Mental health in the 21st century is still a topic that is surrounded by stigma. When talking about disorders like anxiety or depression, tones and voices in our community are still hushed.
An organization that does not shy away from spreading awareness on mental health, and helping those in a position where they are unable to help themselves, is Coast Mental Health (CMH).
Coast Mental Health, the organization
As a registered charity, CMH provides community support to assist people living with mental health challenges. While many of its services are referral-based, they also have the Coast Mental Health Clubhouse and Resource Centre that provides participants with important community connections, recreational activities, and employment services.
The Clubhouse currently has over 400 active members who are engaged in the employment programs. These programs help participants gain important pre-vocational skills that can transfer to employment opportunities. Their members are adults who have struggled through mental health and addiction challenges such as anxiety, depression, schizophrenia, substance use, and more.
“Membership is based on anyone who comes to our doors,” says Cathy Taylor, director of employment services at CMH.
Through the Transitional Employment Program, members can identify their career interests and work with staff to set and achieve these goals. Employment opportunities are identified through partnerships with local businesses.
In some ways, Coast Mental Health staff bridge the gap in helping members access employment. This may include janitorial or street cleaning services, volunteer opportunities or registering for other employment programs offered by CMH like the Culinary Skills Training Program and Landscape with Heart Gardening. The Clubhouse works alongside business improvement associations (BIAs) such as the Yaletown BIA.
The Clean Team
The Yaletown BIA is one of 20 BIAs that offer CMH members with regular employment street cleaning. Known as the ‘Clean Team,’ they have become a well-known face in the Yaletown area. The Clean Team works eight hours a day for five days a week in the Yaletown district. Some of the members have worked in the area for over five years, which has helped the community get to know and befriend many of them.
“Many have moved on to jobs at these local businesses,” says Annette O’ Shea, executive director of the Yaletown BIA.
The impact of COVID-19 on the CMH’s Clean Team
Over 70 members of the CMH employment program lost their jobs during COVID-19. This also meant that they lost their routine and access to colleagues and supports they were once comfortable with. During the pandemic, Vancouver has also seen an increase in drug use and addiction, especially among young adults. It took CMH two months to plan and get WorkSafeBC’s approvals to restart their employment program.
“Since we had to change a lot of our protocols, we have not been able to bring back all 70 people who lost their jobs,” says Rick Minhas, program coordinator at CMH. “The Coast Employment Program has been able to gradually grow the number of shifts and work opportunities and currently has 36 individuals who have started back on the Clean Team or as part of our janitorial services.”
Curtis, a member of the street team working in the Yaletown district, is pleased to be back at work again.
“When the pandemic started, it was really rough and hard on me to be isolated at home because I felt depressed and had anxiety. But when work was called back, I was happy to have that, and I am working every day. It’s better for my mental health,” he says.
He works outside with a coworker and that is something he is happy and comfortable with, especially given the circumstances and safety concerns with COVID-19.
The employment program is vital to the health and wellness of individuals in the program and each year CMH supports over 150 individuals on their journey back to work.
Coast Mental Health is currently working on an initiative called #Fundamentalhealth that increases awareness of social determinants of health and wellness through five recommendations of support. One of these recommendations includes the need for specialized employment services for people living with mental illness. With your support, let’s encourage local governments to invest in these vital
To learn more about their advocacy efforts and to pledge your support, visit www.coastmentalhealth.com