Kendra Fisher unveils Mentally Fit community action plan

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By Barb McKay

Kincardine native Kendra Fisher has launched a community action plan to support individuals in this region struggling with mental health issues.

Fisher, a former national hockey and inline hockey goaltender, was at the Kincardine Pavilion last Wednesday to announce the plan, a component of her Mentally Fit movement to end the stigma around mental illness.

The former athlete is no stranger to the struggles faced by individuals with mental health issues. Fisher’s personal struggle came to a head in 1999 when - after achieving her lifelong dream of joining the Team Canada women’s hockey team - she had a breakdown. She was faced with a new reality – a diagnosis of severe anxiety disorder, clinical depression and agoraphobia – so crippling that for five years she was barely able to leave her apartment.

“After five years, I had a choice,” she told the crowd gathered at the Pavilion to hear about the community action plan. “I could learn what it meant to live with mental illness, I could learn what it took for me to be okay, and to find my version of life at that point, or I was going to give up. I remember that day very well when I didn’t think anything but giving up was possible, but for whatever reason found it in me for one more day and that was the day I went and I started my journey towards recovery.”

Fisher said she went to her doctor, switched her medications and learned about what tools and resources were available to take control of her own recovery. Her personal plan included physical fitness, talk therapy, medication, yoga, meditation and proper nutrition.

“It wasn’t a matter of taking a pill and that was enough, or seeing a psychologist and that was enough.”

Her journey to recovery led her into public speaking; to share her story in an effort to help others find a way out of the darkness. The more she spoke to people the more aware Fisher became that she is an anomaly and that most people do not have the same access to the supports she has found.

“What I started to learn is that in so many communities, in rural communities, and especially our community, there are so many people right now who don’t know where to turn and don’t know where to ask for help. If they can figure out where to ask for help the wait time is incredible, the distance is incredible and how do you ask someone in crisis to wait? How do you tell someone who has a child who is thinking about suicide that they have to wait six months before they can talk to a doctor?”

“The reality is we do not have a standardized mental health system in Canada. We don’t have the resources in place and funding hasn’t been put past crisis response yet.”

Fisher said she knew she needed to take action after attending a recent charity game in Mount Forest between Wes for Youth and Get in Touch for Hutch. During a conversation with friends she learned there had been six suicides in the county in one month. She decided that she wanted to focus on her home community and make sure that supports are in place for people who are in crisis.

“We need to really start to work together to change the culture in the community, to get away from the fear culture, get away from the culture of silence and let it just be acceptable to say I’m not doing well and I think I need help.

“This entire plan is going to be based on action. I’m tired of hearing about what we can do; it’s time to actually do it.”

The action plan will be rolled out in communities in Bruce, Grey, Huron and Perth counties and will have three components – a school plan, a corporate plan and a community plan. Fisher said she has already been working with mental health leaders in the four counties to get the plan off the ground.

The plan has gained support from Bruce Power. Chris Mercanti, section manager of community and Indigenous relations, was on hand for the community action plan unveiling and presented a cheque for $90,000 on behalf of the corporation.

Mercanti said Fisher shared her story two years ago to Bruce Power employees and it really resonated. He said the company’s motto is ‘safety first’ and health and wellness is an important aspect of that.

“We are thrilled to be part of this community action plan,” he said.

The first step will be to provide ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) to volunteers in each community. Fisher said the training is a step above mental health first aid training and gives individuals the skills to interact with and respond to people in crisis. The plan is to have a minimum of two ASIST-trained people in every school at the start of the next school year.

Another component of the plan is to work with the school boards to develop a youth-led strategy based on their needs. There will be an annual symposium where students and leaders in those schools will come together and share knowledge and experiences.

Fisher said the action plan’s community piece will begin with a database of art and music therapists, peer counsellors, psychotherapists, massage therapists, naturopaths, nutritionists, yoga instructors, fitness instructors and others who could tailor programs and treatment to individuals who suffer from anxiety and other disorders.

“There is a piece in each one of those things that can be geared towards helping people who are living with mental health issues or add various supports to their coping strategies,” Fisher said. “Every single one of them doesn’t work for everybody, but if you are somebody who is in crisis and you have the opportunity to try new things that might help I can tell you, it is such a relief when you get that moment when you realize that something relates to what you are dealing with.”

An important part of the plan will be to have a workplace tool to support employees who are living with mental illness in the work force.

“For a number of people, it’s not that they don’t want to. It’s because the environment they are working in isn’t ‘safe” enough for them to be productive.”

Information about Fisher’s Mentally Fit movement and ways to get involved can be found at www.mentallyfit.com, Mentallyfit on Facebook and @mentally_fit on Twitter. Already, Fisher said, more than 100 people have reached out online to say they are interested in engaging in the plan. She encourages anyone who wants to be involved in any way to reach out.

“Anyone who wants to be engaged in this, there is a place for you in this plan.”