Mental wellness focus of anti-stigma campaign
- Julia Peterson | September 08, 2021
A new campaign is encouraging Indigenous people to share their stories and fight back against mental health stigma.
The Soar Above Stigma Campaign, which formed out of a partnership between First Peoples Wellness Circle, Thunderbird Partnership Foundation, the First Nations Health Managers Association and Nationtalk, hopes to alleviate the challenges and isolation many Indigenous people have been facing during the COVID-19 pandemic.
According to statistics published on the Soar Above Stigma website, one in three Indigenous people in North America face mental health issues and may lack support.
Research conducted since 2020 has found that 60 per cent of Indigenous people in Canada say their mental health has become “worse” or “much worse” during the pandemic. Indigenous women in particular have reported higher levels of stress and anxiety during the last two years.
Soar Above Stigma is hoping to improve that situation - to begin with, by encouraging people to share their stories and speak up about their experiences rather than hiding them and pretending everything is okay.
“Soar Above Stigma aims to provide those suffering from addictions, mental health or COVID-related matters a space to see that they are not alone in our communities while providing outreach support and stigma education for all Indigenous community members,” the campaign’s website reads. “By supporting our communities and looking towards traditional teachings, we hope to put an end to the stigma of talking openly about these issues.
Serenity Bird, 15, from Black River First Nation, is one of the people who has shared her story with Soar Above Stigma.
Bird describes battling mental health issues like depression, panic attacks and self-harm, as well as bullying, but also talks about the process of going to therapy to work through that trauma and become healthier.
“I still have a hard time accepting how I am but it doesn’t stop me from trying to be better,” Bird said. “I embody kindness and compassion by relating to other kids going through the same thing and trying to help them how I can.
“It gives me comfort knowing that if others can make it through - then I can also learn to love and accept myself.”
Edmonton-based diversity advocate Chevi Rabbitt has also shared some stories of living with PTSD and other mental health challenges.
“I’m very happy with my choice to open up about my personal struggles for a National Indigenous Mental Health Campaign,” Rabbitt wrote on Facebook. “As Indigenous communities strive to become whole again, we must also remember the importance of our individual health.”
By uplifting the voices and perspectives of “real everyday people” like Bird and Rabbit, as the campaign’s website describes the project, Soar Above Stigma hopes to connect Indigenous people with one another’s stories and encourage healing and shared values like culture and kindness.
To share these stories with a broad audience, Soar Above Stigma will be running radio and television commercials and has launched a social media campaign using the #SoarAboveStigma hashtag.