By Jodi Sturge
Director, Homelessness Initiatives
EFry’s shelters continue to operate at full capacity and our staff has reported an increase in the number of women with undiagnosed or untreated mental health issues. Last year, I attended the Mental Health Commission of Canada’s Supporting the Promotion of Activated Research and Knowledge (SPARK) training to learn how to best support our staff in working with clients experiencing mental health challenges. This June, I attended 2014’s two-day SPARK training program in Winnipeg, Manitoba as a mentor to share our learnings.
Often, it can take significant time to apply new techniques to support those with mental health issues. SPARK is a training approach that seeks to decrease the amount of time it takes. Through the workshops I attended, SPARK participants developed a plan to translate evidence-based research into their practices working with people who have mental health, substance use and addictions issues. This process is called Knowledge Translation and one of its aims is to enhance services so people have better health outcomes.
As a mentor, I shared my 2013 Knowledge Translation project, which was to enhance the capacity of staff working in EFry’s residential programs. It is important to note that research shows mental health problems are more common among homeless women, who are also less likely to access mental health services than men. Our shelter staff has reported challenges supporting women with complex mental health problems, as many cannot access mental health services. In response, Mental Health First Aid training was provided to our staff to help them support clients who experience mental health crises. All staff reported the training was applicable to their work and all would recommend it to others. It was recommended, though, that there should be a specific section on serving the homeless population including information on the barriers to accessing support such as not having a family doctor or a permanent address.
I look forward to my role as a SPARK mentor supporting participants from across Canada with their projects. Each explores a different aspect of mental health support. Together, our shared knowledge can make significant strides in helping improve outcomes for those with mental health needs.