The Council of the Haida Nation hosted a second live Haida Gwaii Talk Coronavirus webinar on April 6, 2020, with moderator Nika Collison as well as guests Dr. Gordon Horner, Patricia Vickers, Alison McDonald, and Vern Williams Jr. (Zoom screen grab)

Second Haida Nation webinar centres on mental health, well-being amid COVID-19

Haida Gwaii Talks Coronavirus guests led live exercises, shared free advice, apps and more

The Council of the Haida Nation hosted a second live Haida Gwaii Talks Coronavirus webinar on April 6, with Nika Collison returning to moderate discussion about taking care of mental health and well-being during COVID-19.

The guests who participated in the webinar were Dr. Gordon Horner, chief of staff at the Haida Gwaii Hospital in Queen Charlotte, Patricia Vickers, head of the mental health department at the Skidegate Health Centre, Alison McDonald, a mental health clinician with the Haida Child and Family Services Society, and Vern Williams Jr., a ceremonial leader and artist.

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Collison kicked off the discussion portion of the webinar with an update on the state of local emergency and associated measures, which Horner followed with a medical update.

“It’s interesting giving care as I did today from my den here on the phone,” he said. “It is definitely a different way, but you can do an awful lot of care like that.”

Due to COVID-19, the Haida Gwaii Hospital is doing appointments by telephone when possible and the clinic is limited to urgent procedures.

Horner also showed off a homemade mask he said his partner had made.

“We’re not sure if we’ll need them, but we want to be ready,” he said.

“If there’s a supply problem it definitely doesn’t hurt to have some of these beautiful homemade masks.”

ALSO READ: B.C. health officer says homemade masks may prevent spread of COVID-19 to others

Vickers led a breathing exercise to “help calm the nervous system and mind,” after which Collison asked her about dealing with trauma.

“I know COVID-19 is biologically different from smallpox, for example,” Collison said. “But there are also commonalities and triggers, and these are ones that are intergenerational.”

Vickers acknowledged that trauma is complex and known to overload the nervous system.

“Healing is about coming back … into the body so that I can be fully present,” she said, reiterating that breathing exercises are helpful.

As for anxiety, Vickers said to remember “what really matters is this moment here and now.”

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McDonald talked more about anxiety, including how it affects the brain, how it manifests and its high prevalence rate.

According to the the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health, for example, one in five Canadians will experience a mental illness or addiction problem in any given year.

“I think right now … we’re in a situation where people will have more anxiety because we’re dealing with a perceived threat and uncertainty, and usually that’s what starts anxiety, is a perceived threat,” McDonald said.

Collison asked how youth are being impacted by COVID-19 and what advice she had for parents to support them.

ALSO READ: Here’s how to talk to your kids about COVID-19

“Often for children, stress and anxiety is shown to us in behaviour,” McDonald replied, citing anger, fatigue, irritability and defiance as examples.

She advised parents to model good behaviour for their children by following recommended preventative measures and at the same time try to maintain a sense of normality.

Free apps such as MoodGYM and Anxiety Canada’s MindShift can be helpful, she added.

Williams opened and closed the webinar with song, and during the discussion he said that song and ceremony, which “belongs to the earth,” are also helpful when trying to centre and deal with anxiety.

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