The Cowichan Valley celebrates Mental Health Week

Beyond the grim statistics, there are reasons for hope

This is from the Cowichan Valley’s weekly newsletter. If you like what you’re reading, help grow this community by encouraging your friends to subscribe.

It’s the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Mental Health Week, and I feel like celebrating. I’ve been reporting on mental health and addictions in the Cowichan Valley for a few months now, and I’ve learned a lot.

It hasn’t all been warm and fuzzy. The reality is, many people are suffering here. According to Island Health, Duncan and neighbouring communities have higher rates of depression, anxiety, suicide and drug-related deaths compared with the rest of Vancouver Island. One in four children live in poverty, a figure that hasn’t budged much province-wide for the last decade, and the rate of children in government care is disproportionately high. Too many young people aren’t finding the support they need to be well.

And yet, I feel like celebrating all of the people and services I’ve come across (there are too many to list) that are working hard to make a difference. I’ve learned that there really is good help out there, not just for people in crisis but for anyone who needs a little extra support. I’m celebrating all of you, who have responded to my newsletters, shared them with friends, started conversations, and helped me on my path to better understanding.

My big personal win this week has been asking for help for myself, something I’ve never been very good at. I’ve reached out to not one but two local organizations that offer compassionate support through normal life challenges. For me, that’s really worth celebrating.

What local services are offering good support, from what you’ve seen? Send me an email — I’d love to hear your thoughts.


Kim Ayer works with the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Youth Outreach Team in Cowichan. She stands in front of a mural painted by local youth that reads “community” in the new Open Door youth drop-in centre.

Kim Ayer works with young people, 13 to 24, in the Cowichan Valley that are homeless, or close to it. Many of them have aged out of the child welfare system, or are technically still in it but are placed in housing that doesn’t work for them, so they don’t stay there, she says.

Kim’s job, as part of the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Youth Outreach Team, is to go out and find those youth, and build up enough trust that they’ll let her help connect them with other people and services. She’s a chauffeur, an informal counsellor, and an advocate.

In two years on the job, Kim says she’s worked with about 70 individual youth, and there are 15 to 20 that she sees regularly. And there have been successes: Youth who have found housing and jobs, youth who have sought treatment for addictions, youth who are connected in ways they weren’t before.

What they need more than anything is housing, she says. A youth shelter. Group and foster homes that work for them. Transitional, supported housing for youth aging out of care. “Without housing, it’s really hard to be stable and feel safe and secure,” Kim says.

She sees strength in those youth that lots of people miss. “A lot of times, street-entrenched youth aren’t seen as people, frankly. They’re seen as a pain in the butt, or dirty, or something else,” she says.

“What I see in the kids? Amazing, bloody resiliency and strength. And smarts — so many street smarts. There are so many brilliant, beautiful youth out there. They’re powerful. I couldn’t do what they’re doing. I feel empowered around them.”

As part of Mental Health Week, there will be an open house at the Open Door, the Canadian Mental Health Association’s new drop-in centre for youth at 371 Festubert St., Friday May 10 from 1 to 3 p.m. The centre offers showers, laundry, food, and a place to hang out, as well as access to a counsellor and nurse practitioner.

There will also be a community barbeque at the Open Door on May 11, hosted by the Cowichan Intercultural Society’s Compassionate Youth Leaders Project.

Let’s gather

  • May 12: Take a tour of some of Cowichan’s most beautiful gardens, followed by tea and refreshments. The event is a fundraiser for Cowichan Family Life, an association that offers peer counselling and support groups to individuals and families.
  • May 14: Why is it so hard for white people to talk about racism? Get ready to get uncomfortable with clinical counsellor and anti-racist activist Heather Ferris as she leads a discussion on confronting racial injustice.
  • May 14: Join acclaimed author Ivan Coyote for an evening of storytelling at Quamichan School, sponsored by the Cowichan District Teachers’ Association.

News of the week

Youth celebrate the expansion of North Cowichan’s X-Treme Skate Park on May 3.
  • North Cowichan unveiled its expanded X-Treme Skate Park on May 3, and youth came out on their boards, bikes, and scooters to celebrate. The addition cost $200,000 and added 6,000 square feet of new features, the Cowichan Valley Citizen reports.
  • A rainbow flag will fly over the North Cowichan municipal hall from May 17 through the end of June, the Cowichan Valley Citizen reports. Counsellor Rosalie Sawrie put forward the motion as a gesture of support to the LGBTQ2S+ community, and to mark the International Day against Homophobia, Transphobia, and Biphobia on May 17 as well as Pride month in June.
  • Water restrictions came into effect across the Cowichan Valley on May 1, the Cowichan Valley Citizen reports. Water managers are anticipating a “crisis of water supply” this summer and fall, according to an email from Brian Houle, environment manager for Catalyst Crofton. (Catalyst monitors the water levels because they own and operate the weir at Lake Cowichan, and pump water out of the river at Duncan.) The current water level of Cowichan Lake is similar to this time in 2016, but with 50 percent less snowpack remaining. In 2016, pumps were installed in the lake as an emergency measure because of low river flows. [end]

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