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Meet Ali Broda

Ali Broda is a Rural Mental Health Animator who moved from an urban city in Ontario to the rural Alberta community of Edson five years ago. Ali’s educational background in psychology and human resources led her to a position with FCSS in Edson. She says, “The work I do in my day job translates extremely well into the Rural Mental Health Project (RMHP). I find so much overlap. I am able to bring RMHP into everything we are doing.” Ali appreciates that RMHP acknowledges both the challenges and opportunities for productive mental health conversations in rural communities.

The benefits of a close community

Edson’s small, tight-knit community has kept Ali there for the last five years. “As someone who has come from a large city, people are not as personal. When you access a service in a large city, you will never talk to the same person twice. In Edson, you can continue talking and receiving support from the same people. You become so used to the faces you see that you begin to feel your family has extended beyond your household. It’s such a good feeling,” she explains. “When accessing support services, it is beneficial to have a close community because they also reach out to people who need that extra support. I have people on my radar that I check in on.” 

Identifying people who need support

Ali is proud of the number of mental health and wellness resources available in Edson. A challenge she has observed is that while services are available, the people who tend to need support don’t know it is available. Ali says, “Edson has a large community of oilfield workers and others who are here for extended amounts of time. They tend to feel lonely and need to be connected. The challenge is that they don’t know there are places they could go in Edson. To them, Edson is just where their job is. They don’t think the community has more to offer them. The Rural Mental Health Project helped to create awareness about the importance of mental health and we hope the conversation continues to be extended to oilfield workers.”

Listening to the community

Ali joined the Community Engagement Action Team four years ago. The team comes together to spread community information and connect people to the resources they need. “Once you start looking, there is so much support available.” A youth council was involved in planning the project, allowing Edson to gather youth-specific feedback. “Students are extremely interested in mental health and wellness,” she says. “They are constantly looking for resources for youth to use and always talking about mental health.”

Every month, Ali facilitates a virtual community conversation with the goal of embracing new ideas and talking about what the community cares about most in Edson. Ali explains, “We want new ideas all the time. The beauty is that this is not a coalition or a stiff board room-type meeting. It is just community members who care about getting together to talk. I am really proud of the group of people who come together for these meetings. Every time we have a conversation, the ideas that are generated are amazing.” 

Moving forward through COVID’s challenges

Ali was completing her RMHP Animator training in March 2020, just as the stresses of COVID met her community. Despite the introduction of COVID as a new challenge to Edson, Ali says she was aware that her community was relying on her to continue the mental health conversation. When Ali began to feel run-down, she realized it was time to practice what she was preaching. “We train in self-care and that you can’t give from an empty cup. Often people know this, but they feel like it’s too selfish. I made such a conscious effort to tick all my mental health boxes. I also have a good support system. I think that has been essential to helping me move through this year.”