A message from Dr. Nel Wieman, Acting Chief Medical Officer
The first month of the year, with its promise of new beginnings and fresh starts, is a good time to take stock of what we want to start doing or keep doing in order to live our best lives.
After the past few years, which have been challenging for most, and heartbreaking for some, I sincerely hope that now, in 2023, many of us are able to look forward and begin or continue our individual healing journeys toward mental, physical, spiritual, and emotional health and wellness.
Although our journeys are unique, there are some commonalities – including the fact that every one of us needs help from others at different times in our lives. As First Nations people, we know that we are all connected, and that what happens to one community member affects the whole community. So, reaching out to either give or receive help is one of the very best things we can do, not only for ourselves, but for others.
Maintaining and balancing all four aspects of our health (mental, physical, spiritual and emotional) is a lifelong journey, and most, if not all of us, will have challenges in one or more of these areas. In the area of mental health, one in five Canadians will experience a form of mental illness in their lives, and one in two people struggling with their mental health aren't getting the help they need, according to Mental Health Research Canada.
The First Nations Health Authority (FNHA), as a health and wellness partner to First Nations people in BC, has been working to change this for the people we serve. One way we are doing so is by developing and providing mental health support services specifically for First Nations people – supports that are culturally safe, accessible, community-driven, and land-based. (At the end of this message, you will find contact information for the various support services available to you. Please reach out if you feel you need support, or let people who are struggling know about them.)
As I and my colleague, Duanna Johnston-Hughes, noted in a previous message, the path to good mental health for many First Nations people includes acknowledging and healing from the traumatic effects of historical and ongoing colonial injustices and atrocities. As we also noted, we have traditional ways and methods that are proven to support and protect our mental health, including ceremonies, practices, medicines, and connecting to culture, the land/nature, and community (you can visit friendship centres or other First Nations organizations if you are away from your home community).
If you are a First Nations person who would like help to improve or maintain your mental health and wellness, we encourage you to reach out to one of the resources provided below. Please do not feel ashamed if you are having issues with your mental health and wellness, whether it be at times or consistently. We all struggle sometimes, whether it is obvious or not. Having a mental illness or struggling with mental health does not define a person, and it is nothing to be ashamed of. In fact, it is very important not to shame people for having mental health issues, as this kind of stigma hurts people who are already hurting, and causes them to try and hide instead of seeking the help they need.
Reach out to a Knowledge Keeper, Elder, or health professional as needed. As we've said before, and will continue to say, reaching out for help – or to help – is one of the most important things we can do for ourselves and each other. Since it is often difficult for people in distress to reach out to others, we need to check in with each other, even if we think the people around us are doing well and saying they're “fine."
For myself, I made a commitment to increase my physical activity levels in 2022 and I have noticed the positive impacts on my mental, emotional and spiritual wellbeing. Now, in 2023, I have been getting out on daily long walks, including along the Sea Wall and in Stanley Park (originally Xwayxway – pronounced “kwhy-kway"). The connection to the beautiful forests and water helps me decompress at the end of my work day so I can feel happier and be more present for my family once I get home.
In addition to the links below, follow the FNHA's social media channels and website for expert information about maintaining good health and wellness, treatment centres, resources, programs, and more.