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How a Caring Circle course taught islanders mental health skills

'My hope was that people would learn to count on themselves,' explains course creator Maureen Mackey
Woman in the woods
While there isn’t another course scheduled, if people would be interested in such an offering, they should contact the Caring Circle.

The pandemic has taken its toll on our mental health. “It’s okay to not be okay,” retired psychiatrist Dr. Stephen Kiraly told islanders in a February piece in the Undercurrent.

But there are mental health skills we can learn to help manage our daily lives. 

To that end, Maureen Mackey, who has a professional background in psychiatric nursing, teaching and building online courses for Douglas College, offered a free ‘tough times toolkit’ course this spring through the Caring Circle. The course wasn’t therapy or counselling, and it wasn’t for people in crisis or with acute needs. Rather, it was for everyday folks who wanted to take a proactive approach to managing their mental health. 

Mackey built a six-week course that focused on six specific tools to help participants in their everyday lives. And while the pandemic was an obvious backdrop to the course, they didn’t sit around and talk about it. “Universally, we all have stress responses to the pandemic,” she said. “We just kind of acknowledged that throughout.” The course’s foundation went well beyond coping with a COVID-19 reality.  

“It’s a strength-based course,” described Mackey. They started in the first week addressing self-efficacy and learning about what strengths define them. “And so we built on those particular strengths and then added specific tools each week.

“[We] ended with a sense of ‘Okay, how are we going to use our strengths and the tools to develop an ongoing resilience building plan?’”

“My hope was that people would learn to count on themselves,” said Mackey. “Counselling yourself based on who you are, what your strengths are, and applying these tools in order to experience successes and learning on an everyday basis.”

The feedback was overwhelmingly positive – 100 per cent of the participants said they’d recommend the course. 

One participant said that through the course they realized “mental health is just like physical health. You need to put some thought and time into it. This doesn’t mean you are nuts, or weak – it’s an important part of living life in a smart, successful way.” [The course had strict confidentiality and the participants gave anonymous feedback at the end.]

Destigmatizing everyday struggles and mental health struggles is also important for Mackey. “Destigmatize [so] that people will be more comfortable seeking help, or talking about the struggles that we all have, that, of course, are all personalized.”

“I’ve had my own serious struggles with mental health and many of my friends on Bowen Island will know of that,” she said. “For me, it was sharing a little bit of what I’ve learned from my own mental health struggles, as well as helping people understand that it is not a weakness to share our everyday concerns – with a focus on building something better.”

The collective nature of the course – online as it was – was also a high point. “The participants emphasized how much they got out of the friendly, supportive understanding groups,” said Mackey. “People got so much out of learning from one another, and having the support of one another. That exceeded what they expected and certainly exceeded what I expected.”

The spring course was something of a pilot project. While there isn’t another course scheduled, if people would be interested in such an offering, they should contact the Caring Circle, said Mackey. “Caring Circle is happy to support this going forward and I’m happy to lead it again.”