatizing mental illness. It shares these goals with the BC Partners, a coalition of seven non-profit organizations led by BC Mental Health and Substance Use Services. Other partners include the BC Schizophrenia Society and Anxiety Canada. Together, the partners contribute to projects such as the Here to Help information website and the quarterly publication Visions: BC's Mental Health and Substance Use Journal.

With the support of BC Partners, the Mood Disorders Association also sponsors initiatives such as Speakers Bureau, its public awareness program. 

"Speakers go out to various agencies and organizations and speak about their lived experience when it comes to mental health and mood disorders," said Darryl Lucas, the association's manager.

Speakers include people like Kim, an aspiring actress who experienced "violent ups and downs" and was told by her doctor that she couldn't be treated because she was pregnant; and Derek, who takes the some of the stigma out of his condition with humour. Explaining why his bipolar disorder has been a blessing, he tells the audience, "I get half-price off bowling, and free shoe rentals!"

Peer support

The association also organizes peer-led support groups throughout the province. Their website describes the groups as "a safe place to share your story, your struggles and accomplishments, and to listen to others as they share similar concerns." By promoting "a sense of belonging, informal education about your mental health challenges, and the support of others who have 'been there,'" the groups encourage people to take that next step: to seek help. 

"It's one thing for an administrator or even a public figure to come forward," Kriger said. "That might work with a certain demographic. But for somebody who's gone through the process, who's reached out and been vulnerable and said, 'I need some extra support' and had a positive reaction, that can have a big impact. I think that's why our peer facilitators have been so successful. If somebody else who's been in a similar situation can do it, our clients are more likely to do it."

This is part three in our series on the BC Partners:

anxiety; addiction; BC Partners
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