Northern mental health services unique
DEALING WITH MENTAL ILLNESS.
Producer/director Laura Sky speaks to front line workers about dealing with mental illness both in people they encounter and in themselves and coworkers at a conference featuring her documentary "Crisis Call."
Photo by Jennifer Bowman
February 27, 2013
MUSKOKA/PARRY SOUND - Mental health services are strong in Muskoka despite government cutbacks, according to an award-winning film director and producer.
Laura Sky has completed a number of documentaries on social ills, one of which was used in a presentation by the producer at a workshop in Minett on Tuesday, Feb. 19.
The workshop addressed the question of whether there is any way to prevent a mental health crisis from escalating to violence.
Sky has been to the Parry Sound area twice within the last year, and following the workshop, she lauded the skill, capacity and resourcefulness of Muskoka, Parry Sound and the near north in their unique way of dealing with mental illness.
“So even though the system is really full of craters … the notion of people doing their best here is in a whole other place than it is in other places,” she said.
With fewer facilities in rural areas, and those that exist spread farther apart, dealing with mental health illness creates different challenges.
“They (local mental health workers) often are all coping with an inadequate system, so they help each other find the best way to offer the most they can. That’s very unique in this area of the world (in northern communities) … is the informal support systems they have in doing front-line work, it’s very impressive,” Sky said.
The event was organized in part to bring front-line workers representing a variety of agencies from Muskoka to Timmins together to collaborate, get to know each other and ensure there are no redundancies in the system.
Ann Swallow, executive director of Victim Services for Parry Sound and the organizer of the event said with limited resources and increasing government cutbacks for social programs, the agencies often call on their creativity and each other to make ends meet.
“We learn how to manage the situation, and if we can’t, we know who to phone, we know who to refer to,” she said.
“It’s not as convenient as having things funded at an adequate level, it takes a lot more work, a lot more resources other than money,” she said, “however I can’t think of one agency that I work with that turns people away. We’ll do whatever we have to do to meet the needs, not comfortably.”
At the conference, workers from fire services, long-term care homes, students, victim-service organizations and district social services watched parts of Sky’s documentary Crisis Call. The film showed interviews with police who often encounter people struggling with mental illness, as well as interviews with those suffering mental illness including Shaun Davis, a 20 year old with mental health issues who caused a bus accident that killed an elderly woman.
Scott Grandy, a Parry Sound carpenter, attended the conference with his girlfriend who is attending university for social work.
He was impacted by the human edge of the documentary, hearing the police side of the story as well as those with mental illness.
“Growing up in Parry Sound you know who they (those with mental illness) all were, but you never thought what they go through,” Grandy said.
He recalls a man who regularly fainted on the street.
“The local people would say, ‘get up G--,’ but the tourists would freak out, so they’d phone the police,” he said.
His girlfriend, Kasia Oxley, was also impacted by the video which showed the treatment some with mental health issues suffer in the prison system because society doesn’t know what to do with them.
“It’s not only about people who are crazy or violent,” she said, “but it’s just people who are desperate and they’re in an environment that does not help them get better. And they need to be helped on many facets.”
Swallow said there is still stigma around mental health issues, but the area has made a huge step in overcoming its fear of the term.
“We have become more educated around mental health, we’re no longer afraid of it,” Swallow said.
She included issues such as deep grief and post traumatic stress syndrome which can affect some of those working on the front lines, who help others with their mental illnesses.
Swallow is looking ahead to lean years in the future.
“There are going to be more and more fiscal restraints, so what we’ve got, we’ve got to utilize to the best of our abilities,” she said.
She seeks out government grants to provide opportunities such as the conference for agencies and individuals to increase their professional development. The money for this workshop came from a $33,000 grant from the Canadian Department of Justice.
Government cutbacks and limited resources mean agencies depend on grants to further their professional development. Funding becomes a challenge because the government pays according to the permanent population, and the agencies find it difficult to tap into seasonal residents for fundraising.
“They’re on vacation, they don’t really want to talk about social issues,” Swallow said.
That means agencies have to find other ways to make do. Creativity is key.
“How do we do more with less? Whether we like it of not, we’ve been put in that situation and we can’t turn anyone away, it’s not in our nature,” Swallow said.
Though Sky said there is an institutional “macho-ness” in the area, she remains impressed.
“I love coming to the north, it’s just that there’s so much serious, thoughtful…. People are trying to make sense of what’s happening and what to do about it, and that’s a pretty great combination,” she said.
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