Monthly Archives: January 2017

Breaking the Silence: Bell Let’s Talk

In honour of Bell Let’s Talk day, we’d like to address mental health—a topic very dear to our vision and mission.
Despite the many public initiatives, awareness campaigns, and personal stories meant to debunk myths and celebrate acceptance, stigma and shame associated with mental illness seems to reign supreme. Canadians’ fear and anxiety, rarely justifiable as it is, erects unnecessary and intimidating barriers between those with mental illness and the treatment that could save their lives. Since mental illness affects all of us, it’s more important than ever that we show support and solidarity, today and every day.

The Facts

Canada’s troubling mental health landscape can be illustrated by disturbing statistics assembled by the Canadian Mental Health Association:
• 20% of Canadians will experience mental illness at some point in their lives.
• Roughly 50% of those dealing with mental health issues never seek medical help.
• Mental illness, treated or untreated, costs the Canadian health care system billions of dollars annually.
• Men are especially at risk, taking their own lives four times as often as women.
• 24% of deaths among youth are a result of suicide.
• A staggering 3.2 million youth in Canada have experienced a depressive episode.

There is a promising statistic, however: the CMHA claims that, when help is sought, 80% of patients will benefit significantly from treatment.

If these statistics are any indication, mental health should concern all Canadians. It’s safe to say this is a national problem, one which both government and individual citizens must work to alleviate.

Immigration and Mental Health

Canada’s Mental Health Commission addresses cultural diversity which, while being a source of enrichment for Canadian culture as a whole, can also result in an inability to pursue professional help. Recent immigrants often endure feelings of displacement and culture shock, making it difficult for them to find appropriate resources and express themselves to health care professionals who may not understand cultural context. Some immigrants’ needs can be adequately met by expanding existing services, but other groups require new services that Canada does not yet have in place. The cultivation of cultural intelligence is vital to ensuring that suitable supports are always available to immigrants who need them.
Of course, not all immigrants are prepared to request medical help. They often grapple with the conflicting expectations of their families, Canadian society, and themselves. Campaigns like Bell Let’s Talk trumpet the value of openness, but not all cultures view mental illness with such acceptance. Disclosing a mental health condition can subject the patient to ridicule and shame. They may be accused of weakness. For example, Chinese women may not confess to feeling depressed because anything other than a cheerful disposition is regarded as a character flaw. So, some of the burden of improving mental health rests within immigrant communities. Society must welcome those who are able to come forward, showing them the warmth and understanding they may not find elsewhere.

Trauma and Substance Abuse among First Nations Communities

Health Canada’s website devotes a page to listing the specific challenges faced by First Nations people. Citing the trauma caused by the legacy of residential schools and colonial oppression, the article explains that it remains impactful and harmful today. There may be few people alive to describe the horrors they lived through, but trauma is cumulative, and is passed down to children and grandchildren. The accumulation of trauma leads to unstable mental health in Aboriginal communities.
Many First Nations people, particularly youth, turn to drugs and alcohol to cope. Addiction, already prevalent in Canada, is especially common and widespread in First Nations communities. Substance abuse can exacerbate existing mental health conditions, which only adds to the troubled landscape surrounding Aboriginal people.
Hope can be found in programs that focus on addiction treatment, recovery from trauma, and reconciliation. Due to disproportionately high suicide rates, programs targeting suicide prevention, particularly among youth, are also highly effective.

Mental Health on Campus

In recent years, Canadian postsecondary institutions have had to acknowledge a growing mental health crisis among their students. A mix of increasing academic pressure, unemployment, and the inherent issues faced by all young people—for it has never been easy to be young—conspire to decrease students’ general well-being. Academic life has always been challenging, but the strain students find themselves under seems to have grown exponentially. Some educators believe that this is partially the fault of primary and secondary education, which tends to emphasize self-esteem and an “everyone is a winner” mentality that is incompatible with postsecondary standards. Students may be less resilient, and a bad grade can throw them badly off course. Minor setbacks can have devastating effects.
Compounding the problem is the coping mechanism many students choose: the use of drugs, especially stimulants, leads to problems with substance abuse and addiction.
Typically, students prefer to rely on student-led programs to guide them through the process of improving their general mental health. Peer support is an essential part of the postsecondary experience. Policies encouraging mental health awareness can also do a great deal of good.

What We Can Do

Besides advocating for policies that will make affordable, effective care available to all mentally ill Canadians, there is a lot we can do as individuals to assist those who need us most.
• Listen: active, compassionate listening is a valuable skill that can make it easier to facilitate openness and acceptance. An attentive, nonjudgmental ear can make a world of difference.
• Speak up: use your voice to promote mental health awareness, and place pressure on those in power to implement mental health strategies aimed at improving the health of all Canadians.
• Reach out: if you are dealing with mental health challenges, do not do so in isolation. Talk to loved ones, and seek medical help if necessary. Mental illness is as legitimate and serious as physical illness; you cannot afford to ignore it.


DECSA is committed to mental health advocacy, especially when it comes to preserving the right of all Albertans to work. If you or someone you know feels trapped by barriers associated with employment and education, contact us. Our doors are always open.

Bell Let's Talk Campaign: DECSA talks about mental health.

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Don’t Forget the Men: Supporting Male Victims of Sexual Exploitation

Whom do you picture when you hear the words “sexual exploitation?” How about “human trafficking?” “Prostitution?”
Research suggests you’re probably picturing a woman, as this is the image associated most strongly and persistently with victims of sexual exploitation. The media have been instrumental in perpetuating this stereotype, even though it silences and ostracizes an important demographic: men.
We may think of men as perpetrators of sexual exploitation far more often than as victims, except perhaps when it comes to prison culture. When society addresses sexual violence and exploitation, particularly in the trafficking industry, it’s usually addressing young women.
Besides the fact that men outnumber women in industries outside of commercial sex trafficking (such as labour trafficking), they also make up a not insignificant number of victims in the sex trade. After all, one victim is still one too many.
Focused as it is on hypermasculine ideals of manly strength and power, society’s reaction to the notion of male victimhood makes it more difficult for men to report their experiences. They may feel emasculated by what they have done and had done to them, believing their manhood has been compromised. While they generally have the same reactions women do when dealing with sexual violence, men may respond more readily with anger, and tend to turn to substance abuse to erase or at least manage the effects of trauma. As they confront these issues, they are left to do so mostly alone, with few front-line workers from schools, shelters and other social organizations available to offer support. For many front-line workers, sexual exploitation of males just isn’t on their radar.
Worse still, men can face resistance and stigma when they do choose to report. If they are believed, which is not a given, they may make themselves vulnerable to ridicule and shame. Enduring the victim-blaming typically aimed at women victims is hard enough: why didn’t they just leave? Was there any chance that they deserved to be abused? Was it really exploitation if they were “working?”
In addition, they must battle questions geared more toward masculinity: why did they allow themselves to be exploited? Were they not “man enough” to find a way out? Some victims even struggle with the physiological responses of their bodies—did they secretly enjoy what was happening to them? Has their victimhood been cancelled out by physical processes beyond their control?
So, what with prescribed gender roles, societal expectations, and a misinformed public, what can be done?
The consensus seems to be that barriers between men and crucial supports need to be removed. First responders and other Front-line workers who administer help and guidance to victims of sexual exploitation need to remain aware that men are potential victims. Men must have ready and barrier-free access to support as they navigate away from exploitation and toward personal freedom. Men must be believed, validated, and empowered. Most importantly of all, sexual exploitation of men must be studied more comprehensively so that the best possible support can be provided. The field is flooded with statistics about women; it’s time more research targeted men.
One of DECSA’s main goals is to help both men and women free themselves from sexual exploitation. We run a 20-week Transitions program, open to men, women, and transgender individuals who have past or current involvement in the sex trade. In January, two groups—one for those identifying as female, the other for those identifying as male—begin their journey in the Transitions program. While women participants have already begun, the men’s group will start on January 27th.
If you wish to exit the sex trade, we encourage you to contact us to see whether you qualify for one of our program groups. We welcome the opportunity to help, so please get in touch.

3 Reasons Your Job Search is Unsuccessful (and How to Improve)

The job hunt is unpredictable: there’s no way to know how long it will take or what the results will be. This unpredictability should never be used as an excuse not to conduct the most organized and efficient search possible, though. Yes, job hunting is somewhat influenced by luck, but many unsuccessful, frustrated job-seekers are going about things in entirely the wrong way.
Here are a few reasons your job search might not be going as well as you’d like, and some ways to turn it around.

You’re Living the Unemployment Lifestyle

If you’re reading this after having spent two hours firing off resumes from your bed, this section is for you.
There’s a reason the phrase “looking for a job is your job” is so often spoken. This piece of well-worn wisdom has solid roots. If you approach your job search as a disorganized, chance-based process, it will lead to unnecessary stress and exhaustion.
Treat your search like a new job. Set goals for yourself and stick to them. For example, decide how many resumes you want to send out in any given week, and aim to meet those expectations, just as you would in any other job. Targets, plans, and deadlines are excellent methods of organization whether you’re employed or not.
If you structure your life the way you would if you were already employed, you’ll increase motivation even more. Avoid sleeping in, lounging around in your pyjamas, and job searching from your couch. Maintain a healthy routine, and resist the urge to isolate yourself. Make sure you’re always in “productivity mode,” so you’re ready to hit the ground running once you do receive that job offer.
Good news: DECSA’s Community Hub, which is open to the public, is an ideal place to go if you need to be productive somewhere other than your kitchen. You can work in a comfortable, well-equipped environment where free coffee, expert advice, and Wi-Fi are always available. What’s not to love?

You’re Afraid to Network

We know, we know: networking is nerve-racking, especially if you’re introverted or shy. Social anxiety and other issues can complicate the process (we have a program for that). No matter how you might feel about it or what type of job you’re looking for, networking is an unavoidable reality. You may as well resign yourself to that fact and start giving it a try.
Networking can take various forms, depending on your needs. It can be as simple as talking to people—friends, family, former classmates—about your job search and what you’re looking for. Even the most casual conversation over lunch with an acquaintance can produce a promising lead.
If you’re feeling a little more ambitious, you can take your networking to the next level. Join professional organizations and mingle with people who work in the field of your interest. Getting to know these people will equip you with updated knowledge on your industry, including salary expectations and soft skills you may not realize are in demand. These professional networks can also help you tap the hidden job market, since many jobs are never advertised publicly at all.
Having a support system of some kind is a good idea on general principle. Knowing that there are people looking out for you when you struggle can be a relief in itself.
More good news: One of our strengths here at DECSA is our network. We have placed so many clients throughout the years that we’ve amassed a long, diverse list of contacts. Regardless of what you’re looking for, it’s likely we’ll know the right people.

You’re Not Getting Noticed

Online job hunting is convenient, but it does come with one huge drawback: competition is fiercer than ever, and you have fewer opportunities to market yourself. It’s challenging to stand out in the crowd when you’re up against hundreds of applicants. People tend to apply for jobs they’re unqualified for, simply because online forms make it so easy to do so. Your application, no matter how relevant, can get buried, so it’s no longer optional: you must set yourself apart.
Application forms ask for standard information, which can be an obstacle when attempting to catch a hiring manager’s attention. The best strategy is to present standard information in a nonstandard way. Anyone can list a long series of job duties, so try focusing on your personal accomplishments instead. Did you go above and beyond in your last position? Which tangible targets did you surpass? In which ways did you improve the organization you worked with last? Fitting this information into the boilerplate application form will demonstrate initiative and personal achievement.
Most applications will ask for a resume, even if you must also fill out a separate form. This is your moment. Make it count. There are thousands of articles out there to help you craft a customized resume that will demand the right type of attention, so we won’t get into specifics here, but rest assured that a tailored resume is a must. You may even find yourself adjusting your resume for each application, so choose a flexible format. Please, never neglect the cover letter. It’s not always required, but it’s almost always going to give you an edge.
The best news yet: did you know that here at DECSA, we have resume and cover letter writing services? If you drop by our Community Hub on week days, our expert staff will help you write a personalized resume and cover letter. You don’t need to be a DECSA client. All you have to do is visit us.


If you’re looking for a way to kick your job search up several notches, please contact us. Even if you don’t qualify for one of our specialized programs, you’re still more than welcome to make use of our extensive walk-in services, equipment, and well-stocked business library. In the meantime, browse our website for more information.
Good luck!