Cindy Savage (back left)

Cindy Savage (back left)

Tletinqox completes mental health training

The Elders Centre at Tletinqox First Nation was full of laughter and gratitude last Tuesday as the community celebrated a milestone.

The Elders Centre at Tletinqox First Nation was full of laughter and gratitude last Tuesday as the community celebrated a mental health milestone.

Seven women from the community and two women from nearby Yunesit’in First Nation recently graduated from the British Columbia Schizophrenia Society (BCSS) Strengthening Families Together — First Nations’ Edition Program, offered to families who have loved ones with a serious mental illness.

The original Strengthening Families Together program was developed by BCSS 15 years ago, however, BCSS recognized the need to edit the program to meet the needs of Aboriginal people across the province.  Tletinqox is the first Aboriginal community in B.C. to complete the 10-week program.

During the celebration community member and home support worker Aggie Harry was credited numerous times for bringing the program to Tletinqox.

“It takes a champion in the community to launch the program and that’s where we find success,” said Cindy Savage,  BCSS Project Co-ordinator “Aggie was our champion. We couldn’t have done it without her.”

Aggie said she was inspired to push for and take the program because there are many people in her community struggling with mental illness.

“I think it will be a lot better because there are now more people who know about mental illness,” she said. “Even myself, I have people in my family that are like that. Now I know where to go and who to contact for help.”

Chief Joe Alphonse, unable to attend the celebration because he was invited to New Aiyansh to talk about the Tsilhqot’in rights and title case, applauded the graduates.

Mental illness is something all societies should be talking about, he told the Tribune by phone.

“My own experience is that individuals who have mental illness are eager to seek help once they have a diagnosis,” Alphonse said.  “The biggest struggle is often for families. The course was good because it challenged community members.”

Savage said BCSS was honoured to be invited to deliver the program at Tletinqox.

“You should all be very proud of how much you’ve worked together as a community, how much the facilitators have worked together as a team, and how hard the participants have worked to support each other over the last nine weeks,” Savage said.  “Mental illness can be such a challenging journey and none of us can do it alone.”

The theme of the program is Our Story, Our Journey, Our Strength, in recognition of how important it is to have a safe place to share stories, Savage said.

Rosaline Harry, a youth worker in the community, said the program will benefit her greatly.

“I learned things about mental illness I have never learned about before,” Rosaline said.

“I work with a lot of youth so it will help me deal with how they act.”

Annette Frank, who works with residential school abuse survivors for the Tsilhqot’in National Government, said the program was important because it meant people could take a course in their own community.

Yunesi’tin Elder Dorothy Myers was one of the facilitators for the course and said it is hard to see a loved one go through mental illness.

It is important to watch for signs of depression and take time to look after yourself, she said.

“It’s good to go somewhere you like to go. Sometimes I go to the river or I sit in the church and pray.”

TNG social worker Tanya Mores, also a facilitator, said the program was successful because of the participants’ commitment.

“It was a great learning experience,” she said. “There were some great gifts and sharing of stories.”

Mental health is part of everyone’s life and part of every day life, said Lisa Hartwick, a clinical therapist who works in the community every second week.

“I think starting to talk more about mental health at all levels is an important piece of us understanding how to work with our own lives,” she said.

Cindy Charleyboy, manager programs and service delivery with BCSS, acknowledged the families in the community that risked taking the journey to talk about mental illness.

“What you’ve done here will ripple through the community,” Charleyboy said.