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Welcome to HC Link's blog! Our blog will provide you with useful information on healthy community topics, news, and resources, as well as information on HC Link’s events, activities, and resources. Our bloggers include HC Link staff and consultants, as well as our partnering organizations, clients, and experts in the health promotion field.

Please note: opinions in posts are those of the author and are not necessarily the opinions of HC Link or our funder.

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How can we work “with” people in poverty?

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On November 21st, join Gillian Kranias and Jason Hartwick as they re-examine the way we work with people who live in poverty. They will host an interactive workshop at our conference about strategies for working with people living in poverty in ways that respect their priorities.

How is this important? When working with people who are different from ourselves, our charity-based culture often sets us up to work “for” community members. Following this habit, we can end up in a mess. We carry and create biases around people who live in poverty. We feel rushed to produce results that reflect organizational priorities, not community priorities. We assume things and overlook local knowledge and particularities. Often, for example, we see a “problem” and propose a simple “evidenced solution”, when the local reality is a complex of interrelated issues and options which need to be discussed, sorted through and prioritized with community leadership and ownership.

 

So, how do we shift into working “with” people? To begin: make sure community members feel on their own ground and comfortable. To begin: allow community members to co-lead the process. To begin: resource their leadership, and talk openly and ongoing about how to shift resources towards a more fair sharing of power and leadership.

There is a story of a low-income community which started organizing Friday night dinners at the local recreation centre, providing a safe space where community members could include their children (including teens), share food and dialogue about different community issues and priorities – all facilitated by partnership members.

In this workshop, on November 21st, participants will build awareness and skills through stories and a case study, community development values and principles, collaborative learning and reflection activities. Participants will leave with direction and hope for engaging better “with” people who live in poverty.

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Getting Under the Skin: What is the Role of Cities in Mental Health and Illness?

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By Jewel Bailey - CAMH 

Here’s a compelling fact: half of the workforce in the Greater Toronto and Hamilton area is suffering from a mental health issue – that’s more than 1.5 million people! This begs the question: how does the place where we live, play, and work impact our mental health?

It’s well established by researchers that people who live in cities have higher levels of mental illness than their rural counterparts. The United Nations predicts that by 2050, 70 percent of the world’s population will live in cities. Currently 85 percent of Ontarians live in cities. As more people move to urban areas, the need for experts from different fields to focus on how city living impacts mental well-being will become increasingly important.

One of the international experts who has studied mental health and the metropolis is Professor Nikolas Rose from King’s College, London. He examined years of research on how mental health is shaped by city living. Rose says scientists have made the connection between mental illness and factors such as social exclusion, racism, and poverty, but what they have not determined is the process through which the “city gets under the skin”. He believes that as scientists from various disciplines work together they might be able to explain the process through which urban living affects the brain.

Other findings from Rose’s work include the following:

  • Cities should be viewed from an ecological perspective, with humans co-existing in a complex, ever-evolving environment. There is constant social stress produced by “noise, sprawling transport networks, the cacophony of diggers and concrete mixers, scaffolds and cranes”. Humans are not passive in these environments, but are always negotiating these spaces.

  • Researchers identified stress as one of the reasons for elevated levels of mental illness among urban dwellers. One group of researchers found that people who are born in cities, and continue to live in urban environments, process stress differently, which might be linked to why there are higher levels of stress in urban areas.

  • Stress is a subjective experience based on people’s perception of what is occurring around them. How a person interprets an element in their environment (e.g. crowding) determines whether it’s stressful or not; what one person considers stressful might not be stressful for another.

What is one of Rose’s more interesting points? He states that in the aftermath of a traumatic event, most people do well just speaking with family and friends. Only a few will require ongoing intervention by a mental health provider. This highlights the resiliency of humans.

While researchers such as Rose continue their work, policymakers are asking the question: what can cities do to improve the mental health residents? New York provides a good example of what can be done. The city has created a comprehensive mental health plan called Thrive NYC which is built on 6 principles. Dr. Gary Belkin, Executive Deputy Commissioner of Mental Hygiene in the New York City Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, and one of the leaders of the plan, notes that NYC had to rethink and restructure how mental health services were delivered, and also engage citizens in the process. One of the six principles is partnering with communities to improve mental health.

Thrive NYC’s work began by assessing where people go and how they access services. According to Belkin residents may not always access services in traditional mental health facilities so the system must reach people in their natural settings. For example, in this video, Thrive NYC worked with a Black faith-based organization to reach members of that community. The plan recognizes community stakeholders as “innovators in their own health” and builds the capacity of community-based organizations to increase access to programs and services. The success of Thrive NYC has sparked other international cities, such as London, to launch similar strategies.

Both Rose and Belkin were in Toronto recently, delivering talks on mental health and city, as part of a series hosted by the Provincial System Support Program at CAMH and the Wellesley Institute. You can find links to their presentations below.

As we turn the spotlight on the reality of mental illness during mental illness awareness week, let’s consider how we can build healthy, vibrant communities in rural and urban areas. Because more people are migrating to cities, where there are higher rates of mental illness, cities require unique attention. Cities touch the lives of residents in multiple and intimate ways. The urban environment can be a source of stress and happiness, but working to create supportive environments, and strengthening communities for action, as Thrive NYC has done, can impact the mental well-being of all residents.

Here are links to some resources:

  1. For more information on Thrive NYC and the principles click here

  2. To watch Rose’s presentation click here

  3. To watch Belkin’s presentation click here

  4. About mental health and mental illness

  5. Mental health first aid

  6. The friendship bench

Share your views - what do you think cities in Ontario can do to promote the mental health of residents and support those living with a mental illness?

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Safe BBQing techniques to enjoy a healthy Labour Day weekend

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With labour day just around the corner, I wanted to share with you some basic rules for food safety in meal preparation that was shared on on the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care website.

According to Minister of Health and Long-Term Care, Dr. Eric Hoskins and Ontario's Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. David Williams, reminding Ontarians of proper food preparations is key to avoiding food born illnesses.

In the summertime, food poisoning increases due to more people preparing food on the grill, defrosting raw meats like burgers, and making more salads on flat surfaces. To avoiding cross contamination and food poisoning, follow these simple rules.

Clean you hands often when preparing meals, clean surfaces and utensils with soapy warm water. Bacteria loves getting onto hands and in cutting boards, kitchen ware, cloths, knives, etc.

Keep raw meat separated from ready to eat foods like veggies, fruits, breads, and salads. Keep the separate both when you’re preparing them and as you store them.

Thoroughly cook all your food, especially meats and poultry but also veggies if you’re cooking them on the safe grill.

Keep food and leftovers in the fridge and get groceries into the fridge within 2 hours of purchasing them - especially for meat, poultry and dairy products.

To ensure you’re following the guidelines above, you can take some extra precautions such as:

Using a food thermometer to test the temperature of your food as it cooks.

Never keeping food at room temperature for more than 2 hours

Don’t defrost your meat on countertops, rather keep it in a container and let it defrost slowly in the refrigerator or under cold water in the sink.

Keep packaging of your meat firm and tight, even double bag it to be sure no juice will leak onto your ready to eat foods.

Follow cooking instructions accordingly to make sure you’re preparing your food correctly and safely.

Following these tips can help you avoid the unfortunately symptoms of food poisoning that can range from mild to severe. If you do become ill and suspect food poisoning, consult a physician or go to your nearest hospital for urgent care if symptoms appear severe. By following these rules above, however, you should significantly decrease your chances of becoming ill due to food poisoning.

Enjoy your Labour Day weekend !

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