The following is a reflection shared by Bernice Rahm, a participant in summits held in April by the Salt Spring Mental Wellness Initiative (MWI). The MWI has held six summits since January of 2022 focusing on growing Peer Support and Volunteer Counselling on Salt Spring.
What would it mean to you to be included? To have your voice heard? To have your lived experience valued and acknowledged alongside the opinions of professionals? To be included regardless of capacity, qualification or degree - just honoured for your willingness to give your energy and voice in authenticity?
This is a little of what it felt like to participate in the recent Mental Wellness Initiative Summit. What I experienced was the purposeful commitment to using a "Culture of Care" - something that, at our core, we all crave - and from our cultural conditioning and family history, few have experienced.
In participation with the 26 people who attended I experienced active encouragement and an invitation to share - that was in turn received with active listening, acknowledgement, empathy, and genuine curiosity. It even included discussion of these very concepts.
I’ve personally experienced many meetings where productivity was paramount - X Y AND Z had to be decided with actionable items, persons made accountable, and deadlines and consequences laid out. Meetings where the undercurrent of suppressed emotions drove the dialogue, created tension and drained us of our will to (live) contribute. In some environments it's common to see people being openly shamed and resentment breeding.
…Why do we tolerate this? Honestly because no one showed us how to do it better. So we try and we learn. I myself, in running my company, flailed for a couple of decades - learning the hard way how to support staff, empathize with customers and take care of myself.
I am finding that a "Culture of Care" is more than just the structure upon which the MWI is built - but it is also an embodiment of ...a living of... co-creation of a developing vision from a place of presence and inclusion. It is the creation of the world I want to live in ... simply by living that way.
In my orientation meeting my brain almost burst from the overpowering energy of the question “BUT WHAT DO YOU DO?!?!?!!!” Now I'm finding - as I have always known - that it's not just about what you do, it's about how you do it.
And built on this structure, there is a vision being created! There are things to do! There are committees (aka valued people volunteering their energy) who are making decisions, writing grant applications, acting on and creating momentum, budgeting, planning, discussing and researching - all of this energy is toward the purpose of improving mental wellness on Salt Spring.
Participating in this last summit improved my mental wellness. Being seen, valued, and heard, so safely, that I can't help but want to help others with the fullness I feel.
Since Bernice wrote this reflection three working groups have been formed to take action – Peer Support, Volunteer Counselling and Communication. The MWI continues to have positive influence and be a benefit to projects in the community including informing peer support within SS Community Services, efforts and support around the Warming and Maker Spaces, supporting the SS Community Health Society thinking around mental health, increased ties to Quw'utsun Elders who are very supportive of the MWI (one of them stayed for a whole Summit), and recent provision of two hours of mental health peer support workshops to 60 GISS youth over two hours.
Linda Underwood, on behalf of SSHAN’s Mental Wellness Initiative