One of the ways to tackle mental illness is to become a stigma buster.
That is the message eight women from the Williams Lake Indian Band community are taking with them after completing the British Columbia Schizophrenia Society (BCSS) Strengthening Families Together Program.
During a celebration held at CJ’s Southwestern Grill on Thursday, Dec. 8, the women said being in the course was life-changing and empowering.
“I have learned to speak out about my feelings and open up, and that I am not the only one dealing with mental illness in my family,” Marcella Wynja said. “I’ve also learned to be positive about everything that’s negative.”
The course was held over five weeks, with the students meeting two times a week in the evenings at Sugar Cane.
During the program, various guest speakers such as Minolla Khounviseth, Danielle Goward, Karen Alphonse and Kirsten Dressler shared their expertise with the students on topics ranging from pharmaceuticals to holistic health and nutrition, and massage therapy.
Congratulating the women on behalf of WLIB, Coun. Willie Sellars told them he was very proud and appreciated the time and commitment they gave to taking the program.
Cindy Charleyboy, manager of programs and service delivery with BCSS, said the program gives people the opportunity to rewrite their story.
“We were told we shouldn’t tell our stories when something has gone wrong,” Charleyboy said.
“However, we love our family members and need to remember that it is not our fault they have a mental illness.”
Participant Joan Meshue said the course helped her to speak up, but not to judge, while Helen Sandy said she learned so much and appreciated everything about the course.
For Katya Patekhina, an employee of WLIB’s social development department, taking the course with Elders from the community helped her get to know them better.
“You are all different,” Patekhina said.
“You have very amazing personalities that you have carved through your tears and your lives.”
Millie Emile thanked her fellow students and the facilitators, for sharing their lives with her.
“I learned to take one day at a time,” Emile said.
Monique Goward, BCSS educator for Williams Lake, praised participant Carol Archie for “sharing and bearing all” and giving everyone “permission to feel.”
It was the fourth group taking the program that Yunesit’in Elder Dorothy Myers helped facilitate, Charleyboy said as she presented Myers with a gift to thank her for her help.
“Your gentleness, insight, wisdom and stories have brought so many people in the region to this program,” Charleyboy told Myers. “We have learned so much from you.”
First Nations co-ordinator of the program for BCSS, Cindy Savage, described Myers as the program’s guardian angel.
“You’re very soft and quiet, but your presence is very strong and I appreciate your guidance,” Savage said.
“This is a provincial program. Dorothy’s not only touched people in this region, but in other areas as well.”
Myers said it was an honour to help facilitate the program in the WLIB community.
“I learned from everyone,” Myers said.
“I have a grandson with schizophrenia and that’s what brought me into the program because I wanted to learn more about how to help him.”
Participant Mary Alphonse said she hopes the women in the program will continue to get together to keep the momentum of what they have learned going.