In January, the Medicine Hat College announced the launch of the Community Connection: Mental Health Series with the help of the Niwa family from southeast Alberta and their donation of $100,000. Four instalments later, the Mental Health Series is proving to be extremely popular.
Jennifer Kerslake, director of community engagement for the Medicine Hat College is excited and proud of the number of people viewing the series.
The mental health series consists of some well known and experts in their fields southeast Albertans discussing in an informal video taped session which varies in length, average perhaps 30 minutes.
The casual conversation has the subject sharing experiences about mental health, whether it be their own personal challenges, ones they have dealing with others in their field of work or training or a combination of the two. There are a variety of topics discussed and so far, has proven to be extremely popular.
“There are ten speakers, so that’s what we have for now,” explains Kerslake who says the thought of doing more is on the table. “It really is an evolving process, particularly we are seeing a tremendous viewership impact from it, thousands and thousands of people are watching these videos so I think what that solidifies for us is that there is a very strong appetite for this education in the region and it is validating the work as well.”
They recorded the installments at relatively the same time, so it is just a matter of rolling them out.
In an official statement with the funding announcement “Brandon Niwa, nicknamed Beej, passed away suddenly on May 29, 2020, leaving behind a loving family committed to bringing the community together to partner for mental health. In honour of Brandon’s legacy, it was announced Nov. 18, 2020, the Niwa family having gifted $100,000 to Medicine Hat College (MHC) in support of community mental health education and research, with continual legacy funding being provided through the Niwa Family Fund with the Community Foundation of Southeast Alberta.”
Kerslake says everyone involved know how important this work is. A committee was struck in order come up for the best way to help those who were themselves or knew of someone struggling mentally. She says the initiatives are all brought on by an advisory committee. That advisory committee is made up of representatives from the three local school divisions so Prairie Rose School Division, Medicine Hat Catholic and Medicine Hat Public as well as (Medicine Hat Police Service) law enforcement and then the College.
“The Niwas lost Brandon last spring, they wanted to do some impactful work in the community mental health education and research so, the college was a really good fit for that. They gifted $100,000 to the college this (past) fall with that exact intent â€” to enhance community mental health education and research,” explains Kerslake.
“The entire intent of the committee is just to respond to the education and research piece of this project so address the greatest need in our community (and region). So we thought from this video series it was a really great avenue particularly is this disconnected world at the moment, to spread education. We purposely aligned ourselves to grassroots professionals within our region to offer that education to our communityâ€¦Mental health is such a complex beast. There is no one reason or one distinct thing around any individual’s mental health. That’s what we wanted to do is educate the community on a multitude of topics around mental health.
“You watch a video and you sit there and go ‘hey, that’s sounds like me or that sounds like a component of me,” or somebody you know or care about. That’s what we were really trying to get from it. All of the activities that is done through Brandon’s legacy donation is spearheaded by the advisory committee so all of these topics and relationships that are made with the professionals in our region who are implementing these videos is driven from the advisory committee.”
Four videos have released and can be found either on the Medicine Hat College website or search on YouTube.
The first was Willie Desjardins, head coach and general manager of the Medicine Hat Tigers, “talks about the role that coaches, educators and parents play in empowering others to cope with adversity.” Part two was “Understanding Body Image and Eating Disorders” with Patti Wagman Counselling and Consultation. In the third, Medicine Hat physician Dr. Nicoelle Wanner “shares her personal experience as a parent of a child with a mental illness and the impact it had on herself and her family.”
The latest release, Episode 4 is well known Medicine Hat Police Service inspector Brent Secondiak who will explain mental health from both a professional and personal perspective and involving a family member and “the synergies which comes from those two different entities.”
Kerslake says the next installments will cover even more topics.
“We will have more physicians, more registered psychologists speaking on ADHD and family dynamics and how mental health can effect an entire family and the village which cares for the person or people with mental illness,” says Kerslake. “There will be a variety of topics coming out, domestic violence and mental health will be coming out in one of our videos. Our hope is to continue to offer this education in this moment for the next several months and obviously if the appetitive continues to be there from the communities in which the college serves to know moreâ€¦it is our hope we can respond to that need as well.”
Kerslake has been encouraged with the response. It is doing exactly what the intent was for the series, engage dialogue, change or influence positively some behaviour, point people in the right direction to get assistance, not to mention help people realize they are not alone in their challenges.
She says the videos bring it home for many. It is the next best thing to human to human connection. She says because that is the beauty of southeastern Alberta â€” “we are all neighbours and people that know of and care for one another.”
“People are really seeing themselves in these conversations and if not themselves, then definitely somebody they know or care about. Our hope is that people can engage in a conversation with one another,” states Kerslake.
“From the one Dr. Wanner had, I think she over 10,000 views on her video and it had been released for a week. So to me that really solidifies that this is a necessary conversation and there are definitely many, many, many people who can relate to the words she is saying so I think to it brings a level of a unity to the people of our community and communities in southeastern Alberta. That to me is exactly what our hope was with this level of education, in a real way. There’s podcasts and a whole bunch of different ways people can access this kind of information, but the intention was to have some grassroots professionals in our region, be the ones to educate.”
Whether they make more, Kerslake can’t definitively answer that, but she realizes these are making an impact.
“This is a really a fluid process. I think that if our community is telling us that they want to continue these conversations and this education and platform; we will do our best to continue to bring that to life for them,” says Kerslake. “That’s really the intent of the gift was to align education and research within the community that we serve. They really want to ensure we are responding to the community as to what level of education that they are wanting. I really do think these videos are human and relatable and consumable. They are not hours and hours to sit there. You can blow dry your hair or make the kids breakfast while you have it on in the background.
“I am grateful the community is responding they way they are and grateful people can they see themselves in these videos and just have a conversation around their supper table just to really start the shift of dialogue revolving mental health.”
Patti Wagman and Brent Secondiak