Vancouver Island Mental Health Society

Feb 2020 | Community Profiles

For people suffering from mental health challenges, substance abuse and facing homelessness, there is a place in Nanaimo where they can seek help.

Since 1977, Vancouver Island Mental Health Society (VIMHS) has acted as both a refuge and a lifeline for Nanaimo’s most vulnerable.

Specializing in psychosocial rehabilitation for adults with mental health and addictions, and/or cognitive challenges, VIMHS offers programs and housing that promote recovery, rehabilitation and social inclusion.

“Primarily we focus on healthcare and housing because we’ve seen firsthand how that combination gives people a greater chance of success,” says Executive Director, Taryn O’Flanagan. “People don’t have control over the development of mental illness, but they should have control over whether they access care and housing.”

Housing for Health

In Nanaimo, VIHMS operates a continuum of housing for people with needs at different levels; from rehabilitation for those with severe mental health diagnosis, to supportive housing that offers life-skills training, to semi-independent living with staff support. In four buildings, housing is offered to 64 people in need. Currently under construction are another 23 supportive housing units, funded by BC Housing.

“Our system is inundated right now. The complexity of people’s needs now, versus 10 years ago, is staggering. As a community we’re just not prepared to deal with this level of substance abuse, mental illness and brain injury,” says Taryn.

Helping People Understand Mental Illness

“We’ve found there is a lot of fear and judgment around people living with mental illness, which is why we want to help the public feel more comfortable engaging and supporting those who need help,” says Taryn.

VIHMS knows how challenging it can be to understand mental illness, much less overcome stigmas, which is why they host a series of workshops to help educate the public:

Free Hearing Voices Workshop – A simulation workshop that helps people understand what it’s like to live with schizophrenia. During this experience of hearing voices, participants are asked to undertake a series of tasks, including social interaction, cognitive testing, and an activities group in a mock day treatment program.

Mental Health First Aid (MHFA) – Just as first aid is administered to an injured person before medical treatment can be obtained, MHFA is given to a person experiencing a mental health problem or crisis, until appropriate treatment is found or until the crisis is resolved.

“Almost a third of Canadians will experience a mental health problem in their lives. We give so much attention to physical health, because it’s easy to see, and so much less to mental health, because it’s hidden,” says Taryn

For more information on Vancouver Island Mental Health Society, their workshops and volunteer opportunities visit:

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