A group of local women are offering their support to those struggling with mental health issues in Colchester County.
The four women came together after Reverend Valerie Kingsbury of First United Church recently posted one of her weekly blogs. It discussed a pattern she was seeing in the community when it came to mental health. She spoke about frustrations and even shared some of her own coping mechanisms.
“These past few weeks I have been engaged in a number of conversations with people who are struggling – struggling to regain their balance; to see light in the midst of the darkness that is engulfing them; to find a place of peace in their souls; to see their own beauty; to rediscover their place in this turbulent world,” she wrote. “All of these individuals are dealing with mental illness and the supports and resources available to them are abysmal. The resources that are available are expensive and out of reach for the average person.”
The blog is read by members of the church’s congregation as well as others from the community. That includes Valerie Hollingsworth. She was captured by Kingsbury’s words and felt more could be done to help those struggling with their mental health.
“When I read her blog and what she does to deal with her own mental health, whether it’s meeting with friends or poetry or art, it jumped out at me,” said Hollingsworth, a holistic practitioner. “As I continued to read these different things that help her along her journey, I couldn’t help but think, that sounds like a program.”
Hollingsworth reached out to Kingsbury, and the two began to talk about something more tangible. They were already part of a drumming circle held at the church and believed it was something they could use to tie in to a larger offering.
Joined by Laurie Dobbs-White and Shelley Austin, the group is now trying to answer the question: what can we do to nurture the human spirit as we embrace our mental well-being? The outcome is a vision of providing a safe place for people to gather, share their story and support one-another while providing opportunities for those struggling with mental health to find expression and support through art and music.
“The first piece of this is to pull together a support group,” said Kingsbury. “We want to extend an invitation to anyone who is currently or has struggled with their mental health. We want to create a place where they know they’re not walking alone. We want to bring people together, enjoy some coffee, tea and some basic, general conversation. If the group is comfortable, we can share some stories but that’s not something we will push. We’d also like to know what we, as a group of people who are struggling with their mental health, need. What’s missing in our community?”
The first event will be held February 22 at First United Church. It will start at 7 p.m. From there, the group will look to meet at least once a month.
“It could be something more than that,” continued Kingsbury. “The drumming circle that’s already in place could appeal to some people either from the beginning or over time. At this point, we’ve toyed with a number of ideas like art classes, writing and music as ways for people to explore and express their feelings. Regardless of what it is, we have to keep coming back to the fact this is about providing a safe place or perhaps a place where a guest might find someone who can walk with them while they’re on their journey.”
The next two drumming circle sessions are scheduled for February 26 and March 27. Both begin at 6:30 p.m.
Despite the exposure mental illness has received in recent years, stigma continues to be a barrier for a lot of people, especially when it comes to sharing details of their own struggles.
According to Dobbs-White, reducing stigma and promoting a safe, non-judgemental environment will be a key to the success of the concept.
“We have to soften that stigma, especially when a person admits they have mental health struggles,” said Dobbs-White, who is an addiction education consultant. “It’s difficult to say that out loud and many often wonder why they would proclaim that in the first place. We have to soften it in a way that helps draw people in. They may not feel totally comfortable at first but our hope is they will grow more comfortable as they get familiar with the group.”
One of the ways the group is looking to make things more relaxed for guests is allowing them to bring a member of their support team with them.
“Support is so important when it comes to mental health,” said Kingsbury. “We definitely encourage anyone who wants to attend to bring someone with them. If that makes them more comfortable, we’d love for that to happen. At this point, it’s about getting through the door. If that takes one or two family members or friends to make that happen then we fully support and encourage it.”
Isolation is also an issue when it comes to anxiety, depression and other diagnosis. To prevent that, organizers say they’re willing to pick people up if they’re interested in attending.
“We will go and get them,” said Kingsbury. “We don’t want people missing out on this opportunity because of limitations surrounding transportation. We want to knock down the walls of isolation. We know a lack of transportation can lead to even more isolation. We want people to know that if they want to be here, we’re going to do our best to get them here.”
As the program builds, the group is committed to offering supports that won’t drain people financially. They’d also like to be able to provide guests with additional programs and services that exist in the community.
Connecting with other organizations that have a focus on mental health is also a priority.
“We haven’t been able to formally do that yet because this idea has come to fruition so quickly,” said Kingsbury. “But it’s definitely part of our plan.”
Information will be posted on the First United Church website in the near future. In the meantime, those interested in learning more can call Hollingsworth at 902-956-9087, Dobbs-White at 902-895-2786 or Kingsbury at 902-324-1615.