Written by Grace Protopapas on Friday, 09 January 2015
In an unprecedented move, the Canadian Mental Health Association has partnered with the Lake of the Woods District Hospital for its Peer Support Program. What used to be two separate entities are now sharing a space at St. Joseph’s. Peer support consultant, Maria Coleman, spoke about the program.
“We recognize that people — especially those coming out of a hospital — when they have been newly diagnosed or sick fairly recently, tend to isolate themselves. So, we try to get people socializing again in a safe environment, where they feel comfortable,” she said.
The Peer Support Program is run by the Canadian Mental Health Association in communities across northwestern Ontario. They train people, who have mental health issues, to work with other people, who are struggling with their mental health issues. Unlike the hospitals very strictly regulated and medical approach to helping people with mental health problems, this takes a more social approach.
However, Kenora’s chapter was running out of space at their previous location on Sylvan. Coleman said they had to keep people waiting outside for people inside to leave so they didn’t go over the fire code. That’s when Bruce Siciliano came up with the idea of teaming up to offer more support. The conflicting methods at first were a big problem.
“There’s a peer support philosophy that runs completely contrary to medical model of a hospital. It was almost like we were proposing marriage to each other, but we were both from different religious backgrounds, and it just wasn’t going to work. But we talked it out. Basically, what it came down to is we’re more than just a hospital,” he said.
So, the Peer Support Program moved into the Challenge Club space at St. Joseph’s right across from the Lake of the Woods District Hospital. Coleman said everyone is very happy with the new space.
“They love this. It’s a big open room. No one has to sit on the floor to eat supper, and they love the fact that they can use the laundry facilities. The other thing is we can also do some more lifeskills, like cooking and baking. Before, we were turning volunteers down, because we didn’t have enough room,” she said.
The support program is also carving out it’s own little niche within the hospital’s programs. Siciliano said it could provide a nice stepping stone between the ER and the Schedule 1 Program. The Schedule 1 Program provides short-term inpatient assessment, stabilization, diagnosis, treatment, education and discharge planning to individuals age 16 and up. By placing people, who no longer need acute care, but could use support into the peer support program, it opens up more room for other patients.
Coleman added that recent research has shown people, who use a peer support program, do not frequent the ER as much. She said having someone to speak with who understands their problems means they are not alone thinking about it over and over again until it escalates into an emergency.
While the program is only in its second month at it’s new location, both Siciliano and Coleman are extremely pleased with the results.