The Vernon branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) marked its Mental Health Week with a block party in Polson Park Thursday, May 4.
Inaugurated by CMHA in 1951, the week of May 1 to 7 is the 72nd annual Mental Health Week in Canada.
On Thursday, a number of organizations set up booths in Polson Park for the block party, including North Okanagan Youth and Family Services Society (NOYFSS), the Family Resource Centre, Archway Society for Domestic Peace and Interior Health.
The local Elks were busy serving up burgers for $2.50 or a larger donation to CMHA.
Vernon CMHA executive director Julia Payson said the block party is a long-standing tradition and has grown significantly over the years. What used to be a small gathering in a parking lot is now a large event that’s open to anyone. Payson said it was a strong turnout Thursday, with people grabbing a burger and sitting beneath tents, listening to live music from the band Six Shades of Grey, who have long supported the block party.
“We’ve got a lot of people enjoying the sunshine, talking about mental health, learning about resources, and doing what’s really critical to mental health which is building community,” Payson said.
Payson says coming out of the pandemic, one of the biggest lessons is that no one is immune to mental health struggles, and building community is key to overcoming those struggles.
“I think we all learned quickly how much our mental health is dependent on community, how much our mental health is dependent on being together, being with people, our routines, our gym classes, all these things that keep us healthy.”
Payson would like people to remember that services are available to them in the community, and a quick call to CMHA Vernon at
Samantha Beeson, manager of employment services with CMHA Vernon, says the purpose of the block party is to educate people about mental illness, and help reduce stigma by talking openly.
“The best way to reduce stigma is to talk and share,” Beeson said. “This week’s theme is ‘my story,’ and in sharing stories we reduce the stigma. So the more we talk, the more we tell people our story, the more it becomes normalized in our community and people become less stigmatized.”
CMHA is a non-profit organization that works to support people experiencing mental illness by providing a variety of different services, including phone support services, a crisis line, a nutrition program and other person-to-person services.
“We just want to encourage the community to come out to these events, get familiar with the mental health resources in your community, and keep talking,” Beeson said.
According to CMHA, each year one in five Canadians experience a mental illness or mental health issue, affecting 6.7 million Canadians. The problem is so acute that it is now the leading cause of disability in Canada, preventing nearly 500,000 employed Canadians from attending work each week and costing the Canadian economy an estimated $51 billion per year in healthcare costs, lost productivity and reductions in health-related quality of life.