The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) Vernon and District Branch will be doubling its current community education and suicide prevention courses with the creation of a Community Educator position.

“The expansion of mental health community education is an urgent need in our community,” said Julia Payson, CMHA Vernon & District Executive Director.

North Okanagan communities are facing a critical challenge surrounding youth mental health, suicide and substance use. Suicide is the second leading cause of death among 15 to 24 year olds in BC after motor vehicle accidents.

“Early intervention and prevention-based education helps change the lives of individuals by giving greater access to proven successful courses that help people manage their mental wellness,” said Payson.

In addition to youth and parent outreach, Naaz Grewal (NAZZ GRAY/wall), in her role as Community Educator, will be providing a variety of workplace mental health and wellness educational classes for employers and their employees from one-hour lunch and learns to half day sessions and multi-day workshops.

Forty per cent of Canadians will experience challenges with their mental health during their working years. Of those 40%, 2 out of 3 people suffer in silence fearing judgment rather than seeking treatment.

“I made it my goal to start conversations so people like family and friends can get the help they need and won’t have to suffer in silence, shame and stigma,” said Grewal, whose previous positions at CMHA Vernon included Development & Engagement Coordinator for Youth Wellness Hub, Youth Programs Coordinator, and Program Assistant for Recreation and Rehabilitation.

“Within the many cultural communities in our area, speaking about mental illness and substance use is quite often taboo and silenced. I want to make it safe for individuals in every community to talk about it.”

Grewal is certified in Question Persuade Refer (QPR Institute), Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training (ASIST) and Mental Health First Aid, and has a Bachelor of Science majoring in psychology from UBCO.

She also served as Vice President of the Board of Directors for the Mental Illness Family Support Centre in Vernon, and was the External Coordinator for Peer Support Network Resource Centre at UBCO.

In addition to her professional experience, Grewal has a personal connection to mental health.

“I have lost loved ones to mental illness, and have family members who experience mental health challenges. We weren’t talking about it enough. People were left to sit in silence, not talking and not accepting.”

One of CMHA’s upcoming projects in early 2019 will be hosting four community forums and resource fairs in Armstrong, Lumby and Vernon.

“Rural youth face additional challenges such as higher incidences of at-risk behavior and lack of access to resources,” said Grewal.

“These types of large scale collaborative events are not currently being offered on the complexity of topics surrounding youth mental health, substance use and suicide. I have two younger siblings and see many youth today going through challenges without support or education,” said Grewal.

“I want to help educate those youth so they have the resources and correct responses to give to their friends. We can teach them early on and that can help them in the future.”

CMHA also has a certified safeTALK trainer for its education programs. SafeTALK is a half-day alertness training course that prepares anyone 15 years of age or older, regardless of prior experience or training, to become a suicide-alert helper.

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