By Richard Bell
For more than 10 years, the volunteers of Eastern Shore Mental Health have been filling critical gaps in the province’s mental health services, helping people in crisis find paths towards stability and inclusion.
“We grew out of the community visioning process ten years ago,” said co-founder Anita Carter-Rose. “Laurie Cook and myself realized that there was a real need for mental health support by people in our community, our peers. Since then, I’ve been building networks along the Eastern Shore, so people in our rural region could get better mental health support.”
One of the organization’s on-going efforts is to remove the stigma about acknowledging mental health problems. “I live with depression,” Carter-Rose said. “I take medication, I’m quite open about that. We don’t judge people. We see the person first, and the mental health challenge second. People know we’ve been through the system, we know what they’re dealing with, and that puts them at ease, gives them hope.”
“The stigma’s not as strong as it once was, it’s still there. We’re trying to obliterate that stigma. I can’t tell you how many great people I’ve met through this work, people with amazing talents, extreme fortitude, some of the most lovely, caring people you’ll ever meet.”
“ESMH fills gaps that can’t be filled by public health care. We support the person until they get to the public health system. We’re there with them during that waiting period, when they’re trying to find the right fit, dealing with different doctors and medications, looking at the cost of private care, and the waiting times for public care. When you’re in a crisis, it’s too much to have to deal with all by yourself, it’s daunting. We’re here to give them the immediate hope they need until they get on the path to recovery.”
ESMH responds primarily to people in need. People come to ESMH by word-of-mouth, or through the ESMH Facebook page. “I get private messages all the time,” Carter-Rose said. “I had one last night, and another one this morning. My capacity is very limited, but that’s where our networks come in. I couldn’t help anyone without good networks.”
Carter-Rose works closely with Jan Rowlings, who’s been doing grief and bereavement work on the Shore for 20 years. “I often work with Jan,” Carter-Rose said. “She’s the specialist. I’m the person with the big heart and the lived mental health experience. Once we’ve identified what people need, I reach out to the experts I know who can help.” (Rowlings is currently running the second of two free six-week grief/loss and bereavement groups at the Eastern Shore Family Resource Association, another group that works closely with ESMH.)
As an all-volunteer group, ESMH operates under the fiscal umbrella of the Old School Gathering Place, another organization that grew out of the 2006 visioning process. Donations from individuals and businesses are the group’s primary source of income. “People decide they want to do something for us, and put on a party or an event, like the Paint Nite that Taylor Kaiser did for us in February at the Old School.” Or take Uprooted. Emma Kiley’s grandfather, David Shuman, support us by carving these little “comfort birds” that fit in the palm of your hand. Half the money goes to the food bank, and half to ESMH. And we also get support when families ask people to make donations for loved ones.
Carter-Rose said that she has learned the importance of self-care for people who do the kind of work she does. “I take the summer off. I still take calls, but I don’t do administration, network, training, or facilitation. That’s my self-care, and then I’m ready to go again in the fall.”
For more information, see the ESMH Facebook group, Eastern Shore Mental Health.