Meet Derek Collins
Beginning the mental health conversation
Derek Collins is a Community Animator for Vermillion, Alberta. He grew up in the Vermillion area and has lived in the town for over 20 years. Derek’s job as a high school teacher and principal presented him with the opportunity to work with students dealing with mental health issues. This led Derek to return to university to take his Master’s in School Counselling and allowed him to facilitate mental health conversations with his students as a counsellor.
Derek learned about the Rural Mental Health Project while attending a conference in a nearby community. He explains, “After Jessica presented this project, I talked about it with our FCSS coordinator. The Animator Program felt like a great fit with the work I was already doing. I saw it as an umbrella over what we had been trying to do in Vermillion.”
From mental health awareness to education
Derek says that he wanted to participate in his community’s mental health conversation because he saw people struggling to talk about their mental health struggles. Derek says, “Students and even parents are aware of mental health issues, but not sure what to do with it. There still is a big need for education. People aren’t really sure what it means to talk about their anxiety and other struggles.”
There’s still a lot of stigma around mental health in Vermillion, Derek explains, “I still hear the phrases “well, you just have to toughen up, you just have to get through it.”” But there’s lots of members of the community who are working together to break down the barriers and make Vermillion a healthier place to live.
Joining forces to help the community
After taking his animator training at the beginning of the pandemic, Derek asked himself “how is the community doing?” He got on the phone and began calling ministerial associations, churches, and other community organizations to see what they were hearing from members of the community. As an animator, Derek began sitting in on and presenting to different groups within Vermillion.
Derek, along with other community members, created a team that could assist the primary care network with specific situations where they may not have the services needed for clients who are struggling. “Within a quick 10-minute conversation with the team, we at least find out what other people can offer to provide the necessary resources,” Derek explained.
Derek says that being an animator has presented him opportunities to share ideas with other organizations and join other committees on a consulting basis. “In our area, there’s actually quite a bit of resources,” Derek explains, “how do we let people know that these things are out there? And how do we even get to know each other?” Derek believes relationship building and teamwork is essential when it comes to assisting the community.
Since becoming an Animator, Derek has been surprised with how open his fellow community members are to helping other citizens out. “They want to learn about other people’s situations. They want to help,” Derek says, “They want to look after everybody.”