- CMHA: Tell me about yourself and your position at CMHA Calgary?
Kimberley: As an Education Specialist, Youth and Community, my position focuses on delivery of high quality, interactive education sessions surrounding suicide awareness and prevention as well as stress management, and mental health/illness to adult audiences.
Ashley: I came to CMHA 7 years ago, after completing a Master of Teaching Program and having previously been a middle school teacher in Calgary. In my role at CMHA, I work in partnership with the Sheldon Kennedy Advocacy Centre to lead the “Youth Champion Initiative.” The initiative kicks off with the YouthSMART Youth Mental Health Summit. This year, the summit will be at the Genesis Centre on October 19th. This summit brings together “Youth Champion” students from many diverse local junior high and senior high schools to learn about various mental health topics, while developing strategies for building personal and school-wide resiliency. It is designed to generate an awareness of mental health topics, and increase student’s skills and confidence in fostering a sense of belonging within their school-community. Working with the CMHA Calgary Education and Community Engagement teams, I plan and execute the summit, which typically hosts about 300 students each year. Following the summit, I oversee each school’s Youth Champion groups, to guide them in developing and implementing a student-led action plan to spark meaningful mental health promotions and activities, unique to their own school. I also organize several follow-up forum events throughout the school year.
Christie: I’ve been working at CMHA Calgary since 2007 in Education. I came to CMHA Calgary as a volunteer for the Suicide Prevention program. The program attracted me as I had lost someone to suicide and thought the topic would help me heal, develop my public speaking skills, and compliment my undergraduate need for volunteer hours. At the time, I had no idea that my passion for suicide prevention would significantly influence my career path. Luckily, Kimberley saw my potential!
- CMHA: Describe an average day at CMHA Calgary?
Kimberley: An average day is facilitating sessions within junior high, senior high or post-secondary regarding suicide prevention.
Ashley: There is no “average” day for me at CMHA! At any time I might be working with student groups, consulting with school board representatives, planning events with the SKCAC, or coordinating with my CMHA teams. No two days are ever the same, and I am always on the move to the next meeting or event.
Christie: Typically, I’m at a school delivering the community helpers program and when available, supporting school counselors and teachers with strategies on how to build mental health capacity in their schools. But it depends on the day. I also facilitate a modified version of CHP at Alpha House and Aventa once a month. Additionally, I helped include the program training into peer support programs at Calgary Corrections and Remand Centres, WestJet, ACAD, and Calgary Chinese Elderly Citizens’ Association. And I also facilitate Living Life to the Full and help Education when necessary. Basically, considerable time is spent facilitating. The rest of my time is spent sustaining partnerships, administration duties like reporting, and assessing the utility of the program.
- CMHA: Who typically are your demographics/clients?
Kimberley: Schools are primarily my clients. However, I also facilitate sessions for other not for profit organizations, corporations, faith based groups, or community organizations
Ashley: Typically my demographics are groups of Youth Champion students and their teachers. I work with Youth Champion groups from many junior and senior high schools all across Calgary and area.
Christie: Caregivers are my clients and the majority, are students.
- CMHA: What is the most challenging part of your position?
Kimberley: Finding the time to meet the request for sessions as well as balancing the demands of other CMHA initiatives (LLTTF)
Ashley: In my position, being flexible and adaptable are key. It can be challenging to manage all the individual needs of each Youth Champion group, and there are often many conflicting demands happening at once. My role keeps me extremely busy, so I rely on my organization and client service skills to be successful each day.
Christie: Meeting the demand, both on a client level and personal stamina. People want to learn how to help care for a friend or family member. So, when people hear about the program they want it! They want it at their school or in their community. The program is community based and less clinical; it reaches a wide audience. The catch is, it’s difficult to support this demand as a program of one. On top of this, ensuring the quality of the program and my delivery of the program meets the expectation of the client takes a toll on ones’ personal stamina. Many people don’t understand the level of energy needed to facilitate a workshop like Community Helpers almost every day to a variety of populations. Some days I’ll be at a school for three hours in the morning and then switch hats and teach at Aventa in the afternoon. It’s demanding on multiple levels.
- CMHA: What is the most rewarding part of your position?
Kimberley: Providing youth with valuable/accurate information about suicide in a youth friendly format that encourages youth to become engaged in the meaningful conversation surrounding suicide. Enabling youth to feel comfortable to speak about suicide, seek help for themselves or a friend, and having the confidence to assist someone.
Ashley: Working with keen, motivated young people is the most rewarding part of my position. Knowing that my efforts are making a measurable impact in reducing stigma, promoting positive help-seeking, and increasing mental health awareness within a new generation of young people keeps me energetic and inspired.
Christie: Empowering students to continue to be amazing caregivers energizes me! Delivering the program to youth energizes me because of the hopefulness the students spread. I’m excited for the future when I engage with young helpers. Delivering the program at Alpha House is also a favorite part of my job. I’m so grateful to have the opportunity to watch a group of strangers who often don’t have the opportunity to be emotionally vulnerable come together and share experiences or pain in the brief time I work with them. People who are ignored, cast out, neglected – have gifted me with some of the best moments of hope and resilience as a facilitator. So, the clients I have the privilege to work with are the reward.
- CMHA: You deal with difficult topics and subject matters, how do you take care of yourself when you’re not working?
Kimberley: Spend time with friends, nature, pets, compartmentalize, leave work at work, have the attitude that I work to live, not live to work
Ashley: Self-care is critical in the work we do at CMHA. I thrive off of time with my family and friends. Also, my “Rock Star” cats, Prince and Madonna make me laugh every day.
Christie: I try to balance multiple areas of my wellness – hiking usually hits many of the dimensions for me, including spiritual. During the week, I’ll go to the gym, watch trashy T.V., read, connect with friends – the usual stuff!
- CMHA: What’s the best part about working at CMHA Calgary?
Kimberley: The ability to reach so many youth and share my passion surrounding suicide prevention
Ashley: The best part about CMHA is the people! I love working with other passionate and driven staff members. I learn something new each time I interact with a colleague, and feel so fortunate to work for an organization that cares so deeply for the wellbeing of clients.
Christie: I have the flexibility to work with many different communities and organizations through my program – that’s the best part of working at CMHA.
- CMHA: If you could say anything about mental health education and its significance what would you say?
Kimberley: That we save lives. We might not always know at the time or hear directly from the youth themselves. But, hearing the stories from teachers or guidance counsellors later that youth reached out for help after our sessions is what keeps me doing what I do every day. Even, when sessions can be challenging, or I am teaching the same thing for the 5th time in the same day, I remind myself that in that audience a youth might be struggling with thoughts of suicide and they deserve my best.
Ashley: For Calgary and area youth, the teen and young adult years are a critical time in the promotion of life-long emotional wellness, and many mental illnesses first begin to show symptoms during adolescence. We know youth are incredibly influential amongst their peers, within their schools, families, and communities. We must provide young people with the tools to effectively support their own mental wellness, and recognize stigmatizing behaviors, in order to transform attitudes surrounding mental health.
Christie: In the past ten years, I have witnessed attitudes change in a positive direction toward mental illness and suicide – youth have changed the script. I strongly believe education has had an impact on society’s willingness to discuss these important topics. I’m hopeful stigma will look very different in the next ten years.