Roundtable 1: Health, Trauma, and Transitions

Overview

  • Health includes both physical health and the social determinants of well-being.
  • How do we nurture individual resiliency – the ability of a person and those around them to prevent, respond to, and recover from shocks and stresses?
  • What initiatives are working that support individuals and/or their friends and families, so as to minimize, respectfully accommodate, or mitigate traumas and ease transition to a positive state of mental and physical health?
  • What works in different situations – of crises or chronic pressures?
  • How do we support the whole person who may be dealing with many different and cumulative pressures?
  • How do we help people to move from justifiable anger to reconciliation?

Roundtable Discussion

Summit photo by Marine Tamaki

In addition to the table lead, Calum Scott, and notetaker, Evangelia Aleiferi, there were 9 participants in this group, representing different agencies and persons with lived experiences related to trauma and health. Each person presented an initiative and then discussion proceeded to find common ground and identify recommendations.

Participants shared examples and stories (their own or others) to highlight a number of themes that emerged. These included issues such as intergenerational and bystander trauma, the importance of social connections to physical health, and an approach to health that goes beyond the individual to encompass the whole community. The discussion highlighted how people with personal experience of trauma or illness can use their experience to help others. The value of the arts in promoting healing and connectedness was emphasized.

The Family Services of Greater Vancouver Healthy Connections Program presented an example of inter-generational trauma:

Stephanie’s Story: Stephanie had 7 siblings and all of them had experienced sexual abuse from other family members. When she was 8-9 years old and asked her mother why she didn’t stop the abuse, her mother said “sexual abuse is for girls and physical abuse is for boys.” When Stephanie moved to Vancouver, at age 16, she was connected with counselors but felt unable to talk about her story. At age 18, while she was thinking of attempting suicide, she learned she was pregnant. She joined the Family Services of Greater Vancouver’s Healthy Connections program. Through this program, Stephanie connected with other women with trauma in group counseling, and found a safe place where she felt able to reflect on her experiences and begin to heal.

Other examples presented during the discussion are identified under “related initiatives” below.

Key Findings

Healing and wellness are multifaceted and need to take into account many aspects of people’s lives. Healing is everyone’s responsibility and is much more than the concept of a ‘cure.’ To have a meaningful life means to have healthy relations with others.

  • Community is critical for healing. Peer support is needed in addition to traditional professional approaches.
  • Community must be redefined – beyond single similarities to incorporate a more intersectional approach.
  • Art and creativity can play an important role in dealing with trauma and transition.
  • Safety and ensuring that people do not fall through the cracks, are major components of healing.
  • People face challenges in navigating health systems – particularly in mental health. We need more systematic identification and analysis of available services; which services are at capacity; what needs to be replicated; and where the gaps are.
  • Meeting basic needs is fundamental to health and wellness and to the ability to participate fully in society.
  • Many of these issues come back to reconciliation, the acknowledgement of injustices and ongoing colonization as well as addressing inter-generational trauma.
  • The issues are also intersectional. It’s like pulling a thread – you can start at gender, you can start at race, you can start at class, and it can lead to ripping down a whole blanket.

The issues and recommendations that follow have been around for a long time. They need to be prioritized and implemented.

Recommendations

  • Enhance the use of art and creativity in dealing with trauma and transition: improve resources and funding for art in the city; reduce barriers to participation; rely less on volunteers; make public art meaningful, thoughtful, and representative of the local community; add a therapeutic component to public art; facilitate art shows by diverse groups; have a public studio for use by artists similar to a public library.
  • Encourage community and peer approaches vs traditional professional approaches: provide resources to train volunteers to build community; provide material resources (e.g. housing & public transportation); use less free labour by community organizations (city can add this as a criterion when providing funding); use new/social media to provide peer healing support and to gather data/feedback.
  • Improve safety: add signs (e.g. flag, sticker) outside places (non-profits, coffee shops) where people are welcome to visit and feel safe; provide a business training program (e.g. for bars, pubs, restaurants) on how to provide safe spaces free of violence; have trained civilians (not police or security) present downtown on weekends to provide safety; provide transportation (e.g. free bus) for intoxicated people so they are not left in vulnerable positions; provide opportunities for people to name their attacker when they have been harmed.
  • Create an umbrella service that can navigate and direct people to a suitable service that matches their needs.
  • Create a City-led navigation team of about 10 people, properly funded. It can also include a research component to collect data and give feedback. Assessments should be based on the whole person, not specific problems.
  • Meet basic needs: subsidized housing and education. Free or pay-what-you-can counseling; improve food security.

Related Initiatives

Healthy Connections is a ‘you and your baby’ program that helps women deal with trauma when pregnant and supports them during the first years of motherhood offered by Family Services of Greater Vancouver. The program also aims to establish a healthy connection between mother and child. It deals at the same time with mental, physical, and social wellbeing, contains an art therapy component, and addresses the idea of intergenerational trauma.

Vancouver Association of Survivors of Torture (VAST) supports refugee claimants in dealing with mental health. VAST helps with practical issues such as housing or using public transportation. With in-house facilitators, counselors, and volunteers, it empowers participants through counseling sessions, physical activities and creation of community in dealing with physical trauma (e.g. torture) and social trauma (e.g. being away from family).

Creep Off was a pilot text-based initiative that ran for 7 weeks in the summer of 2018 to gather data on harassment. The initiative established a baseline and provided insight into harassment in Vancouver. Some observations: gender-based harassment is most common, followed by race. Women 20-35 years old report the most harassment, which typically occurs in places of employment.

My Health My Community Survey was conducted in 2013-2014 across the Lower Mainland. It found that being socially connected is far more important than any physical activity for our general mental and physical well being. A second survey will be conducted this spring.

The Vancouver Women’s Health Collective (VWHC) helps self-identified women access health care, education, and share wisdom. They provide a space for women to relax, clean up, take a nap, and access services. VWHC is currently talking with Indigenous women about integrating healing in the Indigenous community.

Teachings in the Air are podcasts focused on Indigenous men’s health and wellness. They are part of a broader movement to use new media (e.g. Facebook, Instagram) to engage people where they are.

The Coast Mental Health Resource Center offers low-cost meals as well as support programs such as the member-run art room, community health nurses, community garden, peer support worker program, and a homeless outreach program. It is dedicated to the memory of Carma Rogers, a volunteer with schizophrenia who started their art program over 20 years ago and inspired their approach of housing first and peer support.

Coast Mental Health Recovery and Rehab operates out of the Hillside and Brookside cottages on the grounds of the former Riverview Hospital in Coquitlam. The program supports 15 women and 25 men with severe mental illnesses as well as addictions who are working towards recovery. Key components of the program are creating a sense of community and treating the whole person.

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