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For many with mental illness, it’s no holiday

This can be a difficult time of year — but there is help

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FOR many people, the holiday period is a stressful time filled with pushing your way through shopping malls to buy presents, rushing to visit family and friends and trying to find the time to do everything.

Imagine what it’s like if you’re also struggling with mental illness.

"It’s a difficult time of year to manage," says Kate Reid.

"I got an enormous amount of help with dealing with the holiday times. There isn’t much reprieve between New Year’s and Valentine’s Day."

Reid had a breakdown and faced depression and severe anxiety in 2006.

"That seems to be a common one in the community — I get anxiety when I’m in large crowds."

Reid said the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Winnipeg branch and its workers were a godsend to her, both at the time and getting her to where she is today.

"The CMHA offers tips for people to ease the sense of loneliness and how also not to be overwhelmed," she said. Nicole Chammartin, executive director of the CMHA’s Winnipeg region, explained its function this way: "We focus on helping people and particularly in Winnipeg. We do it through information, referral, education, one-to-one, and group services among other things. What makes the CMHA different is we are the only non-profit that focuses on everybody with mental health issues.

"It is a really big mandate."

The CMHA’s Winnipeg region was incorporated in 1984. It is governed by a board of directors with a mission statement of being "part of a nationwide charitable organization that promotes the mental health of all and supports the resilience and recovery of people experiencing mental illness."

Its office is at 930 Portage Ave., inside the former CJOB building.

The services it provides include:

Rights consultation, where a consultant can give advice on the choices open if a person has a problem or complaint about where they are living or working or a system they are involved in.

Information and referral service, to tell people experiencing mental health problems where they can get services and supports. It helped 195 people last year.

Rehabilitation and recovery service to help people work on goals in housing, education, employment, and socializing.

Mindfulness-based stress reduction, which helps people learn to focus awareness on body sensations, thoughts and emotions in a non-judgmental way. The program is eight weeks long, and there is also a five-day intensive retreat starting April 29. For more information, call 204-982-6100.

It’s an organization that is needed. One in five Canadians have mental health problems. A study done two years ago found one in three Manitobans are either facing mental health problems or supporting someone who is.

Chammartin said it is even worse in prison, where about 70 per cent of those incarcerated have a mental illness.

"I don’t think people realize how common it is," she said.

"And it is becoming more common, because we know the numbers are rising with our youth. We are facing a tsunami of depression... but recovery is possible for everyone. We just have to get help to them."

She said about 2,000 people walk through their doors seeking help every year.

"They are people trying to figure out where to go for service," she said.

"We figure out who in the system will help you. We know the system inside and out."

Chammartin said they also receive calls from doctors who are inquiring where they can send their patients needing help.

She said the biggest obstacles to people seeking help is stigma and perception.

"People are afraid... it takes strength to deal with it. There’s a cure for stigma and we can fix it tomorrow, but it is a massive dragon to slay. We need perceptions to change right now."

The CMHA has been funded by the United Way of Winnipeg since the early 1980s and also receives funding from the Winnipeg Regional Health Authority to publish its Mental Health Resource Guide and to fund its rehabilitation and recovery service.

It holds several fundraisers and celebrations through the year including its Heroes of Mental Health Awards luncheon, an Awareness Walk during the summer, and Mental Health week. It accepts tax deductible donations.

People can help the CMHA by joining and being able to vote at meetings. It costs $20 per year to join, or $2.50 for those on a limited income. The CMHA charges $25 for a corporation or organization to join.

Chammartin said you don’t have to be a member of the CMHA to access services, but while the majority of its services are free, some of its general public courses have fees to recover the cost.

Reid said she credits the staff at the Victoria General Hospital with pointing her towards the CMHA.

"I will never be able to say enough good things about my treatment at Victoria Hospital and the staff, including the nurses," she said.

"From the moment I stayed on the ward, it was the safest I felt in months. A staff member there said the CMHA would be ideal for me.

"I walked into the CMHA office within a day of getting out."

Reid said the CMHA paired her up with a staff member. "I got along very well with him. I felt I could discuss anything with him."

One of the best things the CMHA did for Reid was put her in a goal program to look at her life and the work she was doing.

"I decided where I was working was not going to be a great place to continue, but my skill set was for that work. I needed a new direction. If you’re going to put energy into your career, you want to pick something you are passionate about."

For Reid, who had spent several years working in the financial world at banks, her passion is to be in the classroom.

"I have identified I want to teach and be an educator," she said, adding she is about halfway through university studying toward her goal.

Reid thanks the CMHA for everything it has done for her.

"If they had not been there, I don’t know if I would have won my fight," she said.

"That’s how important they were for me."

For more information visit the CMHA website: http://www.cmhawpg.mb.ca/

kevin.rollason@freepress.mb.ca

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