Mental health group can give islanders a boost

Haida Gwaii's Mental Health Advisory Committee offers small grants to help any islanders in counselling improve their daily lives.

It can help pay the bills, fix a bike, buy art therapy supplies, or bring “happy feet” to someone in pain.

Each year, a local volunteer committee offers small grants of up to $200 to help islanders in counselling for a mental health or addiction issue.

“We cover lots of things helping with dental bills, medical travel off island, veterinarian bills, hydro bills, or if people need to get a heater or wood for their place,” says Sharon Petitpaw, a six-year member of the Haida Gwaii Mental Health & Addictions Advisory Committee.

But Petitpaw said few islanders seem to know about the grants or the advisory committee, which is recruiting new members.

With a $7,000 budget from Northern Health, the committee also supports local mental health education.

Last year, they supported the Ride for Mental Health campaign in Queen Charlotte. This year, Petitpaw hopes to bring in a speaker who can talk with people who have a family member at the onset of dementia or Alzheimer’s.

“I know a lot of people do have that problem, and they don’t know too much about it,” she said.

Speaking at a recent seniors luncheon in Port Clements, Petitpaw said all grant requests are kept private committee members never see an applicant’s name, age, or gender, only their request.

Petitpaw said counsellors Dan Binnema, Jennifer Chow, and Laurie Husband can help clients file their request for a speedy reply.

One request asking for a grant towards a new pair of running shoes came with a two-word explanation: “Happy feet!”

“All I could think about was that darn penguin movie,” said Petitpaw, talking about Happy Feet, an animated movie about the adventures of a young Emperor penguin named Mumble.

After asking for more information, the committee learned the request was for someone with fallen arches, and they happily okayed the shoes.

Petitpaw worked at the Masset Transition House for several years, as well as doing local home support, fostering children with mental health issues and working with the Red Cross in eastern Canada.

“I’m retired now, and this is just a volunteer-type thing,” she said with a laugh.

“I just can’t seem to get away from it!”

Islanders who would like to meet with a mental health or addictions counsellor can make a request at their local health centre, phone 250-559-8765 on weekdays in the south end, or 250-626-4725 in the north.

Petitpaw any volunteers interested in joining the committee can give her a call at 250-557-9370. The committee usually meets once a month for an hour-long telephone conference, and takes a break in summer.