Building Relationships for Better Mental Health

29 September, 2022 | Articles, Sara Riel

Sara Riel understands that healing begins with trust, and they are taking steps to build on the relationships they have in the communities they serve. Through the support of a grant from United Way, they’ve embarked upon a series of consultations that will help them to provide services to more people who need them.

Denise Belanger
Denise Belanger

Denise Belanger, from Inquiry Minded Consulting, was brought in to help facilitate the exploration necessary to deeper understand the needs of all Winnipeggers. “The fundamental question was how can Sara Riel better meet the mental health recovery needs of newcomers, Indigenous peoples and those who identify as LGBTQ2S1?” Belanger explains. “Some might have approached this as a gap analysis, but I really saw it as building on strengths. There are already relationships established and staff doing wonderful work, so it’s about continuing to deepen that work.”

To get a better sense of what communities need, Sara Riel devised a simple plan: ask the communities themselves. “In June, a Sara Riel staff member invited about 10 community leaders from African newcomer communities,” Belanger explains. “In August, we hosted a second gathering with Indigenous folks, supported by Elder Louise Lavalee. In October, we’ll host another gathering with members of the LGBTQ2S community.”

The discussions revolved around a few key questions: how is mental health viewed and discussed in your community? What does the community need in order to better support the mental health needs of individuals? Where could Sara Riel fit into that puzzle?

“The biggest thing we’ve heard so far, and it’s no surprise, is the importance of relationships,” reveals Belanger. “We keep talking about this over and over again, but it’s true. People cannot engage on a path of recovery unless there is trust.”

While Belanger admits that the importance of relationship-building and trust isn’t news, she adds, “It’s important that we hear that directly from the community. What’s happened in the past, in colonial systems especially, is that assumptions have been made on how to best serve these communities, rather than asking them.”

The importance of trust begins with community leaders before it can trickle down to individuals. “We know we must continue to build relationships with leaders,” continues Belanger. “It was very clear particularly among the African newcomers that their leaders are very trusted and if you’re not working through trusted people, community members won’t be sure that they can trust you.”

The consultations are only a beginning for Sara Riel. Up next, they will continue to meet with and consult with leaders to understand how Sara Riel can adapt to ensure it’s responding to the needs of communities.

While the work to support all Winnipeggers with their mental health is crucial for individual wellness, Sara Riel is acutely aware that good relationships and listening to the communities they serve is also an act of decolonization and anti-oppression.

“This is a pressing issue across all agencies,” Belanger confirms. “This is critical reconciliatory work within the Indigenous community, but many newcomers are fleeing the impacts of colonization, and I suspect that colonization will have placed members of the LGBTQ2S community in a vulnerable position, as well. We have to realize that colonialization impacts us all. There is a spectrum, of course, and some are impacted to a greater degree than others, but we have to work together. We can’t move forward unless we’re all moving forward together.”

1 LGBTQ2S is an acronym for lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and/or two-spirited.