Building a ‘culture of care’ on Salt Spring

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By LINDA UNDERWOOD, for

Salt Spring Health Advancement Network

How does a community build a culture of care? This question has been a focus of the virtual summits offered by the Salt Spring Mental Wellness Initiative (MWI) whose mission includes “bringing people together . . . to mobilize cooperatively around issues and needs of/for mental wellness, co-creating a community in which everyone belongs . . . .”

The MWI, an initiative of the Salt Spring Health Advancement Network, has welcomed the Salt Spring community to come together over Zoom and learn and share ideas around local mental wellness support. The topics of previous summits held in January and February were peer support, which sees support between people who share a common life experience; and volunteer counselling, where a trained volunteer provides support in a formal environment. 

The summits have welcomed over 70 diverse voices, with local service providers, people who access services, people who are marginalized and interested community members bringing their perspectives to the events. Attendees shared their thoughts in breakout sessions, polls and evaluations. They talked about the significant need for mental wellness support in our community — a need only partially met by current services from our mental health professionals. They described the current picture of mental health services on Salt Spring and the need to have a clear understanding of resources available. They also expressed how peer support and volunteer counselling might strengthen existing services and nurture a culture of care in our community. 

Both volunteer counselling and peer support build on the effective efforts already occurring through the work of professional providers and community organizations making support more available. Both make effective use of skilled community members who, for example, have been certified in mental health first aid and contribute to social justice by involving peers that understand the issues of those marginalized people seeking support. 

Perhaps most importantly, peer support and volunteer counselling help reduce stigma and the “us vs. them” mentality while encouraging community resilience — the more the community gets involved the deeper the caring and positive momentum of mental wellness for our whole community. Showing up and giving compassion to each other, even if someone isn’t doing that for themselves is one way to build trust and co-create a culture of care. 

The Mental Wellness Initiative plans to test install “thought” boxes at various locations throughout the island. Look out for them soon and share your thoughts on how we can co-create a culture of care on Salt Spring Island. 

In April, the MWI has two community mobilization summits planned. These summits will take the information from the previous summits and shift the focus to actions we can take to support peer support and volunteer counselling in our community. They will be held on April 19 (2 to 5 p.m.) where the focus will be on peer support, and on April 27 (2 to 5 p.m.) where the focus will be on volunteer counselling. 

The summits are free! You can register for one or both of the April summits by contacting William MacPherson, summit project coordinator (willieonsaltspring@gmail.com), or Charleen Rolston at Charleen.Rolston@islandhealth.ca

If you have any questions about the Mental Wellness Initiative, would like to find out more, or volunteer with the MWI please feel free to contact David Norget, MWI coordinator davidnorget@gmail.com. 

SSHAN and the MWI give thanks to grants from Island Health’s Community Wellness, the Salt Spring Foundation and the CRD’s Grant-in-Aid funds. 

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