Providing a human connection in troubled times

Karen Gallagher-Burt talks about how the Canadian Mental Health Association helps people become the best versions of themselves

Karen Gallagher-Burt is executive leader of community investment with the Canadian Mental Health Association – Calgary Region.

Karen Gallagher
Karen Gallagher

What has been the impact of the continued economic challenges on the mental health of Calgarians?

Gallagher-Burt: The economic challenges Calgarians have faced over the past couple of years has been difficult. Lots of people have been laid off or are looking for new employment, and it can affect their mental health.

At any given time, one out of five people are dealing with a mental health or substance use concern. This could be anything from depression to anxiety, to just not feeling quite like yourself. Even if you haven’t been diagnosed with a mental illness, everyone has mental health. It’s important to work on our mental health, just as much as your physical health. For those who have been impacted by the economic challenges, they could be facing numerous mental health challenges, including but not limited to connecting with people, leaving the house or applying for new work.

CMHA Calgary has seen access to our services increase. In our first year of operation at our new Welcome Centre, which opened in February 2018, we have seen more than 8,000 visits, phone calls or emails from people looking for services, help and connection.

What are your suggestions for people who have either been recently laid off or still looking for employment to deal with the mental side of what’s happened to them?

Gallagher-Burt: We suggest that people reach out and talk to others. It is important for someone to feel that connection, belonging and hope to others and their community.

This is not only important for people who have been laid off or are looking for employment, but for anyone who has a mental health concern.

CMHA Calgary has a Welcome Centre where people can come and talk to others with lived personal experience with a mental health or substance use concern. No appointment, referral or diagnosis is required. Just drop by. (We are open Monday to Friday, 9 am – 4 pm, and then Tuesday and Wednesday until 7 pm. We are located at #105, 1040 7th Avenue SW.)

Are we equipped as a society in terms of resources to deal with the mental health issues we face?

Gallagher-Burt: There are lots of resources in the Calgary community to access to deal with mental health concerns an individual may be facing – including community resources and the health-care system. As a society, we’re stronger than we think. We’re resilient.

Calgary has gone through a great deal of hardships with the recent recession and flood in 2013. It was the flood in 2013 that really changed the direction of CMHA Calgary and how we access mental health services in our community. We went from an organization where most of our work was done on a one-on-one basis to larger group based supports. After 2013, we truly began to embrace the concept of peer support – a source of connection and health – and helping not only the most vulnerable part of our society, but anyone who needs it.

CMHA Calgary provides that human connection where people from all walks of life can come and connect with others while learning how to become the best versions of themselves. We help people to recognize and develop their own resourcefulness and awareness in order to support themselves or their loved one’s recovery journey.

There are also many medical resources available through the health-care system. If people are in a crisis, they should call 9-1-1 or the Distress Centre at 403-266-HELP (4357).

What’s the impact of mental health issues on the overall economy and on individual businesses?

Gallagher-Burt: Mental illness costs Canadian employers billions of dollars in absenteeism or sick days, disability and other benefits, and lost productivity. The Mental Health Commission of Canada estimates that it costs more than $6 billion in lost productivity from absenteeism, presenteeism and turnover. This is one of the reasons why mental health needs to be talked about and addressed in all areas of life, including workplaces.

How would you describe the mood of Calgarians in regards to the economy and what they’re expecting in the near future?

Gallagher-Burt: Calgarians are resilient. We came back from the flood stronger and we will come out these economic struggles stronger.

If you see someone who may be struggling, ask them if they need help or how you can help them. Direct them to a service that might be able to help them or guide them in the right direction.

People don’t want to be hurting or struggling. They want to be strong and part of that is being mentally healthy. More and more people each day are reaching out for help, which is a good sign. We are all in this together.

We are seeing people leave CMHA Calgary after using our services hopeful about the future. And that’s true resilience.

– Mario Toneguzzi for Calgary’s Business


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The views, opinions and positions expressed by columnists and contributors are the author’s alone. They do not inherently or expressly reflect the views, opinions and/or positions of our publication.

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