An Alberta OSI-CAN group is all smiles after enjoying some recreational group equine therapy. | Supplied / FacebookScott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

There’s a need in every community unless the community has those resources already, but most don’t.

That need, according to former Jasper fire chief Greg van Tighem, refers to peer support groups with a focus on the mental health of veterans, community first responders and public safety personnel.

“There is definitely a gap in our community for mental health support,” he said. 

It’s no secret that people who hold these professions are frequently exposed to trauma and violence, which leads to the sort of extreme psychological and emotional stress that can be very difficult to process if one wants to lead a healthy life.

“In Jasper, there’s no support for those individuals,” van Tighem said.

At least, there wasn’t previously but an OSI-CAN group started up a few months ago. 

The OSI-CAN program deals primarily with prevention and peer support. It’s a peer-to-peer initiative to help people deal with operational stress injury and post-traumatic stress.

While it began in Saskatchewan, it has since come to this province where it is a project of the Alberta chapter of the Canadian Mental Health Association. 

Van Tighem described it as people helping people who have walked the same walk. Group meetings are led by facilitators in a safe, non-judgmental and confidential environment. Attendance is free, but the benefits can be invaluable.

“Basically, it’s a space where people can feel comfortable to talk openly about their own personal mental health,” van Tighem said.

“It works well because of the fact that you’re surrounded by people that have the same lived experience that you have.”

The structured meetings start with round circle introductions and check-ins. A meeting theme is introduced that leads to discussion. Coping tools and resources are offered, followed by refreshments that allow attendees to mingle and become more familiar with each other. 

Van Tighem said he understood that it can be uncomfortable to sit around a room and talk about your personal problems to a group of people you may or may not know. His experience, however, was one that helped him to believe in the power of the program. 

Before his first meeting, he thought that he would just sit and check it out before getting more involved.

He immediately felt at ease, however, and it wasn’t long before he started speaking up. 

“It’s actually quite a comfortable process. If someone does not want to speak, by all means, they don’t have to speak. Everything is optional. Someone could show choose just to go to the meeting and learn from it, rather than actually share what they’re going through. That’s fine, too. Sometimes it takes a couple of meetings for somebody to feel more comfortable.” 

Meeting facilitators might also spend more one-on-one time with anyone who might benefit from a little extra attention. OSI-CAN can offer other supports such as referring people to equine therapy sessions or even acquiring service dogs.

The whole idea is to help people through their struggles while they are still at a more manageable level. Doing so can lead to a reduction in the need for mental health support at a higher level. 

“It’s a preventative program,” van Tighem said.

“It helps armor people to live healthy and positively, even though they are dealing with trauma and turmoil.”

He said that the young group already has a regular average of several attendees, but he knows that there are many more people in our community that would qualify and would also benefit from the meetings. 

Those who are interested in attending should first call either van Tighem at 780-931-0075 or provincial co-ordinator Jason Trenholm at 780-499-5794 or osicanask.ab@gmail.com.

Meetings are held at 7 p.m. on the second Thursday of each month. Attendance is free and everything is confidential and non-judgmental.

By Scott Hayes, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter

Original Published on Apr 09, 2024 at 17:00

This item reprinted with permission from    The Fitzhugh    Jasper, Alberta

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