“People don’t aspire to be addicts. Usually, they’re just looking to manage their pain, whatever that pain may be.”
– Shayne Williams, Executive Director, Lookout Housing and Health Society
Children are not born addicts, nor do youth want to grow up at-risk. Individuals do not choose mental illness nor does anyone deserve (or desire) a lifetime of trauma and abuse. However, sometimes life takes unexpected turns and people find themselves living lives they never imagined.
The Stenberg College Community Mental Health and Addictions Worker (CMHAW) program prepares graduates to assist individuals with mental health, housing and addiction challenges by providing encouragement, support and resources. Mental health and addictions workers come from a variety of backgrounds and share a few common attributes: they are compassionate, non-judgmental and want to make a difference.
Understanding an addict’s path
Understanding that experiences such as poverty, mental illness and trauma lie at the root of an addict’s path is integral to a CMHAW’s success. As Williams reinforces, those who are homeless or struggling with addictions and mental health are not in their situations because they want to be – they are simply trying to manage their circumstances in the face of adversity.
Troy Balderson is a CMHAW graduate and is now the Program Co-ordinator at Powell Street Getaway where he oversees a Supervised Injection Site. He is a proud father, a doting grandfather and a former opioid addict. Looking back, Troy reflects:
“My life as an addict was hell. It was a mixture of drugs, jail… where the future led me, I just didn’t care. Now I’m a program co-ordinator in the Downtown Eastside. The best part about my job is being able to work with clients and see them change their lives, see someone come from living on the streets for 10 years and help them find housing… that transformation is amazing.”
Is a CMHAW career right for me?
Though many people in this career come from some form of lived experience, if someone possesses empathy and understanding, they can excel as a Mental Health and Addictions Worker. As Williams explains:
“You have to be open and tolerant. You’re going to witness some of the most beautiful bits of humanity you’ve ever seen in your life, and you’ll witness some of the most horrific pieces of humanity. You need to be well balanced, and you need to have really strong self-care. Humility is a very important piece, as well as the ability to be kind. Kindness is number one. But, no, you do not have to have lived experience to be a good addictions worker.”
To read more about CMHAWs and all they do, click here.