The Importance of Peer Support and Inclusion in Rural Mental Health: Meghan South

The Stigma-Free Society recently had the opportunity to speak to Meghan South, a recent participant of our Rural Mental Health Peer Support training program, who shared with us about her experience living in rural Saskatchewan and working in the field of mental health and substance use recovery. She shared with us about her experience with the peer support program and living and working in a rural community.

First of all, can you tell us about your background in rural mental wellness and your training in mental health support?

I am a woman who has lived her entire life in the rural province of Saskatchewan. My training in rural mental wellness involves a combination of professional training, lived experience, and activism. Professionally I have a background in Early Childhood Education and worked with special needs children in my 20’s, this experience involved being extremely compassionate and supportive to young children with diverse backgrounds and needs. In my 30’s I have shifted more towards mental health recovery support for individuals with substance abuse. I volunteer in online communities providing peer support to others, and I am currently learning to write content for mental health publications. More recently, I have gotten involved in various projects that support mental wellness. These projects include advocating for mental health awareness through arts, writing, song, and dance.

Why do you think peer support is so valuable as a mental health care option? How can peer support be better integrated into mainstream services?

Peer support is a critical asset to long term mental wellness. Thankfully organizations like the Stigma-Free Society and their Rural Mental Wellness program are helping to bring more awareness to the need to bring Peer Support to rural communities. When I was early in my recovery journey before the pandemic, I had plenty of support from the professional community, but often I longed for people who understood what I was personally going through. Peer support helps bridge the gap between personal experiences and the relationships people have with healthcare providers. Peer support doesn’t just serve as an added support for those seeking mental health services in healthcare, peer support is also being brought into corporate companies and is being used as an added resource to help support other professionals as well. By addressing the reality that mental health is something people from all walks of life face on a day to day basis, we can better integrate peer support and eliminate the stigma and biases that still prevent so many Canadians from accessing the support they need.

How do you think current health care standards and policies should be improved in Canada? Particularly in rural communities?

I am currently working with organizations locally and nationally to advocate for higher standards within healthcare policies. We recently met and discussed different insights to be shared with policymakers to raise awareness about critical issues including topics such as better ways to integrate mental health and addiction related issues. By bringing awareness to the challenges and having these open discussions, we can help improve health care policies. Rural communities are particularly suffering, we are seeing mental health issues marketed as a crisis with little solutions. People struggle to find counselors they can trust, free services are impossible to access due to long waitlists. We need more accountability within the policies to not only ensure that people reaching out for help get access to quality resources, but also to eliminate the racism and discrimination many individuals face when receiving help.

Can you talk about how mental health care in Canada is changing and how you envision the future of mental health in Canada?

Mental health care in Canada is evolving a lot recently. We are seeing more resources available for groups with particular needs such as folks from the LGBTQIA2S+ community, Indigenous peoples, and black Canadians, to name a few. Because our country has such a diverse cultural population we need to make sure each group is represented and treated with respect. We also need to look at ways to better integrate medical care with holistic approaches. Mental health isn’t just a diagnosis or a symptom it’s a way of life, and by better integrating tools like meditation and yoga with medical care, Canadians will have a much more well rounded sense of wellbeing. We are also recognizing the importance of introducing trauma-informed education and practices into communities on a more mainstream level.

This will help health care professionals to better support their patients, and will give people a better sense of their own awareness around their own mental health. Trauma informed education will also help reduce the stigma many people have about getting help.

If you would like to get in touch with Meghan, you can view her LinkedIn profile HERE.