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Great West Newspaper: Struggling For Hope – Part 4

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:

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.”

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 reporter

About 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.

Great West Newspaper: Struggling For Hope – Part 3

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:

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.”

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

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 reporter

About 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.

Great West Newspaper: Struggling For Hope – Part 2

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:

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.”
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 reporter

About 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

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:

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.”
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 reporter

About 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

Great West Newspaper Presents: “Struggling For Hope”

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:

Airdire Today, Sept. 25, 2020: “The ebb and flow of Alberta’s economy has a complex but critical link to the mental health needs of its residents. As the economic strength of our province has declined, mental health services have become overwhelmed with calls for help.

We know that during a downturn, calls about domestic abuse increase; agriculture and oil and gas workers suffer depression and anxiety at higher rates; men take their own lives and suicide rates across the province increase.

What happens to the mental health of Albertans when an economy tanks? How does living in a province with wild cycles of booms and busts impact the long-term mental wellbeing of residents?

In a new series, Great West Newspapers journalist Jennifer Henderson will investigate the intersections between mental health needs and economic insecurity – and how the challenges wrought by COVID-19 are impacting Albertans’ mental and economic recovery.

Over the next month, Struggling For Hope will unpack which industries see higher rates of mental health problems, what social issues emerge when recessions hit and what experts say needs to be done to help address this problem.

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

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

September 2019

 

Harmonized Health is a Thumbs Up pilot project.

Support for individuals and families requiring assistance for mental health and addiction care will be provided by Professionals and non-Professionals in a controlled and measured environment.

Outcomes will be recorded, measured and evaluated by a professional team with the intention of publishing a report on the effectiveness of the project.

We sincerely appreciate Pipehouse Ltd for their ability and support in creating our Harmonized Health video. We deeply appreciate their expertise and professionalism in helping us share the Harmonized Health story and highly recommend them.

May 2019

 

BOARD OF DIRECTORS STATEMENT RE: APPOINTMENT OF ASSOCIATE MINISTER OF MENTAL HEALTH & ADDICTION.

Recently, on April 30th, the Alberta Government formed cabinet, and for the first time in our Province’s history we have a minister tasked with the sole responsibility of addressing the mental health and addiction related needs of Albertans. The appointment of an Associate Minister of Mental Health and Addiction is significant for all Albertans, as it enables our government to deliver quality mental health care and addiction services to those who need them most. The Thumbs Up Foundation fully supports this new cabinet role, and we look forward to seeing all the good this will do for Albertans.

– THE BOARD OF DIRECTORS

Click here to download the full press release (.PDF)

April 2018

 

Airdrie Mental Health Task Force

Airdrie, AB — A multi-agency, citizen-focused, Mental Health Task Force has begun work in the greater Airdrie and Area to determine the mental health needs of citizens in the community and to seek any potential opportunities for improvement within the local systems currently providing support and services.

The Airdrie and Area Mental Health Task Force is a joint, co-sponsored initiative of the Thumbs Up Foundation and the Airdrie & Area Health Co-op. The Task Force is comprised of representatives of 10 agencies with mandates related to mental health services for Airdrie and Area citizens. Through analysis of the work of existing mental health services, community input, and area-specific research, the Task Force will map the current state of support and services available and to find opportunities for improvement…

Click here to download the full press release (.PDF)

June 2017

 

Sean McCann

“It wasn’t just an event, it was an experience. People came and came together. You could feel it in the room. It wasn’t just sitting in a chair enjoying the music, it was everything we wanted it to be. People came in their various groups and they left feeling they had shared something very, very special.” – Words from our own Kim Titus about Saturday’s awesome event. Thanks again to everyone who helped make this event happen—from Sean McCann to Kara Golemba to SLAM in Airdrie, to the volunteers to those who donated door prizes to Woodside Golf Course and their staff—and everyone who attended! Please find more information at the following:

https://www.discoverairdrie.com/local/17108-mccann-concert-brings-awareness-for-mental-health

January 2017

 

Airdrie Health Park

We are pleased to share a very exciting development for mental health care in Alberta! This made-in-Airdrie effort seeks to make Airdrie the healthiest city in Canada and build the Airdrie Health Park, which will include a hub for mental health services and care. Having Dr. Tom Feasby to lead this cutting-edge initiative is truly encouraging, and the Thumbs Up Foundation will sit as an equal entity at the AAHBC’s boardroom table to help ensure the quality and delivery of mental health care in Airdrie is the best that it can be. Please find more information at the following:

http://www.newswire.ca/news-releases/dr-tom-feasby-appointed-president–ceo-of-the-airdrie–area-health-benefits-cooperative-611215105.html

Advocating Positive Change for Mental Health.

 

Help Us Make A Change Today.