The Vernon and District Branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Crisis Line handled more than 8,000 calls in the past year. (CMHA Photo)

Quite a year for Vernon mental health agency

Increased programming and rapid COVID-19 response sees busy year for CMHA Vernon

Big changes marked this past year as the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) – Vernon and District Branch continued to build upon the pillars of education, employment and housing as key components to a mentally healthy community.

CMHA Vernon celebrated a year of progress at its annual general meeting held Sept. 15 online.

“It was certainly a different type of environment than what we are accustomed to in previous years where we join together for refreshments and conversations,” executive director Julia Payson said. “But the spirit of camaraderie we share and the triumphant expression of what we accomplished this past year was very present.”

Continuing a focus on education, CMHA increased educational offerings to train more leaders in suicide prevention, and launched two new youth programs in 2019 to provide tweens with coping and resiliency skills and to deliver mental health education at schools to youth in grades 6 to 12.

CMHA also published a Suicide Prevention Handbook for teachers and organizations taking part in mental health workshops, as well as hosted monthly mental illness education sessions at the Vernon library.

Last September, Men’s Shed Vernon joined CMHA to elevate social connection and community support to retired men in our community.

“Men of retired age are some of the most at-risk population for suicide,” Payson said. “Socialization, support and education are vital components in helping to decrease the risk.”

CMHA expanded its employment supports to help those with mental health challenges find and sustain meaningful employment, as well as progressed with its Albert Place project to add 29 units of affordable housing in Vernon for seniors and families.

“We are excited to be breaking ground later this year,” said Payson. CMHA currently houses 261 residents in 144 units throughout Vernon.

Thanks to a generous donation from Kalamalka Rotary Club Dream Auction, CMHA was able to undergo a much-needed kitchen renovation, turning its kitchen nightmares of outdated, broken-down appliances and cabinetry to a commercial-grade dream kitchen.

Last year, the CMHA Nutrition program prepared and served 8,665 meals to participants.

And then came the challenges.

On March 13, CMHA quickly responded to the announcement of the COVID-19 global pandemic.

“Within one week, we managed to transition our programs to phone-based and online support, and delivery of freezer-ready meals for participants in our Kitchen and Nutrition program,” Payson said. “By the end of March, we had expanded our programs to include reaching out to the broader community who may not typically have had the need for mental health support.”

The Crisis Line had its busiest year, with a dramatic increase in calls starting in February.

March set a new record bringing calls for the year up to 8,019, a staggering increase from the previous year’s 6,529 calls.

“With the announcement of the pandemic, we were anticipating an increase in calls,” Payson said. “While the amount of calls may seem startling to some, it is encouraging to us that community members who need help are reaching out and getting the resources and support they need.

“We know there will be many challenges to face in the coming year and likely beyond. We know the toll that is being taken on so many individuals, families, businesses and organizations, but we will work together ensure the most urgent needs of our community are being met with determination, caring and kindness.”

CMHA board members continuing their terms include Robert Carscadden, Jodi Cunningham, Scott DeLong, Richard Finn, Matt Garcia, Tom Nolan, James Schneider and David Service.

Tom Christensen, Twyla Genest and Dave MacKenzie were re-elected to the board.

CMHA Vernon & District Board of Directors 2020-2021:

Richard Finn, president;

Tom Christensen, vice president;

Matt Garcia, treasurer;

Twylla Genest, secretary;

Robert Carscadden;

Jodi Cunningham;

Scott DeLong;

David Penner;

Dave MacKenzie;

Tom Nolan;

James Schneider;

David Service.

READ MORE: Mental health as important as physical in COVID-19 crisis: CMHA Vernon

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