An Anglican in Quebec’s Eastern Townships is standing up for mental health services for Anglophones, and calling on the church to play a greater role in supporting this work.
English-speakers in rural Quebec face major obstacles in receiving mental health care, according to Judy Ross, founder and executive director of anglophone mental health support and education group Mental Health Estrie (MHE),
In fact, treatment can be so hard to receive that many anglophones “go without,” Ross said in an interview with the Anglican Journal.
This is because most of the improvements made to mental health care in the townships are available exclusively in French, said Ross.
“The English sector of [mental health care] has been left behind,” she said. “Until we started MHE [in 2005], there was no support of any kind for a family needing assistance with a mental health issue.”
While many anglophones in the townships are functionally or fully bilingual, in order for mental health care to really be effective, it should be offered in the patient’s native language, said Ross.
“Dealing with mental illness is a difficult thing to do [even] in your own language,” she said, noting that fully bilingual people may also not be able function in their second language when a mental health crisis hits.
The issue gained national attention in January, when Ross asked Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to comment on the “lack of mental health services to the minority [English-speaking] population” in rural Quebec during a January 17 town hall in Sherbrooke, Que.
According to Ross, Trudeau raised the ire of many anglophones at the event by responding in French, explaining that he was doing so because Quebec is a French province.
Ross said she left feeling “really disappointed…disrespected and insulted” by Trudeau’s response.
“I thought that if I could word a question about English services, he could hopefully say something thoughtful and meaningful concerning mental health care,” she said, noting that Trudeau has been a vocal supporter of mental health initiatives.
Since then, Ross has received an apology from Trudeau, which, she said, she was “happy to accept.” She was also pleased to hear that the federal government has earmarked $5 billion to be spent on mental health care across the country over the next 10 years.
But she said the struggle to provide adequate care to the anglophone community continues.
Ross said the MHE, which she co-founded with her husband, the Rev. Lynn Ross, a retired priest, is the only one providing “comprehensive” services in English, including support groups both for individuals living with mental illness and for their friends and family. (Some French-language mental health organizations in the Sherbrooke area do provide service in English, but only on an individual basis.)
However, as a small organization with very limited funds (MHE receives $27,000 a year from the provincial government), Ross says the MHE is limited in what it can do. This is where she believes her fellow Anglicans have a role to play.
“The church is in a good position to combat stigma [against mental health],” she said.
Because of its presence in anglophone communities across the townships, Ross said the church can encourage those working at the local level to be more open about issues around mental health that exist in the congregations themselves.
“With proper training, the clergy could be more sensitive to the fact that mental health problems are prevalent in our society, and the church needs to be welcoming,” she said in an email following her initial interview with the Anglican Journal.
Vicar General and Archdeacon of Quebec Edward Simonton, who is based in the Eastern Townships, said the diocese has already been active in promoting workshops on mental health for clergy, and in providing resources to help them deal with parishioners suffering from mental illnesses.
According to Simonton, the church plays an important role as a “distributor of information” about services, programs and rights available to the anglophone population, and that the church has worked to advertise consultations on health-care issues facing the anglophone community.
However, while the church can raise awareness about the work others are doing on mental health issues in Quebec, he does not believe the church has the personnel to take a leadership role.
“We can co-operate, but we do not have the resources to be the old social service system that we used to be,” he said. “We’ll do whatever we can, but to be the active catalyst for that? I don’t think we’re there.”
An earlier version of this story incorrectly identified Lynn Ross as an Archdeacon.