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Local CMHA branch provides great support to those living with mental illness


  TRURO - For many people, the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) is like a beacon of light during the cold, dark days of winter.

Susan Henderson, executive director at the Colchester East Hants branch of the CMHA, is ready to welcome visitors to the centre. The CMHA's lending library, which contains books on a variety of mental health issues, is one of the resources available to people.

Without the services offered at its Truro branch, isolation would be a much bigger issue.

"Coming here is my social life," said Ron, who requested his surname be withheld. "I don't know what I'd do with my days if this wasn't here. I come three or four days a week now. I've made lasting friendships here."

Ron, 51, was an aircraft mechanic and was involved in trucking and contracting before schizophrenia prevented him from working. He was diagnosed in 1996 but struggled with accepting the diagnosis at first.

"In 1999 I moved to Truro because of the services offered and really committed to trying to be healthy and taking my medication," he recalled. "I felt welcomed and supported when I came to the CMHA. I also have a good team of health-care professionals supporting me."

Ron recognizes the value of physical activity and admits he doesn't get as much exercise as he would like.

"I don't have a car so I can't get to the rec centre," he said. "When the sidewalks are clear I walk at least 45 minutes a day. I used to have a membership at the Cougar Dome but that's lapsed now and I can't afford to go skating often. When I do get exercise I feel better and sleep better."

The icy sidewalks have even stopped him from getting to the CMHA offices at times.

Along with socialization, he tries to get there for the low-cost meals available and for computer access. In order to make ends meet he buys most of his clothing from the Salvation Army Thrift Shop and the New to You.

His hobby is painting pictures and he has made some into greeting cards, which can be purchased at Soup Café.

"The sidewalk conditions have affected many of the people who come here," explained CMHA executive director Susan Henderson. "One lady hasn't been able to come lately because she uses a walker. Many have mobility issues and no vehicles, so this weather is making them feel more isolated and overwhelmed. Getting involved in a social activity can mean a lot to people with mental health issues."

She said some members who had been accessing the meal programs have not been stopping in recently.

"There is a despair we've all been feeling because of the weather and for someone with an existing mental illness it's worse. If they spend a lot of time alone they can get lost in their own thinking and have a feeling of hopelessness. It's important to do some positive things like phoning supportive people."

She suggests those who are forced to spend time indoors take part in relaxing activities such as reading a book, listening to music, watching a film, making crafts or creating works of art.

The CMHA is also ready to help through programs and support groups connected with mental health recovery, addictions, care giver support, acupuncture and a youth group. More information can be found on the CMHA: Colchester East Hants Branch Facebook page.

One of the community efforts which help raise funds for outreach programs at the CMHA is the book shelf at the Medicine Shoppe in the Truro Mall. Anyone who makes a donation of two dollars or more can take one of the books. Anyone wishing to donate books to the program can drop into the pharmacy with them during open hours.

"There are a lot of people with mental illnesses who are living in the community," added Ron. "We're just ordinary people trying to get by and the programs at the CMHA help us do that."

 

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