Our mental health programs improve well-being and community connection
One in three Canadians will be affected by a mental illness during their lifetime. And each and every one of us deserves effective care and the support of a loving community when facing those challenges.
For Randee, that community came in the form of the Krasman Centre, a United Way-supported organization in York Region.
Randee had struggled with her mental health for most of her life. She spent decades being assessed and reassessed, given many labels and diagnoses that chipped away at her self-esteem. Finally, after being released from yet another hospital stay, Randee was referred to the peer-led Krasman Centre, where she found a community and the support she had long searched for.
“This invaluable program truly changed the trajectory of my life because I learned so much about myself,” says Randee. “There have been stumbles along the way, but I’ve learned to cope with them. I now have a community I can rely on for support.”
1 in 3
Only a third of Ontarians reported good mental health in 2021.
For Katie, a United Way Greater Toronto board member, that supportive community looked like her friends, family and colleagues accepting her for who she truly was.
Almost five years ago, she came out as a woman with gender-affirming experience. In the years leading up to that decision, Katie experienced her own mental health challenges. She became isolated because she wasn’t living as her authentic self and was worried about being judged and rejected by the world.
“The thing that got me through was that I had a community of support,” she says. “I had access to family, friends and advisors that were at my side every day. I had two of the dearest friends who called me every Sunday to build me up. I had professional support.”
And when Katie did come out in front of her colleagues and community members, the opposite of what she feared happened.
“I experienced an unimaginable level of love and support,” she says. “What came with that love and support were countless people opening up to me about their own hurts, fears and struggles.”
She saw that there were many others who struggled with their mental health—and not everyone had access to the same kinds of support that she did.
For both Katie and Randee, being part of an accepting community made a tremendous difference in their well-being. But their personal experiences also showed them the deep need that exists across the GTA.
That’s why they’ve both chosen to partner with United Way to help expand a community of care.
Ensuring access to mental health support
Across our community, people are struggling to access mental health support. Stigma, long waitlists and the high cost of mental health and addictions services pose significant barriers for many of our neighbours, especially those living on low incomes.
“Poverty isn’t only a money thing,” says Katie “It’s about access to healthcare, access to mental health support, access to tools that help build one’s hope and self-esteem.”
A key part of United Way’s work addressing poverty across Peel, Toronto and York Region is improving the health and well-being of our neighbours. With the support of donors like Katie and frontline workers like Randee, we’re delivering more than 70 mental health programs across the GTA. These programs not only help our neighbours gain the tools and resources they need to manage their mental health and addiction challenges, but also help them build networks of support and access a range of other services.
That can look like African Community Services of Peel connecting people to counselling and group sessions to help people manage their mental health, employment and financial issues. Or like Toronto’s LOFT providing transgender adults experiencing mental health challenges, addiction and homelessness with long-term housing and mental health support.
It can also look like the program that Randee went through and where she works now. The Krasman Centre’s Peer Recovery Education Program (PREP) not only helped her manage her mental health, it also helped her start a new career. Today she’s able to provide a sense of community and connection for others as a Peer Support Worker.
“I never knew that I could gain employment and work for an agency and go out and support my fellow peers,” says Randee. “That’s what United Way can do and has done.”
As United Way continues to fund these vital programs, we’re also looking for new ways to ensure everyone in our region has access to the mental health support they need. One example of that work in action? Giving microgrants to residents so they can design their own programs.
The stress associated with living on a low income affects mental health. Youth living in low-income neighbourhoods have a higher risk of suicide and self-harm than youth living in high-income neighbourhoods in Ontario.
Letting community lead
United Way has always worked closely with residents to meet the unique needs of the communities we serve. In York Region, we’re building on that tradition with a new approach to funding: Quick Action Grants.
These micro-grants support local residents to design and implement non-traditional mental health and well-being supports. The programs are informed by lived experience, reflect the diversity of race and culture of the people being served, and meet real gaps in services. Most importantly, they enable residents to share resources and find effective ways to support each other long-term.
“Many programs are offered in a variety of languages and are culturally appropriate, which helps engage residents,” says Ronni, United Way’s Manager, Neighbourhoods. “They’ve reached populations that would otherwise not have access to mental health programming.”
Take for example a Tamil women’s program that ran in South Markham. The program was focused on creating a space for these women to connect in their own language and expanding their social networks. As time went on, the women opened up, sharing stories about their lives, their families and difficult experiences like fleeing civil war. Through mutual supports, these women nurtured deeper connections and understanding.
“We’ve heard from project leads and our community partners that these programs are reducing isolation and providing an opportunity to have conversations that destigmatize mental health issues before they become crises,” says Ronni.
As United Way continues to meet the mental health needs of diverse people across our region, the significance of a place-based, community-led approach is critical.
It’s not just about mental health
Mental health doesn’t exist in a vacuum. It’s impacted by our ability to pay our rent, buy enough food for our families and find a job that provides financial stability. That’s why, as United Way continues to expand access to mental health support across our region, we’re also connecting people to fresh food, providing access to affordable housing and connecting people to good, stable jobs.
This work is an essential part of improving the overall well-being of people in our communities. Because when our neighbours have the tools they need to manage their mental health, when they know that they can pay their bills, when they feel connected and accepted, they can build brighter futures for themselves and for their neighbourhoods.
“If we can help someone overcome and survive their mental health challenges and feel belonging, that person will go on to do beautiful things in society,” says Katie.
You can be a part of this work. Join Randee, Katie and Ronni in supporting your neighbours by helping us meet the mental health needs of our community as we build a better, more supportive region for everyone.
Last year, United Way-funded programs helped 50,000+ people gain the tools and resources to effectively manage mental health or addictions challenges.
You can join us in this work.
Help us bring an end to local poverty and
build a region where everyone can thrive.