• Programs and Services

Getting to the Root of the Problem: Improving Mental Health in Vulnerable Communities

Minoush Rafie (above left), Coordinator of the West Central Community Resource Centre, says it takes time and trust for people to feel comfortable opening up, especially about mental health concerns. (Photo Courtesy: Leah Hennel, Calgary Herald)
If you don’t address the root of the problem, it will just get worse.

Minoush Rafie, Coordinator of Closer to Home’s West Central Community Resource Centre, has seen firsthand the impact of mental illness on children and parents in the communities we serve. Over the past 20 years, she has built close relationships with community members, listening to them and learning what they need in order to be successful.

“It takes time for people to feel comfortable opening up,” she says. Being a consistent presence in the community has been key to building those relationships, and will strengthen the impact of new funding aimed at improving mental health in communities at high risk or with higher prevalence of mental health issues.

Local schools have been turning to Closer to Home, trying to find ways to help students they have identified as being at risk of mental illness, while some families are reaching out for help themselves, wanting to solve their challenges but not knowing where to turn for support.

Minoush recalls a family who experienced severe trauma prior to coming to Canada, and who are now experiencing mental health concerns with each family member. Back home, the children witnessed brutal violence against their parents.

Their father was killed, and they escaped to Canada with their mother.

Mom is struggling to cope with her own trauma and doesn’t know how to help her children heal and move forward. They have been in and out of the hospital with mental health concerns, and Mom worries about her children constantly.

While not every family’s story is this extreme, many families are struggling with a lack of mental health resources, stigma and little awareness of how to ask for help. Some families worry they could be at risk of losing their children or their housing if they admit to struggling with mental health concerns.

Closer to Home has been working with vulnerable families in Calgary and Airdrie for nearly 25 years, and we are eager to expand our mental health services thanks to new funding from the City of Calgary, and with donations from community members like you, through the support of the Calgary Herald Christmas Fund.

By bringing services closer to home – in schools, in housing complexes and in communities – we are making it easier for families to access the supports they need. Working in collaboration with other agencies and providers such as Calgary Police Service, Calgary Housing Company and the City of Calgary, our goal is to:

  1. Increase community knowledge about mental health and improve access to timely resources, so that families know what they can do to improve their situation. Research shows that intervening early – before issues turn into crises – is more effective and can have a significant impact on positive outcomes and help prevent future mental health concerns.
  2. Build skills among parents and children including problem solving, emotional regulation and how to ask for help. If families have the tools to cope with their challenges, or at least know where to turn for help, children and communities will be safer.
  3. Improve social supports for community members dealing with or at risk of mental health concerns. By teaching children and parents how to build healthy relationships, they will be better able to develop a support network to turn to in times of need, improving their ability to cope with life’s speedbumps.

In response to the identified needs of community members, Closer to Home continues to develop innovative solutions and strategies to promote mental wellness for vulnerable children, youth and families.

“Working collaboratively with others in the community, we are happy to offer leadership to address these challenges,” says Arlene Oostenbrink, Associate Director of Programs at Closer to Home.

Whether families are dealing with extreme trauma or everyday life issues, by building their skills and addressing the root cause of mental health concerns, families will be able to cope with their challenges before they become too overwhelming to solve.

Keep the conversation going to help others know they aren’t alone. Share your mental health story on social media using #TheRootOfIt and tag us at @CloserToHomeYYC.