South Okanagan mental health service providers said getting people to open up about mental health issues remains the biggest obstacle.

South Okanagan mental health service providers said getting people to open up about mental health issues remains the biggest obstacle.

Loved ones play vital role in seeking help for mental illness

South Okanagan mental health service providers said the biggest obstacle is getting people to open up.

After two young men from Penticton took their own lives recently, one of their peers hopes the tragedies prompt discussions about where people with mental health issues can get help.

“I know that Penticton has the resources out there, but I don’t know where to find them, so how is anyone else my age and even younger supposed to know where to reach out?” said 21-year-old Olivia Bravi via email, after taking to social media to spread her message.

“Every school should have a presentation every year at least twice a year about mental health to raise awareness,” she continued.

“We need the young (people) especially to be able to know that it is OK to have a mental illness and that it is so important to seek help when you or someone else needs it. No one should be embarrassed about it.”

Two local service providers who provide that kind of help agree that getting people to open up about mental health issues, like depression, remains the biggest obstacle they face.

“If you’re diabetic or have heart disease or arthritis or other conditions (then) you seek medical help, and it needs to be the same for mental illness,” said Dennis Tottenham, executive director of the South Okanagan Similkameen branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association.

“It’s OK to admit you have an illness and seek support.”

The association offers a variety of programs locally, including a clubhouse for adults living with mental illness, plus  groups for those recovering their mental health.

“There’s always a need for more services,” Tottenham allowed, but he said the most urgent concern remains getting people to seek out the help that already exists.

Meanwhile, the manger of Interior Health’s community mental health programs in the region declined to comment directly on whether enough services are available.

“I will say that suicide is a significant concern, and suicide rates are a significant concern, and as a result, we really seek to connect with people,” said Joseph Savage, whose portfolio includes counselling, group programs and case management.

“There are all of these different supports and different organizations looking to address suicide and reduce the frequency that someone completes suicide, but it remains  — and I say this emphatically — it remains a concern for us.”

He said it’s of particular concern following suicides of high-profile people, such as Robin Williams, which can act as a “contagion” that prompts some who are already on the edge to go through with it.

Suicide typically happens when people are feeling isolated and aren’t likely to reach out, Savage explained, which is why it’s vitally important for friends and family to recognize warning signs and seek out help for them.


B.C. Crisis Centre 1-800-784-2433 (1-800-SUICIDE)

Kids Help Phone 1-800-668-6868

Canadian Mental Health Association (South Okanagan) 250-493-8999

Interior Health’s mental health and substance abuse services 250-770-3555


I —  Ideation (suicidal thoughts)

S — Substance abuse


P — Purposelessness

A — Anxiety

T — Trapped

H — Hopelessness/Helplessness


W — Withdrawal

A — Anger

R —  Recklessness

M — Mood changes

Source: Canadian Association for Suicide Prevention