GRAND FALLS-WINDSOR, NL – It can be difficult for people dealing with mental health issues to reach out for help, but it’s easier if the person listening has struggled too.
Consumer Health Awareness Network Newfoundland and Labrador (CHANNAL) – a grassroots, non-profit charity run for and by individuals with mental health issues – recognizes that nobody relates to what you are going through better than someone who has been there.
In an effort to help more people, the organization held an open house on March 7 to combat the stigma associated with mental illness.
“What we're doing today is for Stigma Awareness Week,” said Lisarae Girvan, regional peer support specialist for CHANNAL. “It's just to get the word out there so people are aware of how they're treating others, stigmatizing things. It could be words; it could be actions or behaviors.”
Nearly 30 people, all with their own personal stories, made their way through the open house.
“It's breaking those barriers down so people know everyone has something different,” said Girvan. “We're all individuals, we're all unique. It's to take the judgment and stigma out of things.”
Anyone who works with CHANNAL has had experience with mental health struggles.
“We're here not to counsel you, not to be the doctors – that has its place,” said Girvan. “We're here for that support, helping anybody that has been through situations and circumstances and are dealing with … their mental health.”
Anyone struggling with mental health is welcome to drop into the CHANNAL support group, which meets twice a month, and to attend other activities the group hosts.
“We replace judgment with curiosity,” said Girvan. “It's about supporting each other. Many people say they are like-minded; they may not be identical but they're in similar situations and there's no judgment. It's like that warm cup of tea at the end of the day when you come in.”
For many, that space to feel understood and heard and supported has made all the difference.
“This has helped me through circumstances when I had nobody to voice my concerns to,” said Krysta Crane-Simms, a child and youth care worker at the Hope Valley Treatment Centre. “Basically with depression and anxiety you really don't have anybody, and yes, I have great friends and they have supported me time and time again, but they couldn't understand. The people here have that empathy because they know what you're going through.”
The dozen people in attendance sat facing each other as they described their feelings and problems. The heavy mood was lightened up when one participant changed the conversation to involve cat litter. Teary eyes quickly dried as those present laughed together.
Crane-Simms has been attending the support group for over three months. She said she knows who to call when she needs help.
“It's about what works for people and growing from there,” said Girvan. “Change your life, support your life with the things you do have and how you work through that to make it great for you.
“Life isn't about waiting for the storm to pass; it's learning to dance in the rain.”
Anyone needing assistance can call the CHANNAL Peer Support Warm Line at 1-855-753-2560. Those looking to drop in locally for peer support can call Lisarae Girvan at 709-489-0035.