Rural Mental Health Project up and running in Slave Lake

Joe McWilliams
Lakeside Leader

You might know Pearl Lorentzen as an enterprising reporter with your local community newspaper. She is certainly that, and has been doing it for just over two years now.

But as of a month or two ago, Lorentzen has another official role in the community. She’s the designated rural mental health animator for Slave Lake.

“The term comes from the idea of movie animation,” Lorentzen explains. “Where you take a flat image and make it come to life.”

Yes, that is a metaphor. Some people’s mental health in the community may be on the flat side, and in need of a bit of animation.

“I like to think of it more as a spark,” says Lorentzen.

Good mental health, it appears, has a lot to do with how connected one feels to networks of family, friends and the community generally. Some have this, but others don’t. The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) thinks improvements are possible; hence its Rural Mental Health Project (RMHP), of which the training of ‘animators’ like Lorentzen is part.

In Lorentzen’s case, the training took place over the period of a couple of months. It consisted of some online, self-directed course work, capped off by a pair of two-day online live sessions. This was the culmination of a process that she says began last summer when she first heard about the RMHP. Slave Lake at the time was listed by the CMHA as an ‘interested’ community. But by November, when the RMHP came up at a Slave Lake Interagency Council meeting, whoever had been interested in carrying the ball locally wasn’t any more. Lorentzen says at the time she had been interested in helping to bring the RMHP to Slave Lake, but not in becoming an animator.

“It sounded like a lot of work!” she says.

But once you put your hand up….

One thing she needed to do is get the support of what is called a ‘backbone organization.’ The Town of Slave Lake Family and Community Support Services department agreed to do that.

Then all that remained was for her to take the training.

So what now?

At the moment, Lorentzen is organizing a group of people interested in promoting mental health in the community. Its first meeting is scheduled for April 9. Meanwhile, two other community members are engaged in the same animator training session.

Lorentzen says the role of the RMHP isn’t to offering crisis counselling. There are already such services available. Rather it’s to find ways to build community connectedness “so people wouldn’t get to the crisis.”

The Rural Mental Health Project has a Facebook presence. Lorentzen can also be reached by phone during working hours at 780-849-4380.

Pearl Lorentzen

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