Mental Health is #UNIGNORABLE

Mental Health is #UNIGNORABLE

United Way is taking action to support community members

with mental health issues

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Many of us regularly make choices about food and exercise in order to maintain our physical health, but it is easy to forget that taking care of our mental health is just as important. With 1 in 5 Canadians personally experiencing a mental health problem or illness in their lifetime, this issue is not to be ignored. That translates to roughly 260,000 local people.  

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Cindy McDonald, an employee with United Way, feels like she has a very fortunate life. However this mother of two did not always feel so lucky. After giving birth to her second child, she began to feel depressed and withdrawn from friends and family. Symptoms like this can often be brushed off as the “baby blues.” After a near life altering decision, McDonald was eventually diagnosed with severe postpartum depression.

“Mental health was treated like a taboo topic 20 years ago,” McDonald recalls. She describes the lack of understanding as a serious roadblock to her health. Over time her untreated depression got so severe that she became suicidal.

When Cindy found herself with a knife in her hand determined to end her life, she received professional intervention that saved her.

After successfully completing a patient care program at one of the local hospitals, McDonald wanted to channel her experiences with mental health to help others. She spent time volunteering at the Distress Line in Edmonton, coaching and listening to people in their time of despair. McDonald remembers that the number of calls was very demanding and that many people just needed someone to listen.

United Way supports mental health programs that provide a safety net for individuals in their time of need such as the Distress Line, a 24/7 resource for people who are feeling overwhelmed, experiencing abuse or suicidal thoughts. The distress line receives approximately 1,300 calls a month and 30 per cent of callers are in crisis. If you or someone you know is in need of help, please dial 780-482-HELP to access the line.

Additionally, United Way helps fund various counselling services with local agencies which are accessible through 211 and is a partner in the Community Mental Health Action Plan. The goal of the plan is to maximize collective resources, leverage opportunities to respond to existing gaps in service, and foster innovative approaches to integrate supports and services. 

Because of programs and initiatives like these, people in need are being heard and connected with the supports that can help them overcome their challenges. By allowing for open conversation around a once unapproachable topic, United Way and its supporters are helping to create an inclusive culture to let others know they are not alone.

“I’m grateful that I got a chance to be a healthy mom for my kids,” says Cindy. “And with the supportive resources available now, I know more people will continue to get the help they need.”


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Domestic Violence is #UNIGNORABLE

Domestic Violence is #UNIGNORABLE

The Canadian Centre for Justice Statistics reports that Edmonton is home to the third highest number of domestic homicides, family violence, and violence against seniors among all the provinces. Not only does domestic violence happen to women, but also to children, men, transgender individuals, immigrants, and seniors of all backgrounds. An alarming 8,500 domestic violence calls are received by the Edmonton Police Service each year. So how do we address domestic violence in our community?

The first step is to talk about it.

Perri Garvin, the Labour Programs Coordinator for United Way, has devoted much of his career to the Labour Community Advocate Program. Graduates of the program offer guidance, referrals and information to co-workers about problems related to drug or alcohol abuse, gambling, housing, personal finance, and domestic violence.

The newest United Way initiative that Garvin has helped to spearhead is called Cut It Out. The project educates hair stylists about the warning signs of abuse and how to connect their clients with services. Warning signs of abuse include missing appointments, withdrawing from conversation, unexplained bruising or scrapes, signs of depression and anxiety, and pain in the head or neck at the shampoo sink. The trained stylists are able to ask questions such as “Are you or your children in danger?” and “Would you be interested in hearing about the services that are available to you?”

Why hair dressers? Clients tend to build trust and a relationship with their stylist over the course of their recurring visits, leading them to feel comfortable enough to open up. Isolation from friends and family may be a burdening factor in abuse and victims may feel they have no one to confide in. Garvin advises that the words “I believe you” are powerful and help victims feel that someone is actually listening to them.

The second step is to educate yourself and others about local services.

United Way invests in community initiatives that provide those affected by family violence with counselling, safe spaces, and escape action plans. 211 another United Way supported service connects individuals experiencing abuse immediately to the social services available to them. Through education and spreading awareness about the unignorable issue of domestic violence, we are working together with our partners to build a safer community.


Humaira was in an abusive marriage when she immigrated to Canada. With her courage and the help of United Way funded programs, she was able to receive the support needed to escape her abuser.

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Unemployment is #UNIGNORABLE

Unemployment is #UNIGNORABLE

People living in low-income are the most vulnerable to employment loss, unemployment and under-employment. Many face barriers to employment such as limited education levels, high costs of transportation, lack of childcare, and a lack of required job skills.

Last year, more than 68,000 people were unemployed in Edmonton.

Unfavorable economic conditions due to factors such as low oil prices have had a detrimental effect on the local unemployment rate. At 6.6 per cent, Edmonton’s unemployment rate is above the national average and last year was at its highest since 1996 according to the Edmonton Social Planning Council’s Tracking the Trends 2018 report.

In a recent survey of Edmonton Food Bank clients, 78 per cent reported being unemployed. Forty-five per cent of clients who reported being unemployed had been out of work for more than three years. Of those who were working almost 60 per cent had only part time, casual or seasonal work.

Seven out of 10 respondents indicated their income as being less than $25,000. More than half of respondents reported that they would not need the food bank if they could increase their income by $500 a month.

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Thanks to the help of donors, United Way invests in programs and initiatives that focus on increasing an individual’s capacity to obtain and retain employment that provides for basic economic security. This includes programs to increase employment readiness for those over represented in poverty, such as Indigenous populations, newcomers and women. United Way also supports employment opportunities for youth and people with disabilities.

Helping individuals and families attain employment, boost their household income through higher wages and government benefits, increase their savings, invest in their children’s future, and access mainstream banking are effective ways to make sure everyone in our community thrives. Examples of United Way supported services addressing these issues include linkage to education savings and bonds programs, literacy and math tutoring, language and computer classes, resume support, and providing equipment such as work boots.

Additionally, United Way works collaboratively to advance systems and policy change to promote a sustainable income for individuals.

Learn more about United Way’s work.


Zoe was struggling to find employment until she connected with a United Way program that helped her unlock new opportunities. Click below to see Zoe’s story.

It Takes a Village

It Takes a Village

Nasra shares a deep understanding of the UNIGNORABLE issues of poverty. In the spoken word poem, It Takes a Village, Nasra creates stories and pictures of poverty by creating images varying from children lacking nourishment, teenagers dropping out of school, to adults struggling to make ends meet.

Transitions to Success

A United Way funded program helped Sheila find employment and start a new life with her family.

Sheila and her family relocated to Edmonton from a small community in the Northwest Territories. She hoped to find better employment to contribute to her family income. “We have to think about rent, we have to think about our utilities. We have to think about car payments.”

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Although, having never lived in a city like Edmonton, Sheila was only finding work on and off as a Health Care Aid with her in healthcare background. While searching online for work, she learned about Bent Arrow Traditional Healing Society. She looked up the Bent Arrow Transitions to Success. (Transitions to Success is a non-paid employment program designed to support women who have the drive, desire, and determination to become employed in a career or profession that will financially sustain them and their families.)

When Sheila was accepted into the program, she was able to update her resume, write cover letters, and get the skills and experience to have successful interviews and soon she was offered a satisfying receptionist job aligned with her skills and knowledge. Sheila feels that the Bent Arrow Transitions to Success program gave her the skills she needed to get back into the workforce and she is always encouraging her female friends to take the program.

The program changed my life, I have something to do and look forward to every day.
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