Today marks the first day of Substance Use Awareness Week in Manitoba.
Bernadette Smith, Manitoba’s minister of housing, addictions and homelessness, and minister responsible for mental health, cited that Manitoba saw over 400 mental health and addictions-related deaths last year.
“We can do better, and we must do better as a community,” she said.
To get the gears rolling in the right direction, and as a part of Substance Use Awareness Week, the province and Shared Health are putting on a series of webinars from Tuesday to Friday. They include a look at substance use among older adults, and a look at Sunshine House’s Mobile Overdose Prevention Site.
“This week provides an opportunity to exchange knowledge, ask questions, and to start conversations on the impacts of substance use on individuals, families and communities,” said Denisa Gavan-Koop, manager of specialized services, prevention, and education for Shared Health’s Mental Health and Addictions.
Smith said it’s important to bring attention to substance addictions awareness, and discuss it.
“We don’t have to look any further than the streets surrounding the legislature to see many of our community members who are hurting.”
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This year, the week’s theme is “inspiration, innovation, inclusion.”
Ben Fry, Chief Operating Officer of Shared Health Mental Health and Addictions, said each of the three points is essential to the healing from substance addiction.
“The road to recovery can be a long and winding one for clients, and the need for inspiration — whether it’s encouragement from care providers, family or friends — is vitally important to helping those with substance use and addiction challenges.”
Laura Lapointe, adviser with Shared Health’s patient and family adviser network, said inspiration was important to her personal journey.
“Throughout my experiences, I have lost many people close to me, and I feel blessed to be here and alive today. That has been possible with the inspiration of my family who has been supportive throughout all my challenges,” she said.
Fry also noted the vitality of innovation to meeting increasing demands for mental health and addictions work.
Dr. Shay-Lee Bolton, co-lead of the Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT) with Mindfulness hub, said the demands for CBT “is so great, we simply do not have enough clinicians to provide this individualized treatment to everyone who needs it.”
To bridge the gap, the treatment took to a class-like setting for a “low-pressure alternative, that might feel more comfortable, and less scary as a starting point.”
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Lapointe said, in her experience, waitlists are long. “Accessibility is not always possible for those most in need and requesting supports, People die while on waitlists.”
Among recent innovations include the rise of virtual care options, Fry said. Yet there is always more that can be accomplished.
“Our government is committed to helping Manitobans access wraparound supports, listening to the experts for best practices in prevention, harm reduction and treatment,” Minister Smith said, “as well as promoting education and destigmatizing addictions for years to come.”
The last note of education and destigmatization falls into the song of inclusion, Fry said, which “remains an ongoing foal of the mental health and addictions system,” and features a focus on culturally-appropriate services.
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“We all know, and it has been well documented, that services which are respectful and responsive to clients’ backgrounds lead to more confidence in the care they are receiving.”
Lapointe said “we need to begin to base out opinions on people who use substances on facts, not fear.” Fear, she said, “can lead us to avoid people who need our acceptance and support in times of need.”
“What is needed, is for people to have more understanding of the need to teach self-compassion, and the importance of positive self-talk.” She said the negative and shame-based narratives those struggling with addiction tell themselves, are more than enough.
Gavan-Koop agreed, saying, “they deserve our care, and they deserve compassion.”
Lapointe said, “there is a need for us all to let people know that they are not alone in their experience, to offer to listen and accept their journey with no expectations of where a person may be at.”
— with files from Global’s Iris Dyck
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