In recent years, stigma surrounding mental illness has slowly been chiseled away thanks in part to awareness campaigns such as the Let’s Talk initiative, launched by Bell Canada in 2010.
Within Schlegel Villages in that same period of time, the importance of mental health and wellness has become central in the organization’s approach to the care of everyone connected to the villages, be they residents, families or team members. They all could potentially be impacted by mental health challenges at some point, and within a village and a family, it’s important to talk about these challenges and walk alongside a friend as they face them.
Many residents struggle with the impact of loss in their lives, for example, and are at risk of depression and feelings of loneliness and isolation. At the same time, many are affected by a changing state of mind presented by dementia; for them early experiences of trauma can surface adding to the challenges they face. They need not walk this difficult path alone, however, for support comes from team members, volunteers and fellow residents.
As volunteer coordinator at The Village of Aspen Lake, Debbie Durocher has helped guide the support process between residents for a number of years now, most recently as the coordinator of the Java Mentorship program. Currently there are 16 residents who consistently give of themselves to support their neighbours, sometimes one-on-one but more often in group settings. Debbie helps identify residents who seem withdrawn and her mentors then ensure they check in upon that resident. Peer support, she says, can have a lasting impact.
“We know it’s working,” Debbie says. “There are some great connections there . . . and you see it. Somehow we’ve gotten into this little family now and everybody is always waiting for Saturday (when the group of mentors meet).” The evidence of strong connections often emerges during social events, Debbie says, when a resident who typically won’t leave their room is seen sitting alongside new friends, sharing nothing more sometimes than space and a smile.
Family members supporting one another is of critical importance as well, for watching a loved one’s health decline is an extremely difficult emotional burden to carry. Glendale Crossing chaplain Maureen Dwyer has facilitated a caregivers/family mutual support group ever since the village opened its doors.
“This group has become very close the past couple of years,” Maureen says. “Lasting friendships have developed long after their loved one has passed.” The strength of this group recently shone as one of the members faced the imminent death of their loved one in palliative care.
“Not only was the team attentive to the resident and their family,” Maureen says, “but members of the caregivers/family support group offered phone support and some came in for several hours to keep her company.
“It is so heart-warming and touching to see the group I facilitate become in itself part of the caring community at Glendale,” she adds.
Team members are the thread that binds these communities together, and they have a difficult job. Grief and loss are consistent emptions, and they give so much of themselves to those they support that they risk of saving nothing for their own well-being.
The Employee and Family Assistance program is an important option Schlegel Villages has put in place for its teams and their loved ones. The counselling service is available at any time to team members and their families to help them through difficult times – they simply need to make an initial phone call.
“At our core, we are an organization who cares about our people,” says Renee Hannes, vice-president of people. “We want to ensure we are creating work environments that support a healthy, productive and engaged team. You can’t take care of others if you don’t take care of yourself. We want our team members to thrive at our villages and at home.”
The well-being of residents, families and team members is supported in many ways within the villages and an honest conversation is often at the core of that support.
Team members or their families wishing to connect with the EFAP can call 1-800-663-1142 at any time, day or night.
The EFAP SERVICES INCLUDED IN PROGRAM:
Short term, solution focused counselling (face to face, telephonic, or e-counselling: e-mail and e-chat)
LIFE SMART - LIFESTYLE AND SPECIALTY COUNSELLING SERVICES:
Life Balance Solutions to manage everyday challenges
• Childcare and Parenting/ New Parent Support
• Elder and Family Care
• Financial Consultation
• Legal Advisory
• Relationship Solutions
• Grief & Loss
Health Smart Coaching to be proactive with your health
• Smoking Cessation
• Jumpstart Your Wellness
• Nutritional Counselling
Career Smart Counselling to take control of career choices
• Career Planning/ Workplace Issue Counselling
• Pre-retirement Planning
• Shift Worker Support