Growth Could Result in a Sick Community

lorna-picBy Lorna Van Stratten
Published: June 15, 2015
AS MENTAL Health week dwindles to an end, my friends on social media are still asking others to share a post on how life isn’t easy. It suggests that many of us are living with issues that can cause mental health challenges in one form or another.
There is a stigma that prevents people from reaching out for help when it is needed and that stigma works against our community getting healthier as a whole. The stigma against mental illness suggests that things like addictions are actually something a person should be able to control themselves. It is this mentality that causes people to make judgments about those who access social service programs such as the food bank or a homeless shelter. At what point does a problem become too big for you to manage alone? Squamish is growing; how can we all help contribute to the mental health of our community as a whole?
The gap between the rich and poor here continues to increase. According to the 2014 Vital Signs produced by Squamish Savings, we continue “to have an alarming poverty problem that is in contrast to our image as a young, hip and active community. This problem is getting worse despite efforts.” Family problems, health struggles, job issues, money trouble, inability to find an affordable place to live and worry of any form can erode the average person’s psyche to the point that their mental health is affected. Depression, eating disorders, addictions, stress, anxiety, and other mental health issues are common in Squamish. In 2013, almost 23 per cent of the population aged 15 or over reported feeling quite a lot of stress on most days. Over 25 per cent do not rate their mental health as ‘excellent’ or ‘very good’. This means one in every four of us is living here and not feeling good about life day to day.
Zero per cent occupancy rates and lack of good paying jobs is also increasing pressure on existing resources like Helping Hands and the Squamish Food Bank. Municipal funding is minimal, provincial and federal funding very basic. Lack of strong funding directly impacts the ability of these agencies to provide programs and services to help meet basic life needs, never mind provide programs like subsidized counseling.
Without affordable housing, jobs that pay a living wage, safe and emergency housing for our marginalized and mentally challenged population, and increased programs and support from local non-profits, the numbers of residents in reported distress will only continue to increase. The by-product of growth in Squamish could result in an increasingly sick community if basic life needs are not available to residents.
So take a minute and think about your own mental health, and look into the resources here that can support you. Assess whether or not you feel empathy for those around you in pain. Think about what you can do to help another. As little as sharing a social media post may be enough to start to breach the wall of stigma and encourage another to admit ‘I need help’.
Support your local resources and non-profits who are offering programs and services to our residents living under pressure. Volunteer for your local non-profits. If you are a landlord, consider charging a fair price for your rental, if you are an employer consider offering a living wage and benefits to your employees. If you are a business, adopt a local non-profit and help fund them through campaigns or events. Finally, consider the fact that our community faces challenges like these, and give some thought on how you can contribute to the health of our home Squamish and each other.