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‘This is an extreme’: Canadian Mental Health Association adjusts amid coronavirus pandemic

Once a week, Global News will feature our local community partners to highlight how they are handling day-to-day operations during the coronavirus pandemic and how you can help.

The mental health of Maritimers has been put to the test since the COVID-19 pandemic hit in March.  Self-isolation and staying away from friends, family and normal routine – partnered with numerous tragedies – have challenged communities to rally together, yet stay apart.

READ MORE: Free mental health supports set up for Nova Scotians struggling with multiple tragedies

“Personal health and wellness, body, mind and spirit — that’s critically important in this time of isolation,” says Bev Cadham, branch co-manager at the Canadian Mental Health Association Halifax-Dartmouth Branch.

As their members cope with sudden and long-term changes due to the coronavirus, the staff at the CMHA have been doing their best to meet the needs of those who rely on their services.

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“Some are handling it better than others,” Cadham says. “This is a huge challenge for people who are marginalized and living with mental health issues. I think some are coping as best they can under the conditions that we’re living in and the restrictions that we have to adhere to.”

Cadham estimates that 60 per cent of the people who rely on the CMHA’s programs do not have access to the internet. When COVID-19 closed its office on Gottingen Street in Halifax, the staff at the CMHA knew they had to take matters into their own hands to ensure their members are kept informed, connected and occupied.

They turned their office into a warehouse of sorts, with non-perishable food items on one side of the room and games, toys and art supplies on the other. In between are stacks of papers containing up-to-date information on COVID-19. Each week, staff gather these items into care packages and deliver them to CMHA members. Staff also make outreach calls three times a week.

The Canadian Mental Health Association collects games, toys, craft supplies and more for adult activity packages for their members during COVID-19.
The Canadian Mental Health Association collects games, toys, craft supplies and more for adult activity packages for their members during COVID-19. Natalie Fournier - Global News

“A huge issue of concern for us is that internet is not accessible to everyone and a huge portion of our membership do not have the financial capacity to afford internet,” Cadham says. “So the social activity packages have been so appreciated and welcome.”

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Information packages delivered by the Canadian Mental Health Association also include inspirational quotes to offer additional support to their members.
Information packages delivered by the Canadian Mental Health Association also include inspirational quotes to offer additional support to their members. Natalie Fournier - Global News

As the Maritime community came together online through virtual kitchen parties, exercise classes and Zoom events to stay connected with friends and family, Cadham realizes this has not been possible for everyone.

“If you don’t have access to that, you’re just literally sitting in your apartment,” she says. “It puts things into perspective: there are many people who live in isolation all the time. This is an extreme for many.”

READ MORE: Coronavirus — Canadians struggling with mental health during pandemic

Cadham hopes the issue of internet access will be eye-opening and start a discussion on its importance for everyone.

“I think this is really going to be an issue that is brought up that the government will take seriously,” Cadham says. “And when things start to roll back, that they will look and go, ‘It is not a privilege, it should be a right.’ That is how people this day in age connect socially.”

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The CMHA continues to fundraise but understands that not everyone is able to give financially at this time. Its annual fundraiser, Mosaic for Mental Health Art Exhibit, which sees artwork donated by local artists and held at the Craig Gallery in Dartmouth, will go virtual this October.

As the region recovers and businesses, restaurants and services begin to open again, Cadham hopes the memory of isolation during the pandemic doesn’t disappear from the minds of Maritimers.

“I’m hoping that we will come out with a broader sense of understanding… as well as empathy, and don’t forget it,” she emphasizes. “I hope that this will open up opportunity for people to share their stories and experiences of what it was like to work through the challenges of COVID.”

For more information on the Canadian Mental Health Association, visit its website.