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Leaders of the St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Calgary, Alta., mental health panel. Top row (l to r): the Rev. Jared Miller, St. Andrew’s Calgary; Adam Hall, school psychologist, Calgary; Geoffrey Simmins, St. Andrew’s Calgary. Bottom row (l to r): Denis Sushkin, Calgary Counselling Centre; Joelle Richardson, carya, Calgary; Ernie Poundmaker, Aboriginal Friendship Centre, Calgary.
 Discussing Mental Health in Calgary
 By Brent Harding, St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Calgary, Alta.
When it comes to COVID-19, the message from the frontline trenches is grim.
Medical casualties are being cared for and continuing. It is the people in the trenches, the ones at home, whose suffering is unseen.
The Mission Team at St. Andrew’s Presbyterian Church in Calgary, Alta., brought together four mental health professionals to discuss mental health in the midst of one of the 21st cen- tury’s biggest pandemics.
Unlike the pandemic itself, there are positive signs that despite bleak conditions, Calgarians are star ting to come to grips with the consequences of the health crisis.
Adam Hall, a psychologist with a Calgary-area school board, told an October St. Andrew’s online panel dis- cussion that the COVID-19 pandemic has created “a very difficult time for families.” People are stressed about the virus in others, social isolation, job security and daily news about the pandemic, he said.
A study by the Canadian Psycho- logical Association found substantial increases in mental health issues since the beginning of the pandemic in North America. Mr. Hall said people who follow pandemic news on a daily basis tend to be gloomier than others.
Being distracted by reading, ex- ercise and maintaining contact with
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clothing was an eye-opener for me, so much so, that I vowed to send to the Centre men’s and women’s un- derwear four times a year.
That vow has taken on a whole new direction in my life, and I’m so glad it did. The ladies group of my church, St. James Presbyterian Church in Stouffville, Ont., packed up a box of socks and underwear worth over $180 and sent it to the Centre the very next month.
I followed later on in the month with a donation from fellow mem- bers of the church. Word spread of my mission to collect clothing for Kenora Fellowship Centre through
others outside the immediate fam- ily tends to result in a more positive attitude. He added that the transition into the winter months makes these distractions all the more impor tant.
With children, there is an oppor tu- nity for families to be extra helpful to one another. Picking up groceries, do- ing some Christmas shopping, shov- eling sidewalks or volunteering with aid organizations creates oppor tuni- ties to get to know neighbours better, Mr. Hall said. One opportunity he told the panel he fully intends to participate in is Christmas carolling. “Carolling is one way to stave off the worst aspects of isolation... Maintaining whatever routines and rituals you have is helpful to children during times of upheaval.”
The coronavirus pandemic is hav- ing a growing impact on homeless people, according to Ernie Poundmak- er of Calgary’s Aboriginal Friendship Centre. “The problems (for the home- less) are still there with or without the pandemic,” he told the discussion.
Prior to COVID-19 there was a great deal of face-to-face contact between the centre and other resource agen- cies and their clientele. Mr. Pound- maker said there is increased frustra- tion for clients in accessing resources. That frustration is leading to increased violence in the homeless community.
“It (the pandemic) has been a tough road for us, lots of learning.” Mr. Poundmaker said the centre has been able to help meet basic needs with support from the community. “This
members of the church, my ladies golf group, friends and neighbours.
On one occasion, I answered an ad on Stouffville Buy and Sell for a company giving away sample socks that they no longer sold. There must have been 500 socks—none match- ing—that I washed and made pairs out of. Even though they weren’t the same colour, they were at least the same style and made out of Merino wool. I’m sure whoever opened that box in Kenora must have been think- ing “What the heck?”
I try to time my donations accord- ing to the seasons. This past sum- mer, just when it was getting stifling hot, I was able to send a bunch of
pandemic has taught us we have to come together...we are not strangers to difficult times,” he added.
Elders are especially impor tant members of the Indigenous com- munity, Mr. Poundmaker noted. As a result, the community pays special attention to its seniors. The Friend- ship Centre had been doing day trips, taking elders out onto the prairie, al- lowing them to gather sweet grasses, sage and other native vegetation, the scent of which fills the summer air.
Isolation brought on by the pan- demic is having a major impact on seniors, Joelle Richardson of carya, said. Carya is a family-oriented coun- selling organization in Calgary and within carya, Ms. Richardson focuses on seniors.
An 84% increase in COVID-19-re- lated crisis calls is “very significant,” Ms. Richardson told the St. Andrew’s panel discussion. Calls through the summer were double that of last year. In addition to the crisis calls, carya is also receiving routine calls such as the need to get groceries, attend doc- tor’s visits, and so on.
“Isolation is a major factor for sen- iors and can have the health impact of five cigarettes a day,” she said. Ms. Richardson agreed with Mr. Hall: “a great mental health tip...we need to turn off the news.”
Another tip is to “beware of the
men’s and women’s T-shirts. Yvonne was so appreciative as the heat took on a life of its own at the time.
Since then, I’ve managed to stuff boxes and bags—totalling al- most half a ton—of quality used coats, jackets, hats, mitts, gloves, scarves, sweaters, sweatshirts, T- shir ts, jeans, blouses, and yes, even new underwear.
James and Rober t, who work at the Stouffville post office, are so willing to help that they even taped together two boxes into one to help me save on postage.
Jim Mason, who attends my church and was on last year’s trip with his wife, Charlene, asked if I had
panic virus” such as bathroom tissue hoarding.
While organizations like carya are coping, Ms. Richardson thinks that the pandemic is “making agencies figure out how to make it work.”
Fortunately for carya, they have been receiving contributions from people and organizations that they hadn’t heard from before. Those funds have been used for things like prepar- ing hampers, providing masks, and in-person visits with seniors.
While organizations like carya and the Aboriginal Friendship Centre are coping, both Ms. Richardson and Mr. Poundmaker expressed concern about the future. For the long-term, Ms. Rich- ardson said they don’t know what the future holds for the “collective trauma.” “I don’t think we will see the impact until further down the road.” Carya is “really looking closely at the winter.” As traumatic as this pandemic is, Mr. Richardson agreed with Mr. Pound- maker in saying that, “Many older adults are very resilient—they have been through worse before.”
Denis Sushkin, of the Calgary Coun- selling Centre, reviewed the pattern of the epidemic beginning in March. By June, the society had adjusted to the demands of the pandemic. The sum- mer was a period of more unknown until September rolled around and children went back to school.
anything ready to go as his daugh- ter was driving to Calgary and would make a stop along the way. I loaded her up with three big vacuum com- pressed bags, three black garbage bags and one heavy box of coats. Perfect timing—a God wink for sure.
So, with everyone experiencing a “new normal” this year, mine, too, has taken on something I had not considered a year and a half ago. Whenever I get a bag of gently used items, I can’t wait to open it and see what I can wash up and send to Kenora Fellowship Centre. As Chris- tians, we must seek and support justice for Indigenous people in ways that reflect dignity and wholeness.
Technology began to play a notice- ably big roll with work-at-home and children being educated at home. “The pandemic accelerated a lot of things that were normally happening,” he commented.
Greater use of technology, such as online communications systems like Zoom and Skype, helps people con- nect with loved ones, making the tran- sition easier, he said. Ms. Richardson commented that that same technol- ogy often excludes seniors who are unlikely to have computers.
One of the biggest impacts of the pandemic is on couples and fami- lies coping with work-at-home, job loss, and children at home or home- schooling.
A viewer asked about coping with the pandemic and isolation. Ms. Rich- ardson responded that “simply ac- cepting the difference” is an impor tant step. In the Indigenous community, ceremonies help to reinforce individ- ual and community values.
With the epidemic seeming to be endless, Mr. Sushkin said it is impor- tant to have a plan. In addition, he not- ed “hope is more than an emotion.”
The 90-minute seminar is the third annual program St. Andrew’s Cal- gary has presented during Mental Health Week. The full-length seminar can be viewed at StACalgary/videos.
   Presbyterians Sharing supports nine Indigenous ministries operating in, by and for Indigenous communities in Canada. This includes Kenora Fellowship Centre.

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