What’s love got to do with mental health? The answer is a lot. Not only romantic love and the love of family and close friends, but also the mutual support we see in caring and healthy communities. During hard times, our connection with others can help us stay healthy. This connection, called “social inclusion” by mental health researchers, is recognized as a protective factor against mental illness.
However, love and support alone are not enough. Mental suffering is sometimes rooted in experiences such as violence, sexual abuse, poverty, social isolation, or homelessness. Grieving, living with chronic pain, or receiving a diagnosis of a serious illness can bring on anxiety and depression. Many of us will experience hard times and periods of darkness that challenge our ability to cope. The Canadian Mental Health Commission reports that “in any given year, 1 in 5 people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness.” This statistic alone – 1 in 5 people – should shift some of the stigma and discrimination that attaches to people living with a mental illness.
In Killaloe, Rainbow Valley Community Health Centre provides primary care by a variety of health professionals who support mental and physical health. Administered by St. Francis Memorial Hospital, the Rainbow Valley team includes physicians, registered nurse, nurse practitioners, administrative support, and a social worker. Through integrated partnerships, community members can access services of a visiting diabetes nurse educator and dietitian, a respiratory therapist, an outreach worker, or a community mental health counsellor. Or they might book an appointment with the massage therapist and chiropractor who rent space at the clinic. Consistent with the small community it services, many clients know each other and the waiting room is often filled with lively conversation.
Rainbow Valley CHC is an example of a holistic, community-based health service.
Most of our staff and clients live in and around the surrounding areas. This means that we see each other outside the healthcare context: at the library or grocery store, at a school concert or community event. Staff and clients have opportunities to view each other as three-dimensional people connected to jobs, family, and community. It widens the range of interactions that take place at the health centre: we are all complicated human beings muddling through life in more or less the same ways. This is one of the advantages of community-based organizations. There are also advantages to living in a rural area with a tradition of neighbourliness. By watching out for each other and providing support in times of need, we can all contribute to social inclusion and a sense of belonging. Love and neighbourliness are not all we need to support mental health, but they definitely help.
Linda Archibald, MSW and the Rainbow Valley CHC Team.