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MindsMatter Action: Muslim Association of Canada

With October featuring Mental Illness Awareness Week, World Mental Health Day and Canada’s Healthy Workplace Month, better workplace mental health is top of mind for many organizations. CivicAction reached out to organizations to see how they’re taking action. Read what the Muslim Association of Canada is doing in this Q&A with Abdul Nakua, Community Organizer and executive with the Muslim Association of Canada.

A headshot photo of Abdul Nakua.

Abdul Nakua, Community Organizer and executive with the Muslim Association of Canada

MAC (Muslim Association of Canada) is a national grassroots organization operating many community centers and schools. We chose to pilot the mental health programs at the largest project, Olive Grove School (OGS), which was established in 2006 as a private full-time elementary Islamic school in Mississauga, and has grown to become a middle and high school employing 90 staff members and 900 students.

What started as a simple project to reduce stigma about mental illness has now became a multilayered initiative to develop culturally-sensitive safe spaces. The model is now using a collaborative approach based on promoting mental health literacy, fostering open communication, and supporting community action through building robust partnerships with professional agencies working in the mental health space.

What we have done to date:

Integrating Mental Health and Wellness components across the staff development program throughout the entire year. This includes Mental health literacy training; incorporation of Mindfulness activities; Mental Health First Aid workshop (delivered by Mental Health Commission of Canada), and Cyber safety and bullying prevention education (Peel police outreach program).

Education and development in the area of suicide prevention and support by delivering safeTALK training to all staff and management, as well as ASIST (Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training) delivered to Vice Principals and guidance counsellors which is aimed at providing initial, first stage guidance and suicide first aid to persons at risk (delivered by Canadian Mental Health Association Peel Dufferin).

Building understanding through family engagement by conducting mental health seminars: Organized Annual Mental Health and Wellness Expo to increase awareness, reduce stigma and connect families with service providers (about 200 – 300 families visit the Expo annually).

Preventatively address mental health early in student lives through integrating spirituality within the school program to instill hope and build resilience within the school population.

What we have learned:    

Leadership and culture are two critical components to making real change. Thereafter, the key to success is knowledge and education. Having knowledge builds confidence, and a confident school staff body can sustain the right culture and strong leadership to champion sustainable change.

Mental Health is a continuum whose effects are felt before being diagnosed. It knows no age and hardly hits with prior notice. The best defense is to know how to identify it and provide support to those who need it. Students reported the following mental health challenges: anxiety, stress, depression, social isolation, self-identity, low self-esteem, and even suicidal ideation. Starting to build confidence early is key. As Dr. Martin Luther King said “we are now faced with the fact that tomorrow is today”, so as a society, we are better off addressing the challenges of mental health and wellness as early as possible.

Early identification and intervention are being used to effectively promote student mental health.

Little things can have a big impact – “Massage at work” – a 10-min Chair Massage – was a big hit with our staff on Mental Health Day. Students enjoyed animal therapy sessions to promote self-regulation, and teach empathy and kindness.

Mental wellness is better treated holistically. Rootedness in faith and community is a key protective factor of mental health. Grounding in spirituality provides hope and increases resiliency.

What has been achieved to date:    

One of the key achievements is the creation of a safe space where people can open up about their daily challenges and be able to seek and get help and support. Secondly, building confidence around mental health so people can seek help and identify people who need help.

In a staff survey, the following questions provided some insight on the progress to date:

  • 75% of our staff think that mental health initiatives run in the workplace have helped reduce stigma among students

  • 85% of our staff said they feel their mental health needs are supported by management

  • 92% feel they are provided with a safe, positive and embracing school culture.

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