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October 2020

Great West Newspaper: Struggling For Hope – Part 8

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The Thumbs Up Foundation is honoured to support Great West Newspaper’s “Struggling For Hope” 8-part series. Journalist Jennifer Henderson investigates the relationship between the mental health of Albertans and our economy.

Thanks to the network of participating papers in the Thumbs Up sponsored features:

AirdrieToday.com
AlbertaPrimeTimes.com
CochraneToday.ca
LakelandToday.ca
MountainviewToday.ca
OkotoksToday.ca
RMOToday.com
StAlbertToday.ca
TownandCountryToday.com

A HUGE thank you to all involved!!

Part 8 – ‘I couldn’t reach him any more’: Substance use rises with recession, pandemic

This is the eighth part of Struggling for Hope, a special feature series examining the intersections between economic instability and mental health needs. Read our introduction to the series here.

“I miss the person he was when we first met. I miss my friend.”

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Marcel Belland, top left, is seen in this family photo with Jillian Bourgeois and their two sons, Brody and Benjamin. Marcel died by suicide in March after years of battling alcoholism. JILLIAN BOURGEOIS/Photo

Marcel Belland was like two different people: he was an outgoing, charming, friendly, fun-loving, kind and gentle man for most of his life. But after his anxiety, depression and addiction to alcohol escalated, he became unhappy, introverted, isolated and hard to reach.

The pain of living became too much to bear and in March 2020 he took his own life.

Jillian Bourgeois, Belland’s widow, said she knew deep down he didn’t want to be so sick and unwell, but Belland struggled to get the help he needed for his addiction and mental health.

“There is no way the man that I married didn’t want to get help,” Bourgeois said.

Bourgeois and Belland met when they were just 18 years old and fell in love. The couple married in 2004 and Belland was healthy and happy until 2013.

Bourgeois first started to see signs of anxiety and depression from her husband after her two sons, Benjamin, 11, and Brody, 9, were born.

Belland struggled to cope with the stress of having two kids and the financial burden on the family after Bourgeois took two maternity leaves back-to-back.

“I started noticing changes that were loss of friendships and increased stress on our marriage,” Bourgeois said.

The changes were small and gradual. Belland had always been a heavy drinker during his life, but Bourgeois didn’t think too much of it for most of their time together. Bourgeois had originally chalked it up to the trades culture he was in and coming from a family that drank more regularly than her own. His drinking was also normalized by a group of friends who drank as much as he did.

Now, looking back, she sees 2011 as the beginning of his struggles.

“I noticed changes in his personality, because he was always a very fun-loving, easygoing guy, kind and gentle, and his personality was changing, where he was more … more introverted, harder to reach, always being alone,” Bourgeois said.

“It’s very gradual, and subtle … until eventually (it reached) the point that it was a change that you couldn’t go back from. I couldn’t reach him any more.”

Belland started becoming unhappy in his job, and in 2015 switched from being a heavy duty mechanic to working on the sales side of his company, but he found the transition difficult.

Alberta’s economy had recently crashed and making a sale was hard. Belland went from a job he was experienced in to becoming a rookie who was struggling to make money.

“It was just a struggle from the get-go,” Bourgeois said.

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Marcel Belland and his two sons, Brody and Benjamin. JILLIAN BOURGEOIS/Photo

Belland was also the kind of person who worked well with a structured schedule – having to be at work from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. – and suddenly his schedule had loosened up and his job was more flexible. He was driving around trying to build relationships and make sales, but Bourgeois said he would start to come home at lunch and have a beer and nobody would know.

The problem was made worse by the wine-and-dine culture of sales, and Belland would regularly take his clients out to dinner and drinks, feeding his growing addiction.

“It’s very much the culture of those jobs and that doesn’t help for somebody who’s susceptible to alcoholism,” Bourgeois said.

His difficulty making sales in a highly competitive field hit his self-esteem, Bourgeois added.

“It also contributed to the depression – just not feeling like you’re good enough.”

Bourgeois worked as an appraiser at the time, which was a stressful job as well. The combination of family and work stress drove Belland deeper into his depression and he became more reliant on alcohol.

“I think that it was the combination of (it all) that tipped the scales and he reached a point of no return,” Bourgeois said, adding he was also treating some trauma through his drinking.

By 2016, Belland was no longer working and was spending his days at home drinking. By 2017, his alcoholism had taken over.

“It was textbook – the downward spiral of how it takes over your life and that’s when you know that it needs professional help,” Bourgeois said.

The mom struggled to take care of the family financially, while also taking over all of the childcare of their two sons, because Belland was withdrawing and not able to help.

“He was just very angry,” Bourgeois said.

Belland got medication for his depression and anxiety, as well as sleep medication, but that didn’t help the situation. The father didn’t take the meds properly and would take an extra sleeping pill at 4 a.m. if he couldn’t sleep – then would end up sleeping all day.

Eventually, he started living his life at night while the rest of the family was living during the day, and would spend much of his time outside smoking, marking a big increase in his nicotine consumption. His and Bourgeois’ daytime interactions became increasingly more volatile, exploding into fights where objects got thrown and items got broken.

“We had to leave, because it wasn’t safe any more for me and my boys. It just was not healthy for the boys. He was unpredictable and fights were getting escalating to the point that it just wasn’t safe any more,” Bourgeois said.

The mom had to leave her husband with no job and no way to support himself, but she couldn’t stay in the house any more.

After 2017, Belland moved in with his mom and went to rehab several times.

“There would be periods of good, like where you can tell that he was good, and then periods where you could just tell that he was drinking again, or not taking the meds at the end,” Bourgeois said.

Eulogy for Marcel Belland

This is not the first time I (we) have had to grieve the loss of Marcel. We really lost him about 4-5 years ago when the depression, anxiety, and addiction took over his body and all of our lives. It began to define him. He was overcome by a series of problems that had to be dealt with. You couldn’t see Marcel anymore – just the problems caused by the illness.

I had to make some really hard decisions for me and the boys at that time. We had to sell our house and many of our material possessions, I changed career paths, the boys changed schools, and we had to let go of a dream of a certain type of family and future.

Now, today, we are gathered here together grieving the death of Marcel.

When someone chooses to die by suicide it leaves the rest of us asking “Why”? “How could you want to do this?”.

So, in my early morning – can’t sleep – Google searches for the answers to life’s hardest questions, I came across an analogy that gave me a sense of peace and I would like to share it with you.

“People who choose to die by suicide are afraid of death, but it is the lesser of two evils. Compare it to a burning building in which a person is afraid to jump, but they are also afraid of burning to death.

“Make no mistake about people who leap from burning buildings. Their terror of falling from a great height is still just as great as it would be for you or me standing speculatively at the same window just checking the view. The variable here is the other terror, the fire’s flames: when the flames get close enough, falling to death becomes the slightly less terrible of two terrors. It’s not desiring the fall; it’s terror of the flames.”

Ultimately, for Marcel, the flames that raged in his mind were worse than the fear of falling to his death.

At this time of grieving Marcel’s death, I can tell you that I feel a sense of hope. It is as though through this tragedy, we will get him back now. Instead of the torment and problems caused by the mental health issues – I can have my memories of the man I fell in love with and married. The loving father of these two beautiful boys and the fun adventures and times that we did have as a young couple and then as a family.

When I shared the news of his passing to my friends and family – the most common response I received was, “You all did not deserve this”.

For me this is the truest response. We did not deserve this. Marcel did not deserve this. Just like any other person or family who is faced with cancer, Alzheimer’s, a heart disease or whatever else does not deserve those fates.

This is our story.

Thank-you sincerely for showing up and being here for us today and holding Marcel and all of us close in your hearts.

Thank-you to my family who has been my pillars of support through everything. You have kept me strong and helped me and the boys through this never failing to be there when we needed you.

Thank-you to all of our old friends who stuck by us through this all. You were not afraid to be there during difficult times. Thank-you to my new friends who agreed to take me on despite difficult times. This would have been unsurmountable without any of you.

This is the eulogy Jillian Bourgeois wrote and read at Marcel’s funeral, shared here with her permission.

Recession increases drinking

Ehsan Latif, economics professor at Thompson Rivers University, studied the link between recessions and drinking and smoking habits of Canadians. Latif said during a recession, people are more likely to increase their binge drinking and smoking habits.

Latif found when unemployment rates increase, binge drinking habits – characterized as consuming more than five drinks in a sitting – also increase across the population. Nicotine consumption increases, too, but only for those who are already smokers.

Latif said the 2015 recession didn’t create new drinkers in society, because most of the population already drinks.

“It’s because of mental stress. They want a way to survive or find some mental relief through drinking,” Latif said.

Smoking can also be a mental relief for those who already have an addiction to nicotine, Latif said.

Another reason people are more likely to drink and smoke is because they lose hope and are less concerned about their health in the future.

“If people become unemployed for a long term of time with no job, then they become so frustrated and … they aren’t concerned about the future outlook – it’s not a rosy outlook, so they don’t care about the future and what will happen to their health,” Latif explained.

Latif found the results were more pronounced in men, but mostly because past recessions across Canada have impacted men more than women, including mass layoffs in the oil and gas industry in Alberta or the manufacturing industry in Ontario. During the COVID-19 pandemic, by contrast, Latif said women are being impacted more than men so he isn’t sure how this current health crisis and economic downturn will impact the smoking and drinking habits of men and women.

The study wasn’t specific to those who were unemployed, but looked at overall population rates of drinking and smoking during a recession. Latif said those who are unemployed may have more time to drink and smoke because of being laid off, but those two habits are expensive, and they will have less money to spend on their habits, so it is unlikely that drives the increase in rates.

In 2017, overall substance use cost Canadians almost $46 billion, led to more than 275,000 hospitalizations and contributed to the loss of nearly 75,000 lives.

Alcohol is the most popularly used psychoactive drug used in Canada aside from caffeine, and drinking alcohol was the top risk factor for poor health in people ages 15 to 49 years in 2010.

Increased drinking can result in a wide range of negative impacts on society, including increased rates of premature death, disability and disease, impaired driving, reduced productivity, a burdened health care system and high financial costs to individuals and society.

In 2002, 4,258 deaths in Canada were related to alcohol abuse, representing 1.9 per cent of all deaths. The economic costs associated with alcohol consumption sit at $14.6 billion and an additional $5.9 billion to lost productivity, $4.2 billion to healthcare and $3.2 billion to criminal justice.

In 2011, alcohol-related disorders were the top cause of psychoactive drug hospitalization in Canada and around 78 per cent of the general population aged 15 and over reported alcohol use.

Other drugs and the economy

While there is a lot of data on alcohol consumption, Latif said the consumption rates of other drugs are hard to study, because most, excluding cannabis, are illegal and tracking the increase or decrease in market is challenging.

Emma Buhr, a 20-year-old Albertan who works at Costco, said her consumption of cannabis increased since the beginning of the pandemic because of the stress of her job and having to delay her education.

“I think I’ve smoked weed every day for the past five months,” Buhr told Great West Newspapers.

Research shows cannabis is one of the most commonly used substances in Canada, with 15.6 per cent of all Canadians reporting having used the drug in the past three months.

“This isn’t a good use of my money, or it’s not a good idea in the long run. But I really can’t see how I’m going to spend my days without it,” Buhr said.

Buhr has been smoking weed since she was 16, but she was always able to step away from it and take breaks for weeks at a time.

“But then ever since the pandemic, the thought of me going two days without smoking weed, it just – it frustrates me and I don’t think that those days will be easy,” Buhr said.

When the pandemic hit, Buhr’s job suddenly became very stressful. The 20-year-old was tasked with ensuring people were social distancing, wearing masks, not bring in their reusable bags and bringing in only two members of their family at a time, all while the public was scared and shoppers were taking out their frustrations on her.

On top of the work stress, Buhr was upset because she had to put her education. As a hands-on learner, she couldn’t do online classes.

“I just felt like at the end of every night after work, it was the only way I could go to sleep and I felt almost as if I earned it, because I worked eight hours, putting my health and safety at risk – like the least I owe myself is to unwind,” Buhr said.

When it comes to opioids, a strong link has been found between recessions and an increase of opioid deaths. Research spanning from 1999 to 2014 found when house prices drop, opioid deaths increased significantly. Other research has found links between opioid use and unemployment. Overall consumption of drugs has increased during times of economic recessions, with many authors suggesting the increased psychological distress from heightened unemployment leads people to lean on drugs to cope.

Lean on old habits

Rolando Hyman, a therapist based out of Fort McMurray who treats addiction, said when times get hard, many people fall back into their old habits to cope with their stress.

“As things become more intense, people tend to fall back into old behaviours,” Hyman said.

People who are in recovery from substance use may be doing OK, but when life starts to get challenging, like losing a job or having financial struggles, they may fall back into their default mode.

“Sometimes it’s not choice, but just by circumstance,” Hyman said.

Hyman said those who may be new to recovery, haven’t developed a good self-care routine and don’t have strong, healthy natural supports in their lives to lean on may be more likely to fall back into their old habits.

Right now, due to the recession and pandemic, Hyman said demand for services has increased and he said he could be treating people every day, all day if possible. At the beginning of the pandemic, the rush for services wasn’t as strong, but now that we are eight months in, people are starting to need new coping mechanisms and support.

In Fort McMurray, Hyman said there is also a high demand for services when the economy is booming.

“When things are great, there is more money,” he explained, noting the population in the area may favour drugs that quickly leave the system, like cocaine, so they can go back to work and pass a drug test.

Society has also normalized excessive alcohol and drug use, Hyman said, making unhealthy habits part of regular socialization. The need for people to belong and the fear of missing out may drive people to use more substances than they are comfortable with just to fit in.

When people do reach a harmful and unhealthy level of substance consumption, it can be hard for them to reach out and get help.

“There is a certain amount of pride that goes with it, and sometimes the hardest step of the process for those who struggle with substances is to step forward and say, ‘I need help,’” Hyman said.

Hard on the family

In 2012, 18.1 per cent of Canadians met the criteria for alcohol abuse or dependence at some time in their lives, many of which were in that past year. This number grew to 19 per cent in 2016.

But behind every person struggling with substances is a family struggling to support their loved one.

Lerena Greig, executive director of Parents Empowering Parents, said their evidence-based support program for family members trying to help people coping with addiction is important to keep those families healthy.

“Addiction is a family illness. It impacts not just the parents – it impacts the siblings, it impacts the grandparents, it impacts the caregivers, the aunts and uncles,” Greig said.

“What happens with addiction is if you don’t have some knowledge and some education on how to keep yourself healthy, in the midst of supporting your loved one, you can get co-sick. So what happens is the cycle has an opportunity to continue because everybody’s getting sick in the midst of it.”

Greig said when the economy is both good and bad, they see an increase in people attending their support groups.

“When things are good, when money is flowing, (the) addiction rate is high. When things are bad and the economy is slow, addiction rates are high,” Greig said.

But Greig said it is more complex than just an economic issue – there are multiple ways to get addicted and there are multiple ways to get into recovery.

“A lot of the basis with addiction is escapism,” Greig said, mainly escapism from pain.

Families can come to the group and learn how to not let their loved ones’ addiction take over their life.

“We can educate people on the things that they need to do and put into place right and come back to health. Because you can interfere in their addiction when you’re healthy,” Greig said.

But for all those who are reaching out, Greig said other families are feeling shame and are afraid to ask for help. Greig said their internal research found some families visited their website for six months before reaching out and joining the group.

Since COVID-19 started, Greig said they are seeing an increase in their attendance, but Greig said that could be due to becoming more well-known due to an increase in funding and becoming more accessible to people across the province thanks to hosting their meetings online.

COVID-19 and substances

For anyone suffering from substance use disorders, Hyman and Greig both said the isolation and cultural disconnection will make it more challenging to stay mentally well and sober.

Canadian report on the state of public health released this week shows that across the country residents are struggling with mental health and addiction.

While the majority of Canadians over the age of 15 didn’t change their substance consumption in the early days of the pandemic, some did report an increase in alcohol (14 per cent), cannabis (6.5 per cent) or tobacco (3.3 per cent) consumption. People between the ages of 15 and 34 were more likely to increase their consumption and those with already poor mental health were more likely to increase their substance use.

People with existing substance use disorders felt an additional strain due to social distancing and limited trips outside of the home, which may have reduced access to services like support groups.

While these restrictions were hard on everyone struggling with substance use disorders, those facing opioid addictions were hit even harder, making the opioid crisis worse across all of Canada.

Before the pandemic, there had been a 13-per-cent decrease in opioid overdose deaths in Canada between 2018 and 2019, particularly in Alberta and British Columbia, but the pandemic has set back that progress with an increase in deaths due to the crisis. One of the reasons opioid poisoning deaths have increased is due to the increasing toxicity of the the illegal drug supply since the start of the pandemic.

While British Columbia has been hit the hardest, Alberta has seen an increase in deaths since the pandemic began. In the first six months of 2020, data shows 449 people have died from an apparent unintentional opioid poisoning.

In the most recent quarter, 284 people have died from an apparent unintentional fentanyl-related poisoning, compared to 130 people in the previous quarter. Alberta saw a significant increase in opioid-related deaths in the three-month period from April to June this year (301 total), up from the previously recorded high of 211 deaths in a three-month period in 2018.

And while COVID-19 makes it more difficult to cope with substance use issues because of isolation and decreased access to services, those who use substances are at a greater risk of contracting COVID-19 and having severe outcomes.

Grief and heartbreak

For those left behind after a life ends from substance use, they struggle with grief, anger, guilt and heartbreak.

After the years of watching her husband suffer and try to support him, Bourgeois said she felt like she lost her husband all over again when he died.

“I really do feel like we lost Marcel two times – once to the mental health and addiction and then again when he took his life in March 2020,” Bourgeois said.

The mom of two boys, now 9 and 11 years old, has found good resources and support, like Stop Abuse In Families and Al-Anon, and wants to keep talking about mental health and addiction to raise awareness and reduce the shame and stigma.

“I think the only way we’re going to get out of it is if we talk about it,” Bourgeois said.

Bourgeois said there needs to be more support for people suffering from substance use disorders because families can’t support them on their own. When the worst case scenario happens and a loved one dies, the families are left picking up the pieces of their lives.

“We miss him dearly, even though the past two to three years were unbelievably hard and it is very frustrating to deal with a person caught in the throes of addiction and depression and anxiety. I miss the person he was when we first met. I miss my friend.”

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Great West Newspapers, covering rural Alberta issues.

Resources

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, you can call Alberta’s 24-hour mental health helpline 1-877-303-2642. The addiction helpline can be reached at 1-866-332-2322 and is also available 24/7. If you are having suicidal thoughts or you know someone who is, you can get help by calling the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1-833-456-4566 or by texting 45645. Alberta’s community and social services helpline can be reached by dialing 211. The 24-hour distress line is 780-482-4357 (HELP). The rural distress line for northern Alberta is 1-800-232-7288. If you or someone you know is at risk of an immediate crisis, call 911.
Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporterAbout the Author: Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Great West Newspapers based in St. Albert, Alta. Read more

Source: St. Alberta Today

Great West Newspaper: Struggling For Hope – Part 7

By | Uncategorized

The Thumbs Up Foundation is honoured to support Great West Newspaper’s “Struggling For Hope” 8-part series. Journalist Jennifer Henderson investigates the relationship between the mental health of Albertans and our economy.

Thanks to the network of participating papers in the Thumbs Up sponsored features:

AirdrieToday.com
AlbertaPrimeTimes.com
CochraneToday.ca
LakelandToday.ca
MountainviewToday.ca
OkotoksToday.ca
RMOToday.com
StAlbertToday.ca
TownandCountryToday.com

A HUGE thank you to all involved!!

Part 7 – ‘It did get taken out on me’: Domestic abuse climbs during economic downturn, pandemic

This is the seventh part of Struggling for Hope, a special feature series examining the intersections between economic instability and mental health needs. Read our introduction to the series here.

The 2015 spike in abuse Palmer experienced was not rare for people suffering from abuse across the province.

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Angela Palmer spent years in an abusive relationship before leaving with her children. JENNIFER HENDERSON/St. Albert Gazette

Angela Palmer found herself in a cycle of domestic abuse with her former partner, which drove her into a deep depression and suicide attempt in 2015.

Palmer, whose name has been changed to protect her identity, had been with her partner for over 10 years and they had several children together, but the abuse led her to eventually leave her partner and take her children with her.

“About five years ago I found myself in a recurring cycle. My partner would use drugs, and every time it would come up, I end up leaving and going and staying at a family member’s house,” Palmer said.

“It was always the lash-outs. I was always the problem.”

During that relationship, Palmer spent time in safe houses and kept a bug-out bag in her vehicle in case she had to leave and didn’t have time to pack her things.

“It’s been a rocky road,” she said.

Palmer’s former partner has a brain injury and struggled with substance abuse. All along, she said it felt like she was dating two different people.

“There was this good guy and then there was the bad guy.”

When Palmer’s former partner would use drugs, his personality would change, and she could immediately tell he was going to start becoming abusive.

During the cycle, Palmer would suffer from verbal, emotional, financial and some physical abuse.

“Sometimes I did fear for my life. And I knew that I couldn’t be there.”

Palmer’s former partner worked in the oil and gas industry on the rigs while she was the stay-at-home parent. He struggled when the industry slowed down and his work and income dried up.

Around four years ago, he went into heavy duty equipment operation – but that came with its own struggles. The work was seasonal, and rainy or wet conditions could shut him down.“That does put a toll on somebody when they’re trying to support a family and pay for stuff,” Palmer said – and he directed his stress toward her.

“I think it did get taken out on me.”

In 2015, as oil prices plunged and a recession swept into Alberta, Palmer attempted to take her own life.

“There were a couple times where I felt like taking my own life. Five years ago, I did attempt it once and failed, thankfully,” Palmer said.

Economic impacts

The 2015 spike in abuse Palmer experienced was not rare for people suffering from abuse across the province.

In Calgary, a correlation was found between dropping oil prices and a rise in calls for support for domestic violence, with every $10 U.S. fall in the price of West Texas Intermediate (WTI) resulting in an extra call for help every two days.

Lana Wells, an associate professor at the University of Calgary and the Brenda Strafford Chair in the Prevention of Domestic Violence at the Faculty of Social Work, said economic conditions are one of the many factors that may impact domestic violence.

“That added stress – it’s not an excuse, but it’s a contributing factor,” Wells said.

Studies exploring domestic violence during the recession that hit in 2008 showed the domestic violence rate for couples feeling high financial strain was 9.5 per cent, compared to 2.7 per cent of for couples who reported feeling a low level of financial strain. While many studies indicate there is a connection between economic stress and domestic violence, the relationship is reciprocal: economic stress may increase the risk of domestic violence, but the abuse may also cause financial problems for survivors and trap them in poverty and an abusive relationship.

Jan Reimer, executive director of the Alberta Council of Women’s Shelters, said the downturn in the economy has brought a lot of stress on the shoulders of families.

Even when times are good, intimate partner violence will also spike – people have money to spend on drugs and alcohol, for instance, and there is a lot of workers going in and out of camps from around the country, which can lead them to rely more on substances to cope with the camp lifestyle. Reimer said when the economy is really good in Alberta, domestic violence calls for support increase.

Due to this, Alberta tends to rate in the top three highest numbers of domestic violence across the country, Reimer said.

COVID-19 adding pressure

Right now with COVID-19 adding even more pressure along with the recession, the picture is not good for domestic violence rates. Reimer said calls for support are high across the world, and the United Nations is calling the violence against women a “shadow pandemic”.

“We are really concerned about what’s happening in homes,” Reimer said.

“It’s really underreported as well. So we know that there are a lot of families that are going through difficult times right now.”

In Alberta, between mid-March and mid-September, RCMP recorded a 12-per-cent rise in calls involving domestic violence compared to the previous year.

Reimer said the amount and severity of domestic violence incidents have been high since the pandemic arrived.

“Police are saying that when they are responding to calls, it is a much higher level severity than they have seen previously,” Reimer said.

She added regarding stay-at-home orders, for many families, home isn’t a safe place to be.

The executive director said before the pandemic hit, shelters were turning away women. Now, with reduced capacity because of COVID-19, there is not enough support available for women.

In St. Albert, calls about domestic abuse have more than tripled since the start of the pandemic.

Stop Abuse In Families (SAIF) Society is reporting its numbers have spiked since the pandemic began in March, and the society continues to handle more than three times its usual amount of clients as the months go on.

Areni Kelleppan, executive director of SAIF, said the calls are “unprecedented” but the society’s staff are working hard to serve all those coming to them in need.

“It’s been pretty significant,” Kelleppan said.

“A lot of people are in abusive relationships who never seek help, so they’ll never go to a shelter, they won’t seek help, they’ll just cope … they just learned to live with this. And with COVID, it just exacerbated things.”

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Areni Kelleppan, the executive director for Stop Abuse in Families (SAIF), says the level of calls the organization has received during this pandemic are “unprecedented.” CHRIS COLBOURNE/St. Albert Gazette

Typically, SAIF has an average of 25 to 30 calls per month. This March, they had 59 calls, six of which were reported as COVID-19 related. In April, they received 100 calls, with 29 reported as COVID-19 related. In May, they received 76 calls with 10 being reported as COVID-19 related. In June, they received 101 calls, with 28 reported as COVID-19 related.

In the St. Albert RCMP’s latest quarterly report, police said they received 30 calls about domestic assaults in the first three months of 2020, compared to 27 calls in the last quarter of 2019.

Kelleppan said many of the calls to SAIF are from people asking questions about abuse and staff helping them understand what abuse is. People could also be sitting at home alone during COVID-19 processing old trauma, or people who would typically access other services, like sexual assault supports, are coming to SAIF instead.

Kelleppan said due to cuts in funding and an increase in calls for service, the SAFFRON Sexual Assault Centre as well as the Sexual Assault Centre of Edmonton (SACE) have been overwhelmed with calls and wait times have gone up, driving people who need support to SAIF as well.

“We’ve become one of the only games in town, for lack of a better word.”

The executive director said there is no one reason why domestic abuse calls are on the rise, and the issue is a complex one, but factors that can exacerbate an already abusive situation include hits to the economy, working from home, job losses and money problems, spending a lot of time together, alcohol consumption and isolation from friends and family.

“It’s not just one thing, and I think it would be remiss of me to say (it’s one thing). It’s a complex set of factors. And people cope differently – and without any of their coping mechanisms, crap hits the fan,” Kelleppan said.

And with a need for services increasing, rural communities may face unique barriers to getting them.

One of the biggest challenges for smaller rural communities is transportation to safe spaces to stay.

“Generally, transportation has been a huge barrier for women accessing shelter … And in rural Alberta, you might be a long way away from a shelter. How are you going to get there?”

In Hanna, Alta., for example, the closest women’s shelter is in Brooks, 134 km away.

And for women with kids and jobs, it’s nearly impossible to uproot their lives and go stay in a shelter outside of their communities, Reimer said.

Becky Viste, community learning co-ordinator at the Hanna Learning Centre, said their biggest struggle is getting people to shelters.

“In rural Alberta, whether you’re trying to get to a women’s shelter or trying to get to a COVID-19 test, we have no taxi, no bus. And we do have some for-profit businesses that will take our residents to medical appointments in the city. But the cost of that is over and above, around $400 for a trip to Calgary or Red Deer,” Viste said.

The community has relied on finding volunteers, but that can be a big safety issue.

“Because now not only are you trying to get the victim of domestic violence away from the community, but you’re now also having somebody volunteer to possibly be confronted. We try to do it in the most confidential manner we can, however, we also need to inform our driver that this person is fleeing (a) domestic situation,” Viste said.

On top of that, it’s very difficult to get shelters to hold beds while they secure transportation, Viste said.

Root causes and contributing factors

Wells said there are multiple root causes for why people use violence in their relationships. Men with hostile attitudes toward women tend to act more on those attitudes; men who are around violence or who witnessed violence as children are also more likely to act in an abusive manner.

“Men who hang out in peer groups or networks that are violent are often more violent,” Wells said.

One in six men who have been exposed to domestic violence as children go on to be perpetrators of abuse.

Wells said intimate partner violence is a learned behaviour and therefore can be prevented. Research shows teens who are in violent relationships are more likely to be in violent relationships when they are older.

Overall, Wells said society and social conditions can reinforce violence, including football events like when the Calgary Stampeders play the Edmonton Eskimos, and the arrival of the Calgary Stampede.

According to a study, domestic violence calls on the seventh, ninth and tenth day of the ten-day Calgary Stampede event go up 15 per cent compared to an average day. During weekends and summer months domestic violence rates in Calgary.

The Alberta rivalry football games were also associated with a 15-per-cent increase in domestic violence reports, and when Calgary played in the Grey Cup there was a 40-per-cent increase in domestic violence reports.

Wells research showed Calgary Flames games seemed to have no relationship to domestic violence calls, even against the Edmonton Oilers. Overall, research shows that the degree to which violence is part of the game itself has shown to have a positive correlation with domestic violence incidents.

Holidays like New Year’s Day, Good Friday, Easter, Canada Day, Labour Day, Valentine’s Day and Halloween all showed a spike in domestic violence calls in Calgary, although research showed the impact of holidays was geographically dependant and there would be different outcomes for rates of domestic violence depending on where the research was conducted in the world.

During the 2013 floods in Calgary, there was an increase of 6.6 reported incidents of domestic violence per day, representing a 14-per-cent increase from the average.

Expensive cultural problem

While these incidents of intimate partner violence may be influenced by holidays and economic conditions, domestic violence also has an overall impact on the economy.

According to a June 2012 report, there had been $600 million spent in the previous five years on supporting those suffering from domestic violence, with $521 million coming out of the pockets of Albertans through their tax dollars.

“Taxpayers pay a lot through health care systems, through justice, through women’s shelters, through loss of time at work. It impacts everybody,” Wells said.

Wells said while the problem is often framed as an individual struggle, all Albertans are impacted by it financially.

But investment in quality prevention and intervention can be cost-effective, returning as much as $20 for every dollar invested. Estimates show the implementation of preventative programs could cost $9.6 million while generating net cost benefits of more than $54 million.

To help begin to solve the complex problem of intimate partner violence, Wells said there needs to be more support for men.

Domestic and sexual abuse can be done by either men or women. However, Wells said overall intimate partner violence comes from men 83 per cent of the time, while 90 per cent of sexual assaults are perpetrated by men.

“It is a gender issue,” Wells said. “How are we socializing our boys and men and how can we disrupt that socialization?”

Wells said there is no silver bullet to stop the violence, but there are multiple factors that can be addressed to make changes.

Cultures of manhood and how men are socialized from birth can lead to men being less comfortable being vulnerable, Wells said.

“All the way from when they are born and told not to cry as a boy, all the way to ‘suck it up’, and then to be a protector and provider. I think those messages reinforce not being vulnerable,” Wells said.

Wells said we need to unpack the socialization and expectations on how men are supposed to behave.

“I think men have an amazing role to play with stopping violence, within themselves, within their peer groups and within society,” Wells said.

The expert said right now in Alberta, there is a gap in services for men who have been victimized, who are perpetrators or men who want to be allies and help with the prevention work.

“We don’t have enough support and program services going to them. So I think there’s a huge gap.”

Wells said society also needs to support men who are in the oil and gas industry or other trades.

“One of the biggest crises is going to be all these men who are out of work – not just with violence overall, but for mental health and wellbeing,” Wells said, adding men are socialized to not seek help when they are struggling.

Wells and her team are trying to work with leaders and influencers within communities so they can start to create a new cultural normal.

On a policy level, Wells said public health needs to be supporting new fathers and giving them paternity leave because that is a “transformative time in men’s (lives)” – it’s a hard time for men, and it’s a time when they could be seeking support.

Wells said intervention in schools would be valuable, and infusing equality and healthy relationship education through the curriculum – overall, the provincial government needs to create a comprehensive strategy that guides investment in this area. The work would also include the partnerships of male-dominated industries and sports organization to be leaders in the field.

Safe and happy

Palmer is now out of her abusive relationship and living with her children in a home on her own.

“My current situation isn’t a danger,” Palmer said.

“I am happy to have my own place and it feels good. I feel strong. I’m not gonna lie – there are times where I feel like I could break down, but for the most part the kids and I are happy in our new place.”

Palmer still coparents with her former partner and the family took a trip to B.C. together over the summer, where Palmer helped him out with the kids.

“He still is supportive of them,” Palmer said.

The mom still holds out hope that one day, he will get better and seek treatment for his substance abuse.

“I’m just trying to figure out where I’m going. When somebody has a drug problem and you want them to get help, but they can’t, nobody else can do it but themselves. I just have hope that one day he will, but it’s just been so long that I just feel like he won’t.”

Through it all, Palmer has had a good support system, which has brought her through the darkest days.

“I’ve had a good support system and it’s because of the support that I have, that they think I was able to get to where I am today, including professional supports,” Palmer said.

“It feels safe.”

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Great West Newspapers, covering rural Alberta issues.

Resources

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, you can call Alberta’s 24-hour mental health helpline 1-877-303-2642. The addiction helpline can be reached at 1-866-332-2322 and is also available 24/7. If you are having suicidal thoughts or you know someone who is, you can get help by calling the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1-833-456-4566 or by texting 45645. Alberta’s community and social services helpline can be reached by dialing 211. The 24-hour distress line is 780-482-4357 (HELP). The rural distress line for northern Alberta is 1-800-232-7288. If you or someone you know is at risk of an immediate crisis, call 911.
Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporterAbout the Author: Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Great West Newspapers based in St. Albert, Alta. Read more

Source: St. Alberta Today

Great West Newspaper: Struggling For Hope – Part 6

By | Uncategorized

The Thumbs Up Foundation is honoured to support Great West Newspaper’s “Struggling For Hope” 8-part series. Journalist Jennifer Henderson investigates the relationship between the mental health of Albertans and our economy.

Thanks to the network of participating papers in the Thumbs Up sponsored features:

AirdrieToday.com
AlbertaPrimeTimes.com
CochraneToday.ca
LakelandToday.ca
MountainviewToday.ca
OkotoksToday.ca
RMOToday.com
StAlbertToday.ca
TownandCountryToday.com

A HUGE thank you to all involved!!

Part 6 – ‘He was the best guy’: Questions, grief and advocacy follow suicide deaths

This is the sixth part of Struggling for Hope, a special feature series examining the intersections between economic instability and mental health needs. Read our introduction to the series here.

Sixteen more people die by suicide for every per cent the unemployment rate increases.

Braden Titus

Braden Titus

A week before his death, having recently quit taking antidepressants, Braden Titus was “completely and utterly broken” and experiencing a mental health crisis, says his mom Kim.

He was waiting to see a therapist when he took his own life in September 2015.

“He was awesome. He was the best guy,” Kim told Great West Newspapers.

Braden, 31, was a non-judgmental guy who loved to cook and owned his own home renovation business, according to Kim. But being a small business owner was stressful, and he felt like he was falling into a “funk” due to drinking and partying, so eight months before the tragedy, he asked Kim for a recommendation for a family doctor who could get him on antidepressants.

Kim told her son she’d noticed a correlation between him “getting into a funk” and how hard and often he partied – an assessment he agreed with. He said he’d stop drinking and smoking, get on the “straight and narrow” and focus on things he loved like camping, cooking and music.

His mental health began improving after he started taking antidepressants. Kim made him promise to continue making lifestyle changes that supported his mental wellbeing, and he quit smoking and started working out regularly.

Eventually, he felt so well that he decided to quit his antidepressants cold turkey.

Kim, worried, told him it wasn’t safe to quit without a doctor’s input, but he said he didn’t feel any different when he was on them. A week later, he sent her a text saying he was “all messed up”: “Those pills hurt me more than they ever helped me,” he told her.

“He walked into the house completely and utterly broken. I had never seen him like that,” Kim told Great West Newspapers. She rushed him to the doctor, where he said he had been having suicidal thoughts. He told the doctor he would be dead if it wasn’t for his mom, dad and dog Rio.

“I don’t know – how much more at risk did he need to be?” Kim said.

The doctor prescribed new medication for Braden, scheduled another appointment a week later and gave him a 1-800 number to call in case of an emergency. It was a three-week wait to get in to talk to a therapist, but Kim said she felt Braden could wait that long with the support of his family.

Just a week later, hours before they discovered Braden had completed suicide, Kim woke up around 4 a.m. with an anxiety attack – the first of her life. Not wanting to wake her husband so early, she hung out at her house for a few hours. Finally, she woke him up and told him they needed to go check on their son. The couple rushed out of their Airdrie home and drove to Calgary.

When they arrived, Braden’s dog Rio was going crazy. Braden was already gone.

In 2015, Braden was one of 668 Albertans who took their own life, the most suicides in decades of record keeping. That grim record was influenced by mass layoffs in the oil industry as Alberta fell into a recession.

In the wake of the economic crash, Alberta’s suicide rate in the first half of 2015 jumped 30 per cent compared to the previous year. Three hundred twenty-seven people took their own lives between January and June alone. Demand for counselling also increased, with the Calgary Distress Centre seeing an 80-per-cent increase in phone calls that year.

While the suicide rate in the province has not hit that same mark since 2015, data still shows high numbers in Alberta when compared to other provinces and countries.

Alberta’s suicide deaths continue to be closely tied to the economy. For every one per cent increase in the provincial unemployment rate, 16 more people will die by suicide, according to a 2019 report from the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy.

This phenomenon is not isolated in Alberta. Simon Fraser University psychologist Dan Bilsker said across the world suicide has been closely linked to the economy.

“When unemployment rates rise, suicide tends to increase immediately,” Bilsker said.

“It’s one of the strongest predictors of the suicide rates.”

Suicide impacts all demographics, but in Alberta the vast majority of deaths – 75 per cent – involve men. Almost half of those are middle-aged men between 40 and 64 years old.

LGBTQ+ youth between 14 and 25 years of age are also at higher risk, with some 63 to 67 per cent reporting having suicidal thoughts. Suicide risk is also five to six times higher for Indigenous youth compared with non-Indigenous youth.

In 2018, overall 7,254 Albertans visited the emergency department due to a suicide attempt. Despite higher death rates among men, women attempted suicide two to three times more oftenIn 2010, there were 1,833 hospital admissions for suicide attempts or self-inflicted injuries and women made up 58 per cent of the total; emergency rooms also saw 5,053 visits that year for attempted suicide or self-inflicted injuries, and women made up 61 per cent of those patients.

Research shows women attempt suicide 10 times more often than they complete it.

Thirty-two years ago, Leanne Heuchert felt so hopeless and lost she tried to end her life.

Heuchert still recalls that day – at just 13 years old – when she swallowed a bunch of prescription pills, panicked halfway through and called a friend for help.

Now 44, Heuchert is in a much better place. Years of mental health support have helped her to become a healthy, happy person. But when she was a young teen, she would think about killing herself.

“I would say, ‘You know what, if I do this, if I cut this, I don’t have to feel anything any more,'” Heuchert told Great West last year. She agreed to have her story shared again for this series.

“It was just the idea that my brain would stop making noise because there was so much going on. There was so much anxiety and there was so much sadness and just the idea that, if I do this, I’ll feel that little bit of pain, but then there’ll be nothing.”

leanne

Leanne Heuchert.

After her attempt, Heuchert was put in counselling with her family, which had already been impacted by suicide. She learned that when she was six years old, her 28-year-old brother Doug had died by suicide. Doug had passed away when she was so young her family hadn’t revealed the manner of his death until her own attempt.

“At a very young age, I saw the damage that it did to my family and I wasn’t able to understand why my family was reacting to my brother’s death the way they were. Any death is tragic, but there were a lot of unanswered questions and I believe there was a lot of guilt and confusion in my family,” she said.

Don’t talk about it

One of the reasons men tend to suffer more is because they often don’t share their concerns or distress.

“They’re often trying to keep it to (themselves) – not just keep your feelings to yourself, but don’t tell your own story,” Bilsker said.

For men, sharing their feelings and problems is often considering to be a “shameful sign of weakness” in our culture, Bilsker said, whereas women share their troubles with their friends as a positive coping mechanism.

“Men are not taught really good coping, psychological coping, because collaborative problem-solving is a really important mechanism of getting through hard times in life,” he said.

“Men have been taught to adopt a stoic approach as a philosophy. You don’t complain, you don’t whine, you do what has to be done. You take care of others in the community and take care of your family.”

Buried problems can lead to serious mental health concerns and, in the worst cases, suicides. Men not taking care of themselves through their lives contributes to a lower life expectancy.

“So many people commit suicide in their 50s, 40s and 30s. The years of life lost that it accounts for is really an enormous number,” Bilsker said.

“Suicide in particular really stood out for me and some other areas where men’s health really suffers in relation to women.”

A myth around this lower life expectancy, Bilsker explained, is that men can be risk-takers who don’t take the time to do things properly. But that simply isn’t true, he said.

Self-care is also more normalized for women than men. Bilsker said a traditional male behaviour pattern is to be very fit in their younger years but making that less of a priority as they start joining the workforce, putting their overall health at risk.

To cope with problems, men are taught if they are going through a hard time, it is culturally appropriate to turn to alcohol, Bilsker said.

“That’s a really dangerous psychological thing to do because alcohol just inhibits you. It interferes with your thinking and problem solving and it leaves you more likely to do something impulsive,” Bilsker said.

When the worst case scenario happens and men attempt suicide, they generally use much more lethal means.

“I think it’s because by the time men reach that point, they see no hope. They don’t think they’re going to be rescued. They say, ‘This is it,’” Bilsker said.

Experts say when men reach out for mental health help, they are often in a crisis situation, whereas women often reach out for help sooner.

While death by suicide used to be more likely among young men, that has slowly crept up to middle-aged men. Bilsker said there has been little research on why that has happened, but it could be fuelled by the rapidly changing culture we live in. In a workplace, older men can also feel outdated or less relevant than younger employees.

“These men (who) have been (working) for a long time are expendable,” Bilsker said. “I think men, historically – and it may have changed – more than women, identify their own worth with the work they are doing.”

In Medicine Hat, a string of suicides struck the city this year, many from the same group of friends. Though the final death toll isn’t known due to how complicated it can be to classify and report suicides, some estimates say up to seven men took their own lives over a period of several months. All were in their 30s and 40s and many had been involved in the city’s hockey community.

“What the concern is, for us at this point, and where we’re really super concerned, is it’s a cluster,” said Cori Fischer, executive director for the Alberta Southeast Region for the Canadian Mental Health Association.

“The individuals are known to each other.”

People who know someone who has completed suicide are at a greater risk of completing suicide themselves, Fischer added.

“General research will tell you that if you know someone who has died by suicide, it becomes an acceptable coping mechanism, it becomes an option, where it may not have been considered an option before,” Fischer said.

And while surviving family members are at a greater risk, they are also left to suffer unimaginable pain and grief. Research estimates each person who dies by suicide leaves behind six or more suicide survivors – people who’ve lost someone they care about deeply and who are left grieving and struggling to understand.

Les Dunford from Westlock, Alta., lost his son Bryan to suicide nine years ago. Les is a senior reporter for Town & Country This Week, a Great West Newspapers publication.

“I think everybody probably has that same questions in their mind: ‘Why didn’t we see this? Why didn’t we notice? What did we miss? Should we have been a little bit more in tune with the problems he was having?’” Les said.

Bryan 1

Bryan with Kaluha in August 2007 at his Grandpa Mac’s birthday party on the Dunford farm.

Bryan, who was 29, was a normal kid who enjoyed hanging out with his brother, going camping and spending time in Drumheller to explore where the dinosaurs used to roam.

But Bryan always struggled with his mental health.

“We knew he had some struggles that began to show up as a boy,” Les said, recalling Bryan’s difficulties with his inner feelings and thoughts. But Bryan seemed to be managing his mental health well, until he started working.

“When he was out working in the working world, it just seemed like things kind of went sideways on him a little bit,” Les said.

Bryan lived in Edmonton for a while but then moved to Calgary, where Les believes he may have been using drugs a little to cope with his mental health issues. Eventually, Bryan landed in the hospital being treated for his mental health needs, and Les took him back to the Dunford farm in Westlock, where he stayed for a while.

Les said those days with him at home were some of the family’s best days with Bryan.

But Bryan moved back to Edmonton and soon ended up back in the hospital under close supervision. Les and his family would visit Bryan, signing him in and out for visits.

On June 9, the day before Les and his wife Joan’s 33rd wedding anniversary, Bryan signed himself out on his own and said he was going to Canada Place to apply for medical unemployment. Instead, he went to McDonalds for a meal, then jumped from a bridge into the North Saskatchewan River. A bystander watched him fall into the water, though his body was never recovered.

“We really have no closure and it still remains very hard for her especially. Yes, I continue to hurt too, but perhaps have come to grips with the fact that now, more than nine years later, he is for sure never returning to us, and I doubt we will ever know where his remains are,” Les said.

060 Bryan and Roy

Bryan and his brother Roy.

Advocating for change

Bilsker said one of the ways to help support men and change the cultural conversation around mental health is to get away from the assumption that men are a source of suffering and pain simply due to their gender.

“We need to go away from a shaming approach. It’s not really effective as a way to change people,” Bilsker said.

“We don’t create a stigma around being male. We identify problematic patterns and we teach new ways of coping.”

And advocating for change in the mental health system is Kim Titus and her family, who started the Thumbs Up Foundation in 2016 to honour the legacy for her son who was passionate about helping people. The Thumbs Up Foundation is the financial sponsor for Struggling for Hope.

Thumbs Up’s program advocates for structural positive changes in the healthcare system. In January, the foundation received $500,000 from the provincial government earmarked for organizations supporting mental health and addiction initiatives in Alberta. Kim said the funding is going toward a pilot project, Harmonized Health, which integrates different areas of health care and brings together professionals who don’t typically work together, like doctors and therapists, in order to support people who struggle with their mental health.

The pilot project is aimed at providing new models of health care to help inform the government about the benefits of the new programs and ideas for what may need to be funded in the future.

This is the third pilot project the foundation has run.

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Great West Newspapers, covering rural Alberta issues.

Resources

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, you can call Alberta’s 24-hour mental health helpline 1-877-303-2642. The addiction helpline can be reached at 1-866-332-2322 and is also available 24/7. If you are having suicidal thoughts or you know someone who is, you can get help by calling the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1-833-456-4566 or by texting 45645. Alberta’s community and social services helpline can be reached by dialing 211. The 24-hour distress line is 780-482-4357 (HELP). The rural distress line for northern Alberta is 1-800-232-7288. If you or someone you know is at risk of an immediate crisis, call 911.

Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporterAbout the Author: Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Great West Newspapers based in St. Albert, Alta. Read more

Source: St. Alberta Today

Great West Newspaper: Struggling For Hope – Part 5

By | Uncategorized

The Thumbs Up Foundation is honoured to support Great West Newspaper’s “Struggling For Hope” 8-part series. Journalist Jennifer Henderson investigates the relationship between the mental health of Albertans and our economy.

Thanks to the network of participating papers in the Thumbs Up sponsored features:

AirdrieToday.com
AlbertaPrimeTimes.com
CochraneToday.ca
LakelandToday.ca
MountainviewToday.ca
OkotoksToday.ca
RMOToday.com
StAlbertToday.ca
TownandCountryToday.com

A HUGE thank you to all involved!!

Part 5 – ‘It’s scary’: Camp lifestyle stretches oilfield workers to the breaking point

This is the fifth part of Struggling for Hope, a special feature series examining the intersections between economic instability and mental health needs. Read our introduction to the series here.

“You start thinking, ‘This is not where I want to be at 50 years old.’ And I know for a fact, it’s definitely not where my husband wanted to be at 55.”

0212 Kneehill Pump 1

A pumpjack in Kneehill County near Three Hills, Alta., on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020. GREAT WEST NEWSPAPERS/Photo

After a 16-hour day at work in an oilfield camp, Lana Miller only has the energy left to FaceTime her boyfriend before she falls asleep for the night to get some rest so she can work another long day again.

Miller, who has been a chef for almost 30 years, has spent the last five years working long hours in camp kitchens, in remote areas spending time away from her family.

Working in oil camps is not an easy life. Despite the good pay that often accompanies oil jobs, the work itself requires long periods of time away from family, often in remote areas and difficult conditions. On top of that, the volatile nature of the industry and low job security can take a toll on the employees’ mental health.

Miller said because the job is so tough and workers are so far away from their support networks, they quickly forge strong bonds with each other to get through the long hours, long days and difficult working conditions.

“Even though you don’t necessarily know people for a long stretch of time, you become family a lot more quickly and have to kind of take care of each other,” she said.

“Not only do you have to worry about your mental health and potentially your family’s for you being gone for long stretches, but then also staff – sometimes it’s their first time away from home doing this sort of thing … You kind of take them under your wing and guide them through that as best you can.”

This type of isolation from friends, family and community is not good for mental wellbeing, experts say.

Vincent Agyapong, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Alberta who works for the addiction and mental health unit for Alberta Health Services, worked in Fort McMurray treating patients and studying the demographic of people who are seeking help.

Agyapong said many people who seek help are from other areas of the country, such as the east coast, and are on a three weeks on, one week off schedule.

“People have to stay in the camps for two weeks at a time without any family – there is much more to (these mental health challenges) than just the economy,” Agyapong said.

“It has a significant impact on families, because you are away from your family in an oilsands camp and there is really nothing there – you will be in a small room with one small TV.”

To cope with the isolation, Miller turns to FaceTime to try to connect with her loved ones, but for other people in camps, Miller said they might turn to the gym or to substances.

Substance use and abuse

Alcohol is generally the easiest substance to get your hands on, but Miller said she has been at camps where employees could access any drug they wanted.

“It’s an unspoken thing. A lot of people know it’s happening. As long as you don’t get caught and you’re not stupid about it, they pretty much let it pass,” she said.

In 2017, Alberta Health Services found workers in the oil and gas industry use alcohol at significantly higher rates (81.7 per cent) than the average for all other industries (71.5 per cent). And though the majority of those who drank were considered to be at low risk for harmful drinking, industry workers were nearly twice as likely to be at medium risk and three times as likely to be at high risk than other workers.

Meanwhile, male oilfield workers were much more likely to be classified as medium or high risk than female workers.

Dan Bilsker, a psychologist from Simon Fraser University, says men, who make up the majority of oilfield workers, are socially conditioned to deal with their emotions through alcohol consumption.

“Men are also taught that feelings are a really bad time and (if) you’re suffering psychologically, use alcohol to feel better,” he explained.

Agyapong said when he went to Fort McMurray in 2013 he saw “significant” substance use issues, including the use of cocaine. The economy was good at the time, but the social difficulties of the job – being isolated from family without a lot of options to fill their free time – contributed to this.

“They don’t really have a life, they don’t have family … so they get into cocaine use because it doesn’t stay in your system for a long time and they know they will pass a drug screening when they return to their shift,” Agyapong said.

He recalled emergency departments in Fort McMurray seeing cases of oil workers coming in with substance-induced psychosis – uncharacteristic paranoia and suspicion, visual and audio hallucinations.

“There are people who have never had any mental health problems before, and then someone will notice on their shift to be behaving bizarrely. So there’ll be people who still have a job but they’re having a psychotic break related to substance abuse,” he said.

Miller said camps have plenty of safety measures in place, but some look the other way if staff members are impaired on the job. Physical safety takes top priority, but mental health slips under the radar.

“They’re all ‘safety, safety, safety,’ but then … being at work under the influence of something isn’t safe, regardless of where you are or what you do for a living,” she said.

“I think there should be more to help people through (substance abuse) and kind of recognize that it does happen. I think a lot of (camps) are scared of getting shut down, to be quite honest.”

Miller said she would like to see wider supports within the industry, such as an anonymous support line employees could call to talk about their substance abuse or mental health struggles, without worrying that they might be risking their job security.

“It gets to the point where you feel like you don’t want to say anything, because you’re scared that it’s gonna be the one thing that gets you booted out the door. And with (jobs) being so tight to get in and be kept around these days, you obviously don’t want to rock the boat, right?”

Family struggles to cope

While camp life is hard, the families left behind also struggle to cope with a loved one being so far away for long stretches of time working in such a volatile industry.

Shelley Meakin-Chamzuk, whose husband Ron works in the oil and gas industry, said her husband’s wage was cut in half when the pandemic struck. Watching him deal with that hurt her own mental health, as did caring for six children while Ron had to work out of town through much of his career.

Meakin-Chamzuk battled post-partum depression and has struggled throughout her life with her mental health. Being separated from her husband proved a big challenge for her and her family.

“It’s been taxing. It’s had its moments that you just question everything,” she said.

Meakin-Chamzuk was bedridden for years due to inner cranial hypertension, making the situation even more difficult to manage.

She has watched other families split up because the distance proved too burdensome.

“Sometimes money isn’t everything. I think that was probably the biggest thing with the industry, is some women just couldn’t cope with raising their families on their own.”

Some experts have concluded the lifestyle that goes along with oil and gas work contributes to higher divorce rates, with Alberta often leading the divorce rates across the country.

Meakin-Chamzuk said the idea that life is easy for an oilfield wife and that there is always a lot of money is far from the truth.

“We’re just trying to survive, and it’s not the privileged life that I think a lot of people think it is,” Meakin-Chamzuk said.

“With my husband being away, and knowing his wife was sick, that was not easy on him. He’s very strong and very supportive … he never admitted it, but I know it was hard on him.”

The COVID-19 pandemic has pushed their family deeper into stress as Ron took a major pay cut in order to help keep the company he was working for alive. From April to July this year, the entire family packed its bags to go help out for free, washing mats, cooking food and doing whatever chores there were in an effort to give the company a boost, thus keeping Ron employed.

“We’ve been as a family – have not been getting paid for it – but going and helping my husband, just so we can try to keep that company going,” Meakin-Chamzuk said. “We would all pack up and go to Fox Creek, and we would work out there.”

After chores, her youngest son, 15, would be homeschooled at a shack on the worksite.

“As awful as it sounds, it honestly sounds worse than it was. It was almost like we were part of something bigger than ourselves … I guess we probably felt proud that we were able to help Ron and help this company,” Meakin-Chamzuk said.

As money gets tighter, she is trying not to think about the state of her mental health. She knows what it feels like to be so depressed it’s hard to get out of bed, and she said she is determined not to get to that place again.

“You start thinking, ‘This is not where I want to be at 50 years old.’ And I know for a fact, it’s definitely not where my husband wanted to be at 55.”

Still, she says Ron has maintained a positive outlook and seems to be doing OK.

“He seems really, really good, but then again, he’s had to always been the strong one.”

While Meakin-Chamzuk said her family is struggling, she knows she is in a better position than many other families in the industry.

“I don’t know how young people are making it,” she said.

“We have seen where people are destitute. It’s scary – scary. And you can’t get back into the industry because it’s just so broken.”

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Great West Newspapers, covering rural Alberta issues.

Resources

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, you can call Alberta’s 24-hour mental health helpline 1-877-303-2642.
The addiction helpline can be reached at 1-866-332-2322 and is also available 24/7.
If you are having suicidal thoughts or you know someone who is, you can get help by calling the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1-833-456-4566 or by texting 45645.
Alberta’s community and social services helpline can be reached by dialing 211. The 24-hour distress line is 780-482-4357 (HELP).
The rural distress line for northern Alberta is 1-800-232-7288.
If you or someone you know is at risk of an immediate crisis, call 911.

Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporterAbout the Author: Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Great West Newspapers based in St. Albert, Alta. Read more

Source: St. Alberta Today

Great West Newspaper: Struggling For Hope – Part 4

By | Uncategorized

The Thumbs Up Foundation is honoured to support Great West Newspaper’s “Struggling For Hope” 8-part series. Journalist Jennifer Henderson investigates the relationship between the mental health of Albertans and our economy.

Thanks to the network of participating papers in the Thumbs Up sponsored features:

AirdrieToday.com
AlbertaPrimeTimes.com
CochraneToday.ca
LakelandToday.ca
MountainviewToday.ca
OkotoksToday.ca
RMOToday.com
StAlbertToday.ca
TownandCountryToday.com

A HUGE thank you to all involved!!

Part 4 – ‘There were some dark nights’: Oilfield workers fight for jobs and hope as industry flounders

This is the fourth part of Struggling for Hope, a special feature series examining the intersections between economic instability and mental health needs. Read our introduction to the series here.

Our next part will examine the mental health issues that exist within the oilfield industry itself.

“Our industry is so volatile. You’ve got your peaks and you got your lows, and we know that. But this has been going on for five years. There are guys that haven’t worked for three years.”

Oil and gas 4

Chris Malmberg, who has worked in the oil and gas industry for 20 years, said downtown Calgary has been empty since the collapse of the industry. Malmberg said even those who are still working are worried they will be the next to be laid off. CHRIS MALMBERG/Photo

This is the fourth part of Struggling for Hope, a special feature series examining the intersections between economic instability and mental health needs. Read our introduction to the series here.

Our next part will examine the mental health issues that exist within the oilfield industry itself.

Chris Malmberg knows seven people who have taken their own lives in the past five years.

Since the price of oil nosedived in 2015, the industry has weathered hard years marked by layoffs and job losses. Coupled with the crippling onset of the COVID-19 pandemic, which at one point forced the price of oil below $0 per barrel, Malmberg said there isn’t a lot of optimism out there about the future of the industry.

“There’s just no rainbow. There’s no real light at the end of the tunnel,” he said.

Malmberg, a 20-year veteran of the industry who currently works in downtown Calgary selling completion services, believes if any other industry faced the same number of suicides and mental health problems as oil and gas, it would be considered a crisis.

“Our industry is so volatile. You’ve got your peaks and you got your lows, and we know that. But this has been going on for five years. There are guys that haven’t worked for three years,” he said.

Alberta’s oil industry has been struggling for years. While the provincial economy has long been dependent on oil and gas, riding out booms and busts, in 2015 the price of oil crashed to less than $40 a barrel. The COVID-19 pandemic has made that oil recession worse, says Malmberg – many employees are facing the reality they may never work in oil and gas again. Many have already left the industry or been forced out of it; he has watched familiar faces of friends and colleagues disappear from Calgary’s streets as the oil price crisis dragged on.

“Back in the day, when times were good, I couldn’t walk more than 10 feet without running into somebody I knew. And now, you walk downtown Calgary and you’d walk for 15 minutes and not run into anybody you know.”

The toll of an industry’s collapse

With the 2015 oil price collapse, Malmberg lost his own job. That, coupled with the end of nearly two decades of marriage, took a toll on his mental health.

“I personally went through a pretty dark time in my life,” he said. “Being unemployed and going through a messy divorce – there were some dark nights.”

Though he has found work in the industry since, Malmberg says there are many oilfield workers who can’t find jobs. Some are older; some have worked in the same field for 25 years and can’t find another job with just a Grade 12 education.

Those who have found work either in offices or out in the field face their own set of challenges.

“They’re out in the middle of nowhere, working in horrendous conditions,” Malmberg said, including frigid temperatures in the dead of winter. “There is a lot of addiction and there is a lot of alcohol involved.”

Meanwhile, office workers face the threat of the industry’s turbulence claiming their jobs.

“There’s not one person sitting comfortably in a chair (in) downtown Calgary,” Malmberg said.

“It’s depressing.”

0212 Kneehill Pump 4

A pumpjack frames a picturesque farm in Kneehill County near Three Hills, Alta., on Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2020. GREAT WEST NEWSPAPERS/Photo

In PetroLMI’s 2019 labour market update, the organization estimated Canada’s oil and gas industry would close in that year on 52,200 jobs lost since 2014, a period of time during which the labour force also shrank by 19 per cent as jobs dried up and workers left the industry.

That market report states Canada’s oil and gas industry invested more than $80 billion in capital into the country’s economy in 2014. By late 2016, capital investment dropped to less than half that – about $38 billion. Although 2017 brought a minor rebound in investment to $43 billion, along with improving commodity prices, investment fell again in 2018 and was expected to fall to $32 billion in 2019.

The greatest impact of that reduced spending was expected to be felt in Alberta, which PetroLMI estimated would see a 28-per-cent decline in exploration and production capital expenditures, from about $17.7 billion to $12.8 billion.

Commodity prices continue to struggle as well. This past February, Alberta’s 2020-21 budget estimated oil prices would average out to $58 U.S. per barrel for West Texas Intermediate (WTI) for the year, but following the onset of COVID-19, the provincial government now estimates prices will hit $35.60 U.S.

The jobs crisis only deepened when the COVID-19 virus spread to Canada. The shutdown of provincial economies impacted 5.5 million workers across the country, according to Statistics Canada. In May, Alberta’s unemployment rate hit a high of 15.5 per cent. In August, it still sat at 11.8 per cent. For the past two months, Calgary has topped the charts for unemployment rates country-wide.

Ehsan Latif, an economics professor at Thompson Rivers University, said people who lose their jobs typically feel psychological impacts because their work is deeply tied to their self-esteem. A slumping economy drags the mental health of workers down with it.

Anxiety hits people whether they have a job or not: employed people often watch unemployment rates rise and worry their jobs will be the next to go.

“What (the employed) will do is they will try to work more or try to find another job,” Latif explained – many work longer hours or take on extra work to prevent being laid off or let go during a recession, while many others will start preparing their resumes in case they lose their current jobs.

Men in crisis

Vincent Agyapong, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Alberta who works for the addiction and mental health unit for Alberta Health Services, said fluctuations in the economy contribute to the mental suffering of people in oil and gas. Working conditions contribute to those mental health problems as well, he added – factors such as the hyper-masculine culture in the oil and gas industry, and the use of substances to help cope with mental health problems, compound the mental health suffering of industry workers.

Agyapong worked as a clinical psychiatrist in Fort McMurray, where he conducted research on the mental wellbeing of oilfield employees that found referral rates for mental health services increases during a recession.

Through his research, Agyapong found men were more likely than women to seek out mental health supports during the recession in Fort McMurray – the opposite of what happens when times are good.

“There was actually a change in the demographics of those who are seeking mental supports,” he said.

“Those who traditionally or ordinarily are more stable become vulnerable because they probably have been impacted by the recession.”

Oil and gas 2

Vincent Agyapong, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Alberta who also works for the addiction and mental health unit for Alberta Health Services, says when Alberta’s economy slumped in 2015, more men started seeking out mental health supports. Agyapong said typically when men come in for help, their cases are more severe and need more resources to get them back on track.VINCENT AGYAPONG/Photo

Agyapong said many of the men seeking help at that time – and when the Fort McMurray wildfire struck – were getting help for personality disorders, which people usually have since childhood.

Men were either finding more time to access mental health services after the recession hit, or the recession was making their personality disorders more prominent, he said.

Agyapong said when men do reach out for help, they are often in a crisis situation, whereas women often reach out for help sooner.

In the early weeks of the COVID-19 pandemic, Agyapong organized the Text4Hope program launched by Alberta Health Services. That is a free program that sends daily supportive text messages to subscribers. The messages are based on cognitive behavioural therapy.

Eighty-eight per cent of subscribers are women; 12 per cent are men.

“You can see that men are not really people who, in the initial stages of a mental breakdown, would go and seek help compared to women. Women want to seek out appropriate help before things get worse, but by the time (a man) comes in, it’s a bad case and they need more support and more resources to get them back on track,” Agyapong said.

The suicide rate for men also increases when the economy crashes – particularly in the trades. In the wake of mass oilpatch layoffs, Alberta’s suicide rate in the first half of 2015 jumped 30 per cent compared to the previous year. Three hundred twenty-seven people took their own lives between January and June. Demand for counselling also increased, with the Calgary Distress Centre seeing an 80-per-cent increase in phone calls that year.

The oil and gas industry has a much higher amount of male employees than other industries. More than three quarters – 76 per cent – are men, compared to 55 per cent province-wide.

Masculine culture

That demographic breakdown and a hyper-masculine culture contribute to higher substance use and suicide rates in oil and gas.

Psychologists say overall in society men may face more social and self-stigma if they feel they can’t cope with or manage their mental health situation on their own.

Simon Fraser University psychologist Dan Bilsker said one of the reasons men tend to suffer more is because they don’t share their concerns or distress.

“They’re often trying to keep it to (themselves) – not just keep your feelings to yourself, but don’t tell your own story,” Bilsker said.

Oil and Gas 1

Simon Fraser University psychologist Dan Bilsker said men are less likely to share their suffering with their friends and family, which can make their mental health suffering worse. Men are also culturally taught to cope with their problems by turning to alcohol, which Bilsker said is harmful rather than helpful. DAN BILSKER/Photo

He also says men are culturally taught to turn to alcohol, which makes mental health struggles worse instead of better.

Malmberg says that culture of silent suffering exists even after people leave the industry. While many people are suffering from the stress of losing their jobs, nobody directly talks about it.

“Everybody just smiles and waves. Everyone’s got their burdens in life right now in the oil and gas industry – you just grin and bear it. No one’s opening up about their issues. It’s like one of those things where everybody has enough problems and you don’t need to hear mine,” Malmberg said.

Pride factors into that as well – people don’t want to admit they are struggling financially after years of working, or that they didn’t save as much as they felt they should have during the good years, he added.

“Everyone kind of wants to just make everyone believe that everything’s OK and life is good,” Malmberg said.

Some go to desperate lengths to keep working, which take a toll on their families as well.

Shelley Meakin-Chamzuk, whose husband Ron works in the oil and gas industry, said her husband’s wage was cut in half when the pandemic struck. Watching him deal with that hurt her own mental health, as did caring for six kids while Ron had to work out of town.

“We’re just trying to survive, and it’s not the privileged life that I think a lot of people think it is,” Meakin-Chamzuk said.

“With my husband being away, and knowing his wife was sick, that was not easy on him. He’s very strong and very supportive … he never admitted it, but I know it was hard on him.”

Meakin-Chamzuk has lost three friends to suicide in the past year due to the economic downturn, losing their jobs and their concern over the direction their lives were headed. She said she is concerned about the men in her life.

Life after the oilfield

Malmberg, while still working in the oil industry, has opened up a pet food business with his significant other: MOMMS Premium Pet Foods in Calgary.

The duo saw the writing on the wall about the industry’s future. Though he’s still involved in oil and gas, their new venture is going well so far, Malmberg said.

“Gradually over time I’m going to one day retire from the oil and gas industry, and I’ve got something to fall back on,” he said.

Oil and gas 5

Chris Malmberg, while still working in the oil and gas industry, has opened up a pet food business with his significant other. The duo now run MOMMS Premium Pet Foods in Calgary. CHRIS MALMBERG/Photo

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Great West Newspapers, covering rural Alberta issues.

Resources

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, you can call Alberta’s 24-hour mental health helpline 1-877-303-2642.
The addiction helpline can be reached at 1-866-332-2322 and is also available 24/7.
If you are having suicidal thoughts or you know someone who is, you can get help by calling the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1-833-456-4566 or by texting 45645.
Alberta’s community and social services helpline can be reached by dialing 211. The 24-hour distress line is 780-482-4357 (HELP).
The rural distress line for northern Alberta is 1-800-232-7288.
If you or someone you know is at risk of an immediate crisis, call 911.

Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporterAbout the Author: Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Great West Newspapers based in St. Albert, Alta. Read more

Source: St. Alberta Today Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Great West Newspapers, covering rural Alberta issues.

Great West Newspaper: Struggling For Hope – Part 3

By | Uncategorized

The Thumbs Up Foundation is honoured to support Great West Newspaper’s “Struggling For Hope” 8-part series. Journalist Jennifer Henderson investigates the relationship between the mental health of Albertans and our economy.

Thanks to the network of participating papers in the Thumbs Up sponsored features:

AirdrieToday.com
AlbertaPrimeTimes.com
CochraneToday.ca
LakelandToday.ca
MountainviewToday.ca
OkotoksToday.ca
RMOToday.com
StAlbertToday.ca
TownandCountryToday.com

A HUGE thank you to all involved!!

Part 3 – COVID-19 robs rodeo stars of community, identity and income

This is the third part of Struggling for Hope, an eight-part special feature series examining the intersections between economic instability and mental health needs. Read our introduction to the series here.
Part 1: ‘It hurts’: Workers grapple with the mental impacts of Alberta’s recession
Part 2: Farmers shed light on silent fight against mental illness

“Rodeo has always felt like my home.”

 By:
Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter
Cole GoodineCole Goodine, a bareback rider from Carbon, Alta., said his mental health has declined since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Goodine used to be gone every weekend riding in rodeos across North America, but is now stuck at home due to pandemic travel restrictions. COLE GOODINE/Photo

As a bareback rodeo athlete living on a farm near Carbon, Alta., Cole Goodine is used to spending every weekend competing across North America.
But this year, as COVID-19 shut down most rodeo events, he’s spending his weekends at home.

Goodine has struggled with depression for most of his adult life. Since the pandemic hit, his mental health has declined – though he works hard to manage his depression, the loss of rodeo has meant the loss of one of his major joys in life.

“I don’t have those highs. So I just kind of plateaued all year. There’s just no up and no down,” Goodine said.

Riding bareback gave Goodine a natural high. It also kept him occupied, which he says helped his mental health.

“Rodeo has always felt like my home. I’ve never been as comfortable as I am behind the chute at a rodeo. That’s my comfort zone,” he said.

“It gives you a purpose, a goal, and I’ve always found it a great way to fight against mental health problems.”

Aside from battling boredom at home, Goodine’s income shrank since he stopped winning money on the weekends. His day job as a welder has slowed down as well.

“I’ve been working when there’s work – it’s just everything’s really slow right now, too, which also doesn’t help,” he said.

Goodine has been managing his depression for so long that he feels confident navigating it through COVID-19 too. But he says he is worried about others in his industry who have had the rodeo rug pulled out from under them, and who could be grappling with loneliness and loss of income during this pandemic.

There’s no clear timeline for when rodeo events may be able to start running again. Professional athletes across the country lost their incomes overnight when COVID-19 descended on Canada.

Brandon Thome, an athletic therapist and the executive director of the Canadian Pro Rodeo Sport Medicine Team, said the rodeo industry has suffered from this shutdown.“It hasn’t been all that great to be quite honest,” Thome said.

“There’s been a lot more guys reaching out, needing to talk.”

That’s not always common, he added. In the last five years, Thome has seen a major culture shift in the sport, where athletes suddenly began talking openly about their mental health and the risks concussions could pose to their long-term mental wellbeing.

“Now it’s not just the old cowboy way of suck it up and get on.”

Amy Monea, mental health therapist and owner of Heard Wellness Through Horses, based out of Carstairs, Alta, treats rodeo athletes and rural residents through equine therapy.

Monea said right now the rodeo community is grieving what has happened to their sport.

“It’s almost like a loss of identity and a loss of purpose and having to pivot really quickly from the end of March until now, and not sure when that’s going to come back,” Monea said.

Amy Monea

Amy Monea is a mental health therapist and owner of Heard Wellness Through Horses, based out of Carstairs, Alta. She treats rodeo athletes and rural residents through equine therapy. SUPPLIED PHOTO

A similar struggle can happen for rodeo athletes who retire and feel that they’ve lost their identity and community, but Monea said COVID-19 is different because the athletes have no control over these circumstances. Additionally, staying connected through phone calls doesn’t quite replace sitting in a car together every day and sharing the highs and lows of life with your best friends.

“The whole community had the rug ripped out from under them at the same time. It’s what has to happen to keep everybody as safe as we can, but there is definitely a mental health and community grief that is happening and we aren’t even sure what we are grieving and how long its going to be,” Monea said.

Loss of community

Some rodeo athletes are feeling the loss of their “rodeo family” – a community of people who were connected through travelling partners and who did the rodeo circuit together.

Jake Stemo, a professional bareback rider, spends April to November with his two travel buddies. The trio spends the entire time on the road together and can hit up to 80 rodeos during the four prime summer rodeo months. They, like many other rodeo travel partners, can start their week in Calgary, and make stops in Utah, California, Idaho and Wyoming before they come back up north to finish the week in Medicine Hat.

“I think honestly, my favourite part of rodeo is when it’s hard and you know you got a grind and maybe it’s like you had a busy week coming up … it’s just when you’re driving all night and it’s four in the morning, and you’re going from California to Utah and you’re listening to music – it’s always those memories that really stick with me,” Stemo said.

He’s holding onto those memories while stuck at home dealing with this pandemic.

“They are your guys. You got to support each other, because it is hard, and if you’re not having fun or if one guy’s down his luck or one guy’s sore … it’s when you are in the truck together with your best friends. You’re bonded in that way, doing it together, and it’s a lifestyle and it’s fun,” Stemo said.Monea said the loss of travelling partners and being around your closest friends all the time is a loss of a co-regulation opportunity. The travelling partners can be considered a buffer that can mitigate mental health problems, and having a group of people around you can help regulate your behaviour.

Community is an important element of mental health, she said.

On top of losing co-regulation opportunities, athletes now have fewer eyes on them, checking in on their mental health.

“If I’m travelling with somebody and I start to notice that they’re not doing well, or their behaviours (are) changing, or they’re not talking as much, I can check in with that as a friend. However, if I don’t have that opportunity, then it’s a phone call and trying to check in that way. So that’s something that’s lost,” Monea said.

Jake Stemo

Jake Stemo is a professional bareback rider. SUPPLIED PHOTO

Cowboy culture

One of the barriers for talking about mental wellbeing in rodeo, Thome said, has been masculine cowboy culture.

“It’s men in general, to be quite honest. It’s the rough and tough (image) and that stigma of not talking about anything. It just transpires even bigger into the male-dominated sport.”

Other sports, like hockey and football, also carry that same ultra-masculine tough image, which stigmatizes taking breaks even for injuries. The cowboy image that comes along with rodeo can make that even roe difficult, Thome noted. But despite that image, he is trying to let athletes know they can still be tough and seek help at the same time.

“What’s been happening in the last 15 to 20 years is that we have been trying to break that down and get that out of guys’ and girls’ heads in the western lifestyle. We want them to know you don’t have to be okay and we’re here to help – there’s people here to help you,” Thome said.

Before Ty – and after

While a slow culture shift has been building around reaching out for help, one event completely changed how many rodeo athletes viewed mental health and concussions.

Ty Pozzobon, a world champion bull rider at the top of his sport, died by suicide in 2017. Pozzobon, from Merritt, B.C., was known by many in the industry as being warm and charismatic. His death shocked the industry.

“It felt like that loss stopped the community in its tracks, and at the same time we’re having a big shift in terms of talking about reducing stigma around mental health and mental illness,” Monea said.

Thome said after Pozzobon’s death, it was like a dam had burst – calls flooded in for help, and people were suddenly willing to talk about their own mental health struggles. The difference in awareness about mental health issues was like night and day.

“You start to realize that there were some people that had some problems.”Thome said it was fantastic to hear from so many athletes, but he was suddenly overwhelmed with all the calls. The executive director pulled together psychologists, therapists, education and literature for athletes.

“That’s when we started to build out a different side of our sports medicine program,” Thome said.

Jared Parsonage, a bull rider from Maple Creek, Sask., said Pozzobon’s death brought a sudden awareness to the community about mental health.

“It opened people’s eyes a little bit,” Parsonage said of Pozzobon’s death.

“It’s a crappy way for things to change, but you have to find a good thing about it.”

Along with the surge in mental health awareness, Pozzobon’s death helped bring the link between concussions and mental wellness to the forefront.

At the time of his death, Pozzobon’s family said they suspected his death was related to repeated head injuries and concussions he sustained during his rodeo career. They donated his brain to the University of Washington, and the neurologist found evidence of a chronic brain condition caused by concussions.

Doctors found Pozzobon suffered from chronic traumatic encephalopathy or CTE. He was the first bull rider to receive that diagnosis. Neurologists also found evidence of chronic traumatic axonal injury – a key predictor of head trauma, and an injury Pozzobon was aware of before his death.

Thome said there is a strong link between CTE and mental health struggles, including depression and suicide. CTE can only be diagnosed post-mortem and is typically found in college and professional football players, athletes in other contact sports and military members.

While medical professionals have just started to look into the link between concussions and mental wellbeing, the first findings are drawing a strong link between head injuries and mental health issues.

One in five people may experience mental health symptoms up to six months after a mild traumatic brain injury, a 2019 American National Institute of Health study found.

“Scientists also identified factors that may increase the risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) and/or major depressive disorder following mild mTBI or concussion,” a news release on the study read.

“The results showed that at three and six months following injury, people who had experienced mTBI were more likely than orthopedic trauma patients to report symptoms of PTSD and/or major depressive disorder.”

Three months after the injury, 20 per cent of mild traumatic brain injury patients reported mental health symptoms, compared to 8.7 percent of orthopedic trauma patients. At six months after injury, mental health symptoms were reported by 21.2 percent of people who had experienced head injury and 12.1 percent of orthopedic trauma patients.

“Contrary to common assumptions, mild head injuries can cause long-term effects. These findings suggest that follow-up care after head injury, even for mild cases, is crucial, especially for patients showing risk factors for PTSD or depression,” study author Murray Stein, professor at the University of California San Diego, said in a release.

Thome said the industry has been working with head safety and concussions for “as long as he can remember” but it can still be difficult to communicate the danger of head injuries to athletes.

“In the western lifestyle industry, it’s a hard nut to crack when it comes to injury,’ Thome said.

The industry has its own concussion protocols that it tries to follow.

“But at the end of the day in professional rodeo, they’re contractors, and so we don’t have jurisdiction to tell them that they can’t go,” Thome said.

One of the challenges rodeo athletes face is that if they don’t compete, they don’t get paid. Even when they compete, only the best athletes get paid, Thome said – but they don’t have even a chance at a cheque unless they ride in their event.

For athletes supporting families or in need of a paycheque, this may give them extra motivation to ride with an injury.

On top of it all, athletes have to pay to compete in events and the costs of travel and accommodations aren’t covered, so if athletes have paid hundreds of dollars to get to the event, they may have even more motivation to ride when they aren’t healthy.

Policing each other

But after Pozzobon’s death, Thome said athletes are much more likely to sit out an event if they had a concussion.

“A lot of the cowboys are starting to police each other, they are starting to police their travel mates – just because, when it comes to concussions you are not really using all of your thinking skills to make the right decision,” Thome said.

“If your buddies or the sports medicine team is kind of helping you make up your mind on whether you should or you shouldn’t get on, it makes it easier.”

Still, these cultural changes in the sport are still slow. Thome said the top athletes in the sport have to lead the change so all of the younger up-and-coming competitors will realize that in order to be the best, you have to take care of your physical and mental health.

But head injuries aren’t the only risk impacting athletes’ mental health, Thome noted – getting any injury can deal a devastating blow to the athlete’s mental health. Just like in any other sport, the timing of injuries plays an important role.

If an athlete suffers a broken leg at the start of the season, they still may have a chance to ride that year. If they break their leg before the biggest rodeo event of the season, they may be devastated.Thome said having to sit out months of rodeo, alone and healing at home, can be hard to take.

Still, some rodeo athletes see a silver lining in sitting out the rodeo season: the chance to reconnect with another important community in their lives – their families.

Stemo said because he is on the road for eight months of the year, he misses time with his family all summer long.”(COVID’s) not that bad because I get to see my family. So I got more family time this year … than I have in the last four or five years.

“That was a good thing for me. I got to do things with my family that I normally miss over the summers because I am always travelling.”

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Great West Newspapers, covering rural Alberta issues.

Resources

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, you can call Alberta’s 24-hour mental health helpline 1-877-303-2642.
The addiction helpline can be reached at 1-866-332-2322 and is also available 24/7.
If you are having suicidal thoughts or you know someone who is, you can get help by calling the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1-833-456-4566 or by texting 45645.
Alberta’s community and social services helpline can be reached by dialing 211. The 24-hour distress line is 780-482-4357 (HELP).
The rural distress line for northern Alberta is 1-800-232-7288.
If you or someone you know is at risk of an immediate crisis, call 911.

Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporterAbout the Author: Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Great West Newspapers based in St. Albert, Alta. Read more

Source: St. Alberta Today

Great West Newspaper: Struggling For Hope – Part 2

By | Uncategorized

The Thumbs Up Foundation is honoured to support Great West Newspaper’s “Struggling For Hope” 8-part series. Journalist Jennifer Henderson investigates the relationship between the mental health of Albertans and our economy.

Thanks to the network of participating papers in the Thumbs Up sponsored features:

AirdrieToday.com
AlbertaPrimeTimes.com
CochraneToday.ca
LakelandToday.ca
MountainviewToday.ca
OkotoksToday.ca
RMOToday.com
StAlbertToday.ca
TownandCountryToday.com

A HUGE thank you to all involved!!

Part 2 – Farmers shed light on silent fight against mental illness

This is the second part of Struggling for Hope, an eight-part special feature series examining the intersections between economic instability and mental health needs. Read our introduction to the series here.
Part 1: ‘It hurts’: Workers grapple with the mental impacts of Alberta’s recession

“I didn’t tell my friends – didn’t tell anybody. I just went inward. I hunkered down, and I just closed off to the world. My brain just went to mush. I couldn’t even make a decision to go see a doctor.”

 By:
Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Colin Millang 3

Colin Millang lost his hog farm near Camrose in 2005. He is sharing his story of struggling with depression and anxiety in the hope of helping other people. JENNIFER HENDERSON/St. Albert Gazette

Colin Millang’s life began crashing down around him in March 2005 when he lost his family farm.

On a Tuesday morning, Millang, then 46, heard a knock at his door on his hog farm near Camrose from a bailiff, who explained to him that the financial trouble he had been keeping secret had finally caught up with him.

Trucks drove onto his farm and began hauling away his 150 hogs and equipment. A week later, the bank foreclosed on his land. The following week, his utility company cut off the gas.

“I felt humiliated. I felt a deep sense of humiliation out of that whole unravelling of the farm,” Millang told Great West.

The hits kept coming. A few weeks later, Millang lost the part-time job he had been working in addition to farming, though he doesn’t blame his employer for cutting ties.

“Even though the employer felt bad about letting me go, I didn’t blame him, because at this point now, mentally and emotionally I was absolutely spent and I couldn’t do my job any more.

On the last day of March, his 20-year marriage came to an end.

Feelings of humiliation, guilt and shame flooded Millang, who came to the realization he had been battling undiagnosed depression long before he lost everything.

“I started to realize that I had been struggling and I had been dealing with depression for many, many, many years,” he said. That depression, coupled with anxiety and feelings of hopelessness, had led him to make poor decisions – leading in turn to more depression and anxiety.

As his farm had begun to descend into more and more financial trouble, Millang found himself hiding that from his wife and friends. At the same time, he began to lose his ability to make even the simplest decision, struggling even to decide what to eat for lunch.

“I got myself into such a deep hole that I didn’t even think that I should go see a doctor. I didn’t seek out a therapist. I didn’t even tell my wife what was going on at the farm. I didn’t tell my friends – didn’t tell anybody. I just went inward. I hunkered down, and I just closed off to the world. My brain just went to mush. I couldn’t even make a decision to go see a doctor,” he said.

As Millang quietly, unknowingly battled his mental health conditions, the hog industry in Canada took a turn for the worse. At the time, Japan’s hog industry had collapsed, and the global market had come down with it. Family hog farms in the U.S. were going under, and that wave of closures was coming to Canada. Smaller farms couldn’t stay afloat and were haemorrhaging money, but Millang thought his farm would be different.

“I didn’t want to believe it. The writing was on the wall,” Millang said.

Eventually, his farm succumbed as many others had done.

Getting help

Five years before Millang lost his farm, he remembers watching the Oprah Winfrey Show and wondering if he was depressed. An expert on the show said depression was defined as feeling sad and blue for more than eight weeks in a row, and while Millang was struggling, he didn’t feel like he met that description.

“I don’t feel sad and blue, so then I guess I’m not depressed,” he recalled.

The problem was that he actually was depressed – he just didn’t recognize it.

“It went undiagnosed and I didn’t do anything about it.”

After his farm went under and his life was completely upended by depression and anxiety, Millang decided to get professional help and start digging himself out of the hole that had opened up beneath him.

Now, he says if someone had asked him if he was feeling angry, engaging in risky behaviour or overindulging in alcohol, he might have identified more with the diagnosis of depression.

“What I have learned, for some men, our depression does not show up as feeling sad and blue,” he said.

Colin Millang 2

Now a Lutheran pastor in Hanna, Alta., Millang has also joined forces with the Resource Centre for Suicide Prevention’s rural and oil and gas support program called Tough Enough To Talk About It, where he travels across the province sharing his story of suffering in the hope of helping other people who find themselves in his position. JENNIFER HENDERSON/St. Albert Gazette

Millang’s story of anxiety and depression on the farm is not unique.In Canada, the farming community sees an estimated 20 to 30 per cent more suicides than any other industry. A 2018 survey conducted by the University of Guelph showed that 45 per cent of Canadian farmers were classified as having high levels of stress; 58 per cent met the criteria for anxiety; 38 per cent had high levels of mental exhaustion; and 35 per cent met the criteria for depression.

Still, 40 per cent of Canadian farmers said they would feel uneasy seeking help.

Adelle Stewart, the executive director of the Do More Agriculture Foundation, said farmers face more challenges than the rest of the population.

“(Studies) are showing that farmers and primary producers experience stress, depression and anxiety at higher rates than the general population in Canada,” Stewart said.

One contributing factor to that is the unpredictability of their jobs.

“We need to be business planners, but we also have to be the most adaptable people on the planet,” Stewart explained.

Farmers and primary producers battle many factors outside their control, including the unpredictable weather that can destroy millions of dollars in crops planted in the spring. An early snow or wet fall can wash away all the hard work families pour into the ground all season long.

“There are farmers putting a million bucks into the soil and just (hoping) it rains, and then there are others saying, ‘I hope it doesn’t rain too much,’” Millang said.

Disease and pests can also come out of nowhere to wipe out crops and herds, like in 2003 when the beef industry dealt with bovine spongiform encephalopathy (BSE), known more broadly as mad cow disease.

Unpredictable commodities markets also contributes to the stress of life on the farm, with factors like trade wars and pork demand in China sideswiping any plans local producers might have made at the beginning of the season.

The culture trap

While life on the farm is tough enough, the culture surrounding farming makes it harder for those who are suffering to get help.

“You do have to be tough in agriculture, but then there’s that expectation that you are that tough – that you chose this job,” Stewart said.

Millang, now a pastor, said it can be hard for men in our culture to express their emotions or seek help for problems – and that’s even more difficult in a farm setting.

“We as males are taught you do this life on your own. Don’t talk about your emotions and do these things on your own – pull up your bootstraps and have a stiff upper lip. You yourself is responsible for you, and now you bring in this farming mentality of being on your own,” Millang said.

The now-pastor says agriculture is very much an independent job, which is what many people love about it. But that individualism can be harmful when a tough year hits or when farmers need mental health support.

Stewart said producers are typically expected to either handle their problems alone or leave the industry.

“There is a lot of stigma, because nothing’s ever going to be perfect and (people say), ‘You chose this life, so why don’t you just get out of it?’” Stewart said.

Walking away from a family farm, though, isn’t that easy.

“When you’re on a fifth-generation farm, there’s pride and resiliency, and the world needs food,” Stewart said.

For Millang, part of the shame he felt from losing his farm was tied to losing all the hard work his parents had put into the business.

“I was so embarrassed. The family farm that my mom and dad gave their life to – and I so wanted to pass on to my children – died on my watch,” Millang said.

Mental illness not a ‘cut-and-dried issue’

Kasara Cooper knows the struggles of coping with mental health on the farm all too well. The 28-year-old lost her father, Roger Van Hecke, to his mental illness earlier this summer.

Her dad was 58 when he passed away.

Van Hecke was raised on a farm, and when he moved out, he started a farm of his own near Busby, Alta.

“He fought hard through his struggles, and is sorely missed since he lost his battle to mental illness earlier this summer,” Cooper said.

“He had an aptitude for it all and had a ridiculous amount of knowledge.”

She said he left a legacy behind of a hard work ethic and love for teaching others.

IMG_1325 c

Kasara Cooper holds a photo of her dad, Roger Van Hecke, who she lost to suicide in the summer. Van Hecke was a farmer in Busby, Alta. Cooper shared her father’s story with Great West Newspapers for the Struggling for Hope series in order to help shed light on the mental health struggles of farmers in Alberta. JENNIFER HENDERSON/St. Albert Gazette

The daughter said there was no one factor that contributed to her dad’s mental health struggles, but there were many complex factors that contributed to his suffering.

“I don’t believe mental illness is a cut-and-dried issue. It’s complex and often times we need to view these types of illness as the straw that broke the camel’s back,” Cooper said.

Being in the agriculture industry can make mental health struggles harder, she added, because you never leave your work.

The to-do list is never ending and the work is never done. Farmers work literally sunup to sundown and even then beyond that, she explained. So if there is a problem on the farm or producers are feeling overwhelmed with work, they don’t have a way to escape.

“There’s no break from it because it is your home,” Cooper said.

Cooper said even finding time to get mental health support can be hard and many farmers or producers feel like they don’t have time for self-care or to make appointments to get help. The nurse said sometimes the to-do list is so long it feels like it’s nearly impossible to focus on mental wellbeing, and farmers are left spending all their energy finishing a never-ending list of chores.

But even when farmers realize they need help and want to get help, finding support in a rural community can be challenging, especially if they don’t have benefits and must pay out-of-pocket. Additionally, mental health services in rural areas can be overwhelmed – especially in the midst of a public health crisis such as the COVID-19 pandemic – and getting an appointment can be difficult. Instead, farmers may choose to try to cope on their own.

“(Mental health centres) are swamped, because people are overwhelmed and struggling with COVID,” Cooper said.

Isolated without services

Poor internet access in rural areas can deter people from accessing mental health services, Stewart says. Living hours away from help can be an additional barrier.

“If people have six days of rain, and on the sunny Thursday they either get to spray or see their counsellor, they are going to spray,” she said.

Organizations like the Do More Agriculture Foundation and the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Rural Mental Health Project are aiming to fill that gap in services for rural residents.

Jessica Turowski, Rural Mental Health project manager, said the new organization – which launched in 2017 – provides funding and training for rural communities to help initiate or expand a conversation around mental health.

“We are sort of building on the amazing things already happening in the community, and helping to expand and grow those to support mentally healthy communities,” Turowski said.

According to a 2014 gap analysis report on public mental health and addictions programs conducted by the University of Alberta, rural populations are underserved when it comes to mental health services.

The report said residents are often required to travel far to access help for mental health and addiction problems and “as a result they are less likely to obtain the services and supports they need.”

Specific gaps found in the report include a lack of programs targeting children and youth, limited access to forensic psychiatry services in rural areas, and minimal on-reserve services and supports.

According to the report, rural zones tended to cluster programs and services around large sub-regions within the zone, including programs and services that were offered in multiple satellite locations.

Turowski said no two rural communities are the same and some have already undertaken extensive work around mental health while others are just starting the conversation.

“The challenges that each of those communities (are) experiencing are a little bit different,” Turowski said.

She cited the ongoing cultural barriers and stigma about talking about mental health, which are even stronger in rural communities.

Another barrier in rural settings and small towns is a concern over privacy.

“The lack of anonymity in many communities can be a real barrier for people wanting to access certain services,” Turowski said.

“So often people will go to seek support services in a surrounding community or travel elsewhere, even if it’s available in their community – and that is unique to rural communities.”

Cheryl Isert, a Smoky River, Alta., resident, joined forces with the Rural Mental Health Project to help bring support to her small northern community.

Isert struggled with her own mental health challenges after adopting a son with special needs in 2006 and struggling to find support for both her son and her family.

“I wanted to become involved in this so that I could help other families find the supports and so that they wouldn’t have to go through it,” Isert, a pharmacy technician, said.

Living in a small community, Isert said they don’t always have access to services like therapy – sometimes, community members will drive an hour just to get to their appointments.

But despite the challenges facing rural residents, there are also mental health benefits to living in smaller communities, which Isert wants to help remind people of.

Isert said in her community, many people are very active and love being outdoors, which is good for mental health. Many people avidly hike, camp, ride their quads and hunt.

Another benefit, Isert said, is neighbours are very invested in their own community – many people have lived in the community for decades and are strongly invested in seeing it thrive.

And while for some people, knowing all their neighbours and feeling like there is no privacy when seeking mental health supports may feel like a road block to getting help, other people respond positively to having a community that knows them well and is willing to them.

Still, despite the perks, Isert said rural communities have been struggling long before the pandemic hit. She said she has watched people become lonelier as community events and programs shut down due to OVID-19; transportation services that ran in rural areas slowed down, including the bus in Smoky River. It has always been challenging to find work in rural communities, and COVID-19 made that even harder; Smoky River, a community dependent on the oil industry, was struggling before COVID-19 and took an extra hit when the pandemic landed in Alberta.

But that sense of community also persevered through the pandemic, with many people buying groceries for other, calling their neighbours to check in and making sure everyone in the community was taken care of.

“It was heartwarming – that’s small town. You wouldn’t see that in the big city.”

Life after the breakdown

After Millang’s life fell apart on the farm, it took him nearly a decade to rebuild his life and feel mentally well again. Now, he is determined to make sure his suffering was not in vain.

Millang decided to follow a decades-long dream to become a pastor, where he was stationed in the rural community of Hanna, Alta.

As a pastor for the Lutheran Church, he is able to draw on his personal experience to support rural community members who are navigating their own mental health struggles.

Millang also joined forces with the Resource Centre for Suicide Prevention’s rural and oil and gas support program called Tough Enough To Talk About It, where he travels across the province sharing his story of suffering in the hope of helping other people who find themselves in his position.

“There is so much silent suffering going on,” Millang said.

Millang now regularly sees a therapist to help prevent any catastrophic hits to his mental health and he is constantly learning and studying to understand his mind better.

He is hopeful the tide is turning and the stigma of talking about mental health struggles, especially for men, is lifting.

As a pastor, he supports men who come in and talk to him about their struggles with mental health and addiction. He is determined to use his story to help change the lives of those around him.

Part of me telling my story is to help people to understand what depression can look like,” Millang said.

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Great West Newspapers, covering rural Alberta issues.

Resources

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, you can call Alberta’s 24-hour mental health helpline 1-877-303-2642.
The addiction helpline can be reached at 1-866-332-2322 and is also available 24/7.
If you are having suicidal thoughts or you know someone who is, you can get help by calling the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1-833-456-4566 or by texting 45645.
Alberta’s community and social services helpline can be reached by dialing 211. The 24-hour distress line is 780-482-4357 (HELP).
The rural distress line for northern Alberta is 1-800-232-7288.
If you or someone you know is at risk of an immediate crisis, call 911.

Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporterAbout the Author: Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Great West Newspapers based in St. Albert, Alta. Read more

Source: St. Albert Today

Great West Newspaper: Struggling For Hope – Part 1

By | Uncategorized

The Thumbs Up Foundation is honoured to support Great West Newspaper’s “Struggling For Hope” 8-part series. Journalist Jennifer Henderson investigates the relationship between the mental health of Albertans and our economy.

Thanks to the network of participating papers in the Thumbs Up sponsored features:

AirdrieToday.com
AlbertaPrimeTimes.com
CochraneToday.ca
LakelandToday.ca
MountainviewToday.ca
OkotoksToday.ca
RMOToday.com
StAlbertToday.ca
TownandCountryToday.com

A HUGE thank you to all involved!!

Part 1 -‘It hurts’: Workers grapple with the mental impacts of Alberta’s recession

This is the first part of Struggling for Hope, an eight-part special feature series examining the intersections between economic instability and mental health needs. Read the introduction to the series here.

“I’m dealing with it. I have to be strong for my family. I shut myself into my bedroom sometimes and bawl my eyes out.”

 By:
Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

colin

Colin Rankin, a father-of-two in St. Albert, saw his home-based business as an audio engineer fall apart when the pandemic hit. COLIN RANKIN/Photo

Colin Rankin used to run a successful audio engineering business from his home in St. Albert – until COVID-19 hit.

Earlier this year, as artists across the country lost their incomes with the cancellations of events and gatherings, Rankin suddenly saw his business dry up. His customers no longer had the money to get their music professionally engineered.

As the pandemic raged on, Rankin, who has a three-week-old newborn son and a four-year-old stepdaughter, found himself with no money to pay the bills. The audio engineer liquidated his livelihood to keep his family’s head above water, selling $20,000 worth of equipment while he looks for a new job. So far, he has had no luck.

Rankin moved to Alberta four years ago to start a new life after serving a federal prison sentence for armed robbery in New Brunswick. He goes out every day to hand out resumes, but has yet to find meaningful employment. To complicate matters, his criminal record makes it that much harder to secure employment.

“I’m a very, very hard worker. But when people see my tattoos and then they ask for a criminal record check, it just makes it very, very hard,” Rankin said.
“I have to take care of my family. I have no way to make any money. And nobody’s hiring right now.”

As the father-of-two’s employment situation worsened, so did his mental health. Rankin has battled anxiety and depression since he was a teenager, and the stress of finding a job wears on him each day.

“I’m still in shock. Some days, it’s really hard. Some days, I get really agitated with people because I’m so depressed. I’m so angry and I’m tired of being sad that then I start taking it out on people and it sucks,” Rankin said.

Right now, Rankin’s girlfriend is taking care of the family’s bills. He said it hurts that he isn’t able to provide for his family.

“I’m dealing with it. I have to be strong for my family. I shut myself into my bedroom sometimes and bawl my eyes out. I have a little daughter. I have a little boy. Sometimes, my dogs run out of dog food and I have to feed them cat food. It hurts.”

One of millions

Rankin isn’t alone. Across Canada, 5.5 million workers had their jobs impacted by the economic shutdown, according to Statistics Canada. Alberta, already bruised by the downturn of its oil and gas industry, received a particularly painful pummelling: in May, the province’s unemployment rate hit a high of 15.5 per cent. In August, it still sat at 11.8 per cent. For the past two months, Calgary has topped the charts for unemployment rates country-wide.

Ehsan Latif, economics professor at Thompson Rivers University, said people who lose their jobs typically feel psychological impacts because their work is deeply tied to their self-esteem. A slumping economy drags the mental health of workers down with it.

Anxiety hits people whether they have a job or not: employed people often watch unemployment rates rise and worry their jobs will be the next to go.

“What (the employed) will do is they will try to work more or try to find another job,” Latif explained – many work longer hours or take on extra work to prevent being laid off or let go during a recession, while many others will start preparing their resumes in case they lose their current jobs.

Anxiety, depression and suicide

Recessions are even harder on people who are unemployed, Latif said. Studies across the world show a strong link between employment and mental wellbeing.

People with mental health problems are typically the last to benefit when the economy booms and the first to suffer in a downturn, found a 2009 summary report by the Mental Health Commission of Canada.

Employment problems and financial stress are key risks for suicide around the globe, with every one-per-cent increase in unemployment correlating with a 0.79-per-cent increase in the suicide rate.

“The psychological impact of economic crises on individuals and families can easily be compared to the aftermath of a disaster such as Hurricane Katrina – where businesses and jobs were lost and people were forced from their homes,” the report read.

In Alberta, suicide rates rise even more drastically. Research shows every one-per-cent increase in unemployment correlates to a 2.8-per-cent increase in the suicide rate. This roughly translates to 16 more Albertans dying by suicide for each per cent increase in unemployment.

Cole Goodine, a bareback rodeo athlete in Alberta, has seen his mental health decline since the pandemic began.

Goodine, who lives on a farm near Carbon, Alta., said he has struggled with depression for most of his adult life. The rodeo athlete works hard to manage his depression, but the impact of COVID-19 on his livelihood has quashed one of the major sources of joy in his life. Almost all rodeo events were cancelled this year.

“I don’t have those highs (from competing), so I just kind of plateaued all year. There’s just no up and no down,” Goodine said.

Goodine 1

Cole Goodine, a bareback rider from Carbon, Alta., said his mental health has declined since the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic. Goodine used to be gone every weekend riding in rodeos across North America, but is now stuck at home due to pandemic travel restrictions. COLE GOODINE/Photo

For Goodine, the rodeo was more than just an income generator. It gave him a passion and purpose in life. Now, he spends his weekend at home instead of competing. He is working as a welder during the week, though that’s slowing down too.

“I’ve been working when there’s work – it’s just, everything’s really slow right now, too, which also doesn’t help,” he said.

Goodine’s experience is common for people living through a recession. Overall, the province’s unemployment rate has significantly impacted levels of depression across all different subsets of society, a study Latif conducted found.

Meanwhile, a Statistics Canada survey in April and May found nearly a quarter of Canadians (24 per cent) said they had fair or poor mental health – compared to previously published data from the 2018 Canadian Community Health Survey that found eight per cent of Canadians reported fair or poor mental health.

People between the ages of 15 and 24 are most likely (41 per cent) to report symptoms consistent with moderate or severe anxiety, while those aged 65 and older were the least likely to (11 per cent).

That higher level of anxiety among youth reflects findings from another study that highlighted significant concerns about finances, academic disruptions and employment prospects for youth.

During this pandemic, women have been more likely to report higher levels of anxiety than men (21 and 15 per cent, respectively). Keith Dobson, clinical psychology professor at the University of Calgary, said this can be partly related to the fact women have lost their jobs at a higher rate than men since COVID-19 hit.

“Part of that is because women are more likely going to be in service roles than men … and/or office positions, and so a lot of the office positions either were eliminated or were made part-time,” said Dobson, who is also the principal investigator for the Opening Minds program of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, which aims to reduce stigma around mental illness.

Dobson said this contrasts with previous recessions, where men were more likely to lose their jobs due to the economic impact being felt in fields that primarily employ men, such as the oil and gas sector.

Anxiety and depression are the two mental health conditions most likely to increase during an economic decline, since they are the most common mental health conditions overall, he said.

Meanwhile, 18 per cent of Canadians increased their alcohol consumption during the pandemic due to stress, boredom, lack of a regular schedule and loneliness, according to an April 2020 survey conducted for the Canadian Centre on Substance Use and Addiction. Six per cent reported increased cannabis use.

Marital distress and domestic violence have also increased since the pandemic began, Dobson said – a common thread for recessions. In Calgary, research through the University of Calgary’s School of Public Policy found a correlation between dropping oil prices and rising calls for help dealing with domestic abuse.

Since the pandemic began, women’s shelters and support centres for people experiencing domestic abuse have reported spikes in calls for service.

Boom, bust, repeat

While COVID-19 currently threatens the global economy, Alberta is dealing with a multilayered economic crisis. While our response to the pandemic hurt our economy, Alberta has also been struggling to handle a collapse in oil prices.

“In my view, anxiety or stress will be higher in Alberta, because even when COVID-19 is gone, the economy still depends on the oil prices,” Latif said.

Dobson said economic disadvantage is a strong risk factor for any kind of illness, including mental health challenges.

“Any time a person is in a tenuous situation, their health usually goes down. So people in marginalized or limited-income situations definitely are affected,” Dobson said.

Dobson Headshot

Keith Dobson, clinical psychology professor at the University of Calgary and principal investigator for the Opening Minds program of the Mental Health Commission of Canada, said both anxiety and depression have increased during the pandemic, which is exacerbating the already unmet funding needs for mental health supports across the country. KEITH DOBSON/Photo

Going into the pandemic, Dobson said the Mental Health Commission knew the country was underfunding mental health needs. In 2017, the commission issued a report calling on the federal government to increase funding for mental health.

“Unfortunately, part of what we’re seeing now is really(a) continuation and maybe an exacerbation of some of the things that we’ve seen previously,” he said.

Cost of mental distress

The economic toll of underfunding mental health needs burns a multi-billion-dollar hole in Canada’s pocket. In 2016, the Conference Board of Canada found depression alone costs the Canadian economy about $32.3 billion annually in GDP, while anxiety costs $17.3 billion per year.

That research concluded nearly a quarter of Canadians living with mental illness are unable to work due to their symptoms, and in some cases depression and anxiety prevents people from entering the workforce altogether.

Dobson said these numbers measure the direct costs, including treatment, hospitalization and lost earnings – things that can be tied directly to the disorder. The indirect costs include factors such as underemployment.

“It’s almost impossible to know how much a person would have earned if they didn’t have a condition,” he explained.

Overall, people who suffer from mental health disorders earn less over their lifetimes – those losses are difficult to measure as well, Dobson said.

“We know that some people with mental disorders stigmatize themselves. They choose not to apply for promotions at work, when they’re perfectly capable and perfectly well-qualified. Because of their own sense of self-esteem or inability, they might not (take) that opportunity. So that’s an opportunity they lose, which you could never measure,” he said.

On top of reduced opportunities, people who suffer from mental illness face reduced education, reduced employment and are more likely to be isolated and not have social contact, he added.

Policy changes

One key to supporting people who suffer from mental health issues is early intervention.

“The earlier you can identify people who are struggling, provide them with care – appropriate care and services, and adequate care for the longer term … You can change that trajectory,” said Dobson.

But in Canada, with provinces running their own health care systems, broad country-wide policy changes are a challenge.

Mental health tends to be one of the underfunded parts of every provincial health care system, though Dobson said Alberta has a higher funding rate than other provinces.

“But even here, we know that it’s not adequate. It doesn’t meet anywhere near the unmet need.”

Estimates show that around 7.5 million people in Canada had mental health problems prior to the pandemic. That’s nowhere near the number of people who are accessing mental health services, Dobson said – that rate has probably doubled due to COVID-19.

While humans are resilient, he added there is a risk of a “downward cycle” associated with mental illness.

“I think as people become hopeless, helpless, they tend to try less or try to sometimes even give up – so you can definitely see a downward spiral. But I think once you give people an opportunity, and they can see their way out, they often will take those opportunities and run with them.”

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative Reporter for Great West Newspapers, covering rural Alberta issues.

Resources

If you or someone you know is struggling with mental health issues, you can call Alberta’s 24-hour mental health helpline 1-877-303-2642.
The addiction helpline can be reached at 1-866-332-2322 and is also available 24/7.
If you are having suicidal thoughts or you know someone who is, you can get help by calling the Canada Suicide Prevention Service at 1-833-456-4566 or by texting 45645.
Alberta’s community and social services helpline can be reached by dialling 211. The 24-hour distress line is 780-482-4357 (HELP).
The rural distress line for northern Alberta is 1-800-232-7288.
If you or someone you know is at risk of an immediate crisis, call 911.

Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporterAbout the Author: Jennifer Henderson, Local Journalism Initiative reporter

Jennifer Henderson is the Local Journalism Initiative reporter for Great West Newspapers based in St. Albert, Alta. Read more

Source: St. Alberta Today