The conditions in which people are born, grow, live, work and age are known as social determinants. There are several, but the focus was on three particular ones during the HC Link’s East Regional Gathering Nov. 6 at the Best Western Renfrew Inn.
Sixty delegates, who were predominantly social service workers, healthcare personnel and health promoters, gathered to share stories, network and create ways to improve the work they do in communities.
The focus was on the social determinants of housing and homelessness, mental health promotion, and food and security. The day’s theme was From Knowledge to Action: Moving Forward on the Social Determinants of Health.
One speaker was Greg Lubimiv, executive director of the Phoenix Centre in Pembroke that is a children’s mental health centre.
The centre’s executive director since 1981, he says he was embarrassed at the work he did very early in his career, but that he lived and learned.
The answers aren’t always what they may appear to be, said Lubimiv, who told the story of what one co-worker taught him after she asked permission to buy four cans of paint.
Lubimiv’s first thought was that painting one’s home wasn’t “our problem.” But something stopped him from saying that, and he approved the purchase.
What ensued, said Lubimiv, was amazing, as family members began interacting and including their friends in the painting process. As a result he says the negative social issues started to disappear. The kids began doing better in school, demonstrating more pride and responsibility. And the mom became more consistent in her parenting.
He told another story a low-energy mom and kids suffering from separation anxiety in cramped, poor living conditions. A major solution was finding improved housing for the family.
After telling those stories, Lubimiv concluded, “We really need to know who our clients are and how the social determinants of health are affecting them. And if we don’t pay attention to that, we really can’t do good work.”
He said that work must include the focus of every agency in mental health, social work and other related fields on helping every single child graduate from high school.
“If everyone in this room, and every agency in this county, focused on helping every single child graduate from Grade 12 we would have a different world in 12 years from now. That is one of the clear determinants of health that changes the trajectory of many of our children. It increases income, it increases opportunity, and it really deals with some of the issues we face.
“We need to take responsibility as providers, as neighbours, as community members to participate,” added Lubimiv. “Be part of the difference. Join and partner with others to bring a change in services, and talk about the social determinants of health with others to help them understand the importance of including this as part of our work.”
Work in the community must also include ways to provide resiliency for children, said speaker Tom Sidney of Renfrew.
The youth worker with the Renfrew County Catholic District School Board asked delegates if society is creating a new form of mental illness through overindulgence in social media and links to potentially instant gratification.
Social media isn’t going to go away. But Sidney said some of the negative byproducts of social media are here to stay if youth aren’t given the tools to become more resilient.
He spoke about how kids seek out attention through social media.
“Are we actually creating a new form of self-diagnosed mental health concern?” he said.
In this fast-paced society, he said the average teenager has 475 ‘friends’, and with it often the need to ‘update their status’ on everything they’re doing.
He also talked about Amanda Todd of B.C. who committed suicide in October 2012 after incidents of cyber-bullying.
“What went wrong? asked Sidney.
“I don’t know if it was last year, the year before, 30 years ago or 50 years ago, I have no idea, but somewhere we went wrong … Where did teenagers all of a sudden decide that my first option is to end my life? Where did that even become an option?”
So we must create resiliency in youth, stressed Sidney.
“As a society,” he said, “we have to take that leadership (role) and build up our kids. And it needs to start in kindergarten and daycare, because they are going to come across people who are not pleasant people. And it’s what they do with that (direction) that will determine the outcome of their lives.”
Sidney said kids need to be taught healthy coping skills; and have to understand that adults believe in them and want them to succeed, especially in terms that youth see as successful.
“As a community,” he concluded, “I challenge people to look at the resiliency of our children, to build them up. It doesn’t matter where you come from, it matters where you’re going.”
The Nov. 6 event was called a gathering, said organizer Lorna McCue of HC Link, “because we wanted to be about creating dialogue among various people who are working in the area of the social determinants of health.
“We wanted it to be localized and have an opportunity to talk about what they’re doing, and share information about their best practices and innovations. We also wanted to see if there were opportunities for farther collaboration.”
Guest speakers included Shawna Babcock, co-ordinator of the Healthy Community Partnership & KidActive; psychotherapist Lina Farias; early literacy specialist Karen Woods of Parent Research Centre; Nancy Wildgoose, executive director of the Table Community Food Centre in Perth; and Renfrew County United Way executive director Dave Studham.
Provincially-funded HC Link, which is headquartered in Toronto, supports local and community partnerships, coalitions, groups and organizations that are working to create healthy, vibrant communities in Ontario.