Healthy minds means healthy life

A new peer support group is gaining interest in Fort St. James as one of the first to address the stigma on mental health.

Participants of the Healthy Minds peer support group are tending to the groups garden located off Dog Creek.

A peer support group in Fort St. James is gaining interest by addressing the stigma on mental health.

Every Monday at 7 p.m the Healthy Minds support group meets at the Stuart Lake Hospital conference room to address the challenges of mental health. Anyone is welcome to attend and the discussions are entirely confidential, said Greg Kovacs, co-founder of the group.

“We want to break isolation and we are hoping to open the dialogue. No one understand what it is like to have a mental illness better the those experiencing it. Everyone has their own technique we can learn from,” said Mr. Kovacs.

The group started meeting in March of this year as a safe haven for people to have open discussions about anything related to mental health or addictions. The first of many presentations on Monday July 21, had Dr. M Van Zyl speak about anti-depressants, how they work in the brain, there role in mental health and some of the resources that can be found in town. As the group consistently grows, co-ordinators hope to have regular guest speakers come to at least once a month and talk about various aspects of mental health. The next speaker is already scheduled for August 25 where Jana Gainor, a registered yoga instructor, will be giving a yoga demonstration.

Ideas for upcoming demonstrations include relaxation therapy, yoga therapy, art therapy, grief, naturalpathic and homeopathic remedies.

Healthy Minds also opened a garden this year 15 minutes outside Fort St. James by Dog Creek.

“It grow minds and hearts as much as it grows vegetables,” said Mr. Kovacs, who is hoping to have the garden moved in town to get more seniors and high school students involved. He also applied for the Imagine grant through Northern Health to help with moving the garden in town, but won’t know until October if the group will get it.

Healthy Minds also caters to participants through arranging outings and barbecues with the help of Northern Health life skills worker Carol Blackwell, who has been an instrumental part in supporting the garden. It is Ms. Blackwell’s job to help clients of the mental health and addictions centre in Fort St. James.

“She’s gone above and beyond helping introduce us to clients, with grant applications and funding through Northern Health for the startup of tools and seeds,” said Sandi Taylor, co-founder of Healthy Minds.

Ms. Taylor and Mr. Kovacs started Healthy Minds because they had acknowledged that them themselves have encountered symptoms of mental health at one point of another. So they started looking for ways to offer a safe place for people to have open discussions without any placed stigma.

“Depression is apart of the human experience, everyone has experienced it. The illness comes in with the inability to manage it,” said Mr. Kovacs.

After starting a small peer group in town last year, the two joined the BC Mental Health and Addictions Advisory Committee which is funded through Northern Health. They gained the support of the advisory committee and through them were funded with a year start-up for their Healthy Minds support group.

Anyone interested in advocating against the stigma on mental health can attend the advisory committee meetings on the second Thursday of each month at 1 p.m in the Stuart Lake Hospital conference room.