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Posted: May 3, 2022

Mental Health Week promotes empathy

By Erin Knutson

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Kootenays celebrates Canadian Mental Health Week 2022 (May 2-8). As part of this year’s focus on empathy, the CMHA’s around the country are promoting their message through a Mental Health Tool Kit that supporters can access to tout the campaign slogan through social media.

Using the hashtag #GetReal, Canadians have begun to spread the message of hope, tolerance, and patience with encouragement from the non-profit organization dedicated to mental health and wellness in the community and across the nation.

“Bring empathy alive with the people in your life. Be there, listen completely, and see the world through their eyes. It’s how to help,” noted the CMHA Tool Kit.

Empathy is part of the training for the extensive programs available at the CMHA Kootenays Branch, including its crisis line centre, which is part of the Interior Crisis Line Network (ICLN) and funded by the Interior Health Authority.

Cranbrook offers a 40-hour, four-day, in-class training program for volunteer crisis line responders dedicated to suicide prevention, domestic violence, homelessness, mental health and substance use issues, and helping to de-escalate problems while supporting callers.

Responders meet clients head-on and wherever they are mentally or emotionally, offer a compassionate ear and the skills to assist wherever needed or requested.

Dedicated volunteers and staff help create 24-hour coverage across the ICLN, including Cranbrook, Trail, Williams Lake, Vernon, and Kelowna, B.C.

“It’s a great honour and a great responsibility. Each site has some set parameters to ensure coverage and our volunteers’ generous gifts of time to fill in some of the spaces when we need more help,” said CMHA Kootenays Administrator for Crisis and Volunteer Services Natalie Hake.

According to Hake, responders bring a unique skill set to the line.

“They have lived experience and every different type of education imaginable – when they are on the line, they bring all of who they are with them,” she said.

Calls have increased significantly in the past couple of years. Lack of affordable housing, the pandemic, Indigenous issues, and the climate crisis (heat dome, wildfires, flooding) have nearly doubled call volume.

“Everything is getting more acute. Whatever we face as a community is reflected in the calls – people are hurting, and it comes through the line,” said Hake.

The service, which is considered essential, is a lifeline for people, whether they call in for themselves or a loved one.

Volunteers are trained to listen and to be empathetic from the beginning; it’s not about judgment. It’s about providing a safe space for people to get help, according to the CMHA’s model for crisis line care.

The majority of calls are support calls to help individuals with chronic mental illness.

According to Hake and staff, there is always the potential for that life-saving call to come through, where an intervention is necessary, or someone needs help to call an ambulance.

“Crisis line workers love what they do; it’s hard, it’s busy, and it’s intense, it’s rewarding and humbling. The staff and volunteers we work with are dedicated and amazing,” says Hake.

According to crisis line rules, empathy and active listening are essential tools for mitigating and solving a crisis.

This year, the CMHA’s message for Mental Health Week is to empathize with others. #GetReal and support the community, each other, and those most vulnerable.

For 24-hour help, call:

  • 1-888-353-CARE (2273) for the Crisis Line
  • 310-6789 for the Mental Health Crisis Line
  • Or 1-800 Suicide (1-800-784-2433) if you would like information, resources, or support during a suicide-related crisis for suicide-specific concerns.

For more information on the crisis line or to volunteer, call 250-426-5222.

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