Monday, April 15, 2024
April 15, 2024

Support mental health during difficult times


I have felt so many things during this unfolding time of the COVID-19 pandemic — the challenge of adjusting to the unknown; grief in what is happening in the world; care for our elderly and immunocompromised; appreciation for my own life slowing down and my own privilege when I know that there are so many in our world and in our community experiencing hardship. There are more.

As I read the news and observe comments and reactions, it seems to me that the pandemic is showing us where there are gaps in society. Some have safety nets; others do not. Disparity in income, race, ability, the haves and have-nots, is being revealed to all. I have greatly appreciated leaders like Dr. Bonnie Henry who have shown themselves to be knowledgeable, pragmatic and caring. I also appreciate how many people are coming together. There is a different kind of reaching out occurring, whether it is people reaching out to family, friends, people they haven’t contacted for a while, or building connections with complete strangers.

Many in our community have led the way to deepening connections, and these efforts are now being drawn on. The POD system is one such example, but it is far from being the only one. Then there are new community pieces. Regular reports from the Lady Minto Hospital medical staff are reassuring, both in their tone and in their leadership and concern. I believe we all feel comforted hearing how people are coming together to support and extend care.

Since 2013, the Salt Spring Health Advancement Network (SSHAN) has been paying attention to building connections. We believe that through being connected we can be stronger as a community. The health network was born seven years ago out of a physician recruitment committee and a realization that attracting GPs to the island involved creating a community that was working together around health and wellbeing. Since that time many who believe in the importance of collaboration have been dedicated to deepening this.

SSHAN’s mission is To Improve Community Health and Well-being through Networking, Advocacy, Information Sharing and Collaboration. While our focus is on issues around mental health and seniors, we note how intricately linked social determinants of health, like housing, water, recreation, and employment and income, are to overall community health and wellbeing.

In the current circumstances of COVID, SSHAN wants to let people know that there are good things happening in our community. The Emergency Operations Committee is meeting — virtually, of course — twice weekly to discuss logistics, and note and address community needs. Representatives of the school district, Ministry of Children and Family Development, Salt Spring Community Services, a doctor, public health nurse, and more, continue to meet regularly (also virtually) to discuss vulnerable children and their families.

There are a number of organizations supporting insecurely housed community members, many of whom are living with the effect of serious abuse in their past.

The Business and Farm Emergency Response and Recovery Task Force has been created and is working to improve food security and sustain local business. They are also reimagining a new and strengthened Salt Spring.

The health network is noting the stress in our community — COVID means some are thinking about life and death, there are massive adjustments to daily routines, and many are experiencing fear. Mental health is an issue. SSHAN notes that there are marginalized and vulnerable communities on our island. These include children, youth and families who have less income or where there is domestic violence/abuse, seniors and immunocompromised, frontline staff who are dealing with the risk of getting COVID-19, the less able/disabled, insecurely housed people, our Indigenous community, many in the LGBTQ+ community, and diagnosed or undiagnosed mental health individuals. It may be the calm before the storm in terms of mental health.

SSHAN was already working on a one-year mental health initiative (2020-2021), part of a five-year vision, when COVID arrived. It is now working with the Salt Spring Community Health Society to look into addressing immediate mental health needs in the community.

Given the current need, a number of mental health online and telephone services are listed below. Know that you do not need to reach a crisis point to get support. These resources are for you or someone you know who is/are feeling emotional challenges or simply wish to be proactive in your care.

SSHAN is continuing to check in with partners about the mental health concerns they have—both within their organization or for those they serve. We are currently mapping vulnerable communities, noting what supports they are receiving or gaps in service. The work of community continues.

What can you do to help? Continue to support the community health guidelines coming from Dr. Bonnie Henry. This goes a long way to supporting health and therefore community care. Look after yourself and those in your “bubble of care.” Reach out for mental health support to strengthen your wellbeing. Donate money (rather than food) to the food bank — there is a great need. Reach out, using physical distancing, to neighbours or those you think might be vulnerable; they will appreciate it. Strengthen your POD. Reach out to Salt Spring Emergency Services Emergency Program coordinator Charles Nash at to find out how to do this. Some PODS are very active, others non-existent. Keep staying connected. There are ways of physically distancing while connecting to neighbours and others. I note how many of our neighbours are taking regular walks and chatting together on our street.

Helen Keller once said, “Alone we can do so little; together we can do so much.” Thank you to all of the local heroes who continue to contribute to a stronger Salt Spring Island!

The writer is co-chair of SSHAN, a father of two, a counsellor, an emergency mental health clinician, and a member of the community since 1989. He is grateful to live on the traditional and unceded territory of the Hul’qumi’num and Sencoten-speaking Coast Salish peoples.


Government of Canada ‘Wellness Together Canada’ Portal Wellness Together Canada provides tools and resources to help get Canadians back on track. These include modules for addressing low mood, worry, substance use, social isolation and relationship issues, as well as free online resources, tools, apps and connections to trained volunteers and qualified mental health professionals.

B.C. COVID-19 Non-Emergency Hotline through Service BC Information hotline in B.C. solely dedicated to answering non-medical questions about COVID-19. This hotline is staffed from 7:30 am to 8:00 pm every day and shares information in more than 110 languages. Call 1-888-COVID19 or 1-888-268- 4319

[unlock double spacing in this section] BC211 211 Provides free information and referral to a full range of community, social, and government services, and operates 24/7. Note the “Helplines” tab on the website for the full range of available helplines. BC 211 Safe Seniors, Strong Communities includes service for seniors 65+ and those who identify themselves as vulnerable 55+: wellness phone calls, social phone calls, grocery deliveries and prescription pick-ups Call 211 or go to

Virtual Mental Health Supports During COVID-19 BC Seniors, adults, youth and frontline health care workers experiencing anxiety, depression or other mental health challenges arising from the COVID-19 pandemic can get help through virtual services.

Kids’ Help Phone 24/7 free confidential professional online and telephone counselling and text-based support in English and French to youth across Canada, which now offers 24/7 support to all ages. Text WELLNESS to 741741 to be connected with a crisis responder. Visit for live chat. Text CONNECT to 686868 or call 1-800-668-6868

KUU-US Crisis Line Society First Nations and Aboriginal specific crisis line Available 24/7 regardless of where individuals reside in BC. KUU-US services are for First Nations, by First Nations, and all crisis response personnel are certified and trained in Indigenous cultural safety and therefore bring an understanding of First Nations history and trauma from the residential school to their roles. Toll-free 1-800-588-8717, Youth Line 250-723-2040, Adult Line 250-723-4050.

VictimLINK 24-hour multilingual phone line for victims of any crime. Offers crisis support and referrals, information on the justice system, resources, victim services. Call 1-800-563-0808.

[if separate put in boldface] Youth Space, for youth under 25. Online crisis and emotional support chat, available from 6:00-12:00 pm 365 days a year. Website:

COVID-19 LGBTQAI2S+ Resource Guide Provided through Pride Vancouver. Includes many resources including for mental health.

Crisis Intervention and Suicide Prevention Centre of BC Distress phone services available 24/7. Confidential, nonjudgmental, free emotional support for people experiencing feelings of distress or despair. Interpreters available in over 140 languages. Call: 1-800-784-2433

COVID-19 Self-Care & Resilience Guide A downloadable guide to navigating your mental health.

Islanders Working Against Violence 24-HOUR VIOLENCE AND ABUSE HELP LINE Call toll-free 1-877-435-7544 or (250) 537-0735; EMERGENCY call 911.

Vancouver Island Crisis Line Offers daily 6:00-10:00 pm crisis line service to Vancouver Island, the islands of the Georgia Strait, and the mainland communities between Powell River and Rivers Inlet, as defined by Island Health. Crisis workers provide short-term, non-judgmental emotional support, crisis intervention, information, and resources. Call 1-888-494-3888 (24/7) or text 250-800-3806 from your mobile.

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