With the COVID-19 pandemic overturning the summer plans of many people, it’s an important time to revisit ways to maintain our mental health while following provincial guidelines.
Jessica Turowski, Rural Mental Health Project manager for the Canadian Mental Health Association’s (CMHA) Alberta Division, has timely insight to overcome today’s challenges. Turowski said as Albertans experience the collective trauma of being stressed by the uncertainty of what’s going on around us, we need to show some compassion for ourselves.
“Hopefully, we can not only be compassionate to ourselves, but be compassionate to others,” she said.
The Rural Mental Health Project is a collaboration between CMHA and about 150 rural and remote Alberta communities who are interested in improving mental health in their communities.
Turowski has heard from rural representatives that residents are appreciating the importance of social connections and relationships to build well-being and resilience.
“Stay connected to other people and find new ways of connection, whether those be physically distan[ced], meaning in open areas, or through online conversation,” said Turowski, encouraging people to tune in to events happening in their communities.
“[It’s] okay to not be okay, and sometimes when you’re okay, others aren’t, and you can help lend a helping hand.”
– Jessica Turowski
She noted that one of the particular struggles in rural communities is associated with the cultural norm that stress should be managed with the “pull up your boot straps” philosophy. The idea that you should keep your stress to yourself and move on can make it hard to have a conversation about stress and well-being. It also makes it difficult to overcome stigmas around issues like mental health or domestic violence.
“The only way to help shift those cultural norms, to be more inclusive, and to break down that stigma, is to work together to do it,” said Turowski. “[It’s] okay to not be okay, and sometimes when you’re okay, others aren’t, and you can help lend a helping hand.”
She sees part of the solution in the strong social support networks that tend to exist in rural communities. These networks can be used to promote and to build the mental health of those involved and to expand efforts to reach other people who are not already engaged.
Turowski said it’s important to ask questions within your friend and family groups regarding what mental health means, and how the individuals who make up these groups have been managing and coping.
“[It’s] an open-ended conversation,” she said. “What’s interesting is that mental health and health overall means different things to different people.”
She said the idea is to give inspiration to each other for managing health and making healthy choices for families and individuals.
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