Heart Awards celebrate recovery for people with Mental Health and Substance Use challenges

“He’s a big ball of positivity so when I called to tell him he’d been nominated for a Heart Award, he was very excited,” says Katrina Witschel, a mental health worker with Island Health’s Mental Health and Substance Use (MHSU) Lasting Homes residential program. Witschel is referring to Chad, one of her clients.

Witschel nominated Chad for a MHSU Heart Award based on his move from a supportive housing space into independent living, as well as the launch of his own web development business.

“The Heart Awards is such a great event,” says Chad. “It’s really special to be recognized for having done so well and improved so much in my health and wellness.”

The annual awards recognize and celebrate recovery for people affected by mental health and substance use challenges in four categories: health, independent living, personal growth and community connections.

“Chad has come so far in the time that I’ve known him,” marvels Witschel. “I felt like he deserved this award because of all of the active steps he took in his recovery –now he’s living independently and running his own business. It’s awesome!”

Chad was one of 55 Island Health MHSU clients and community partners, including the Victoria Police Department, nominated for a 2019 Heart Award. The awards, originally handed out between 2006 and 2015, were revived in 2018 thanks to the collaborative efforts of staff from across Island Health’s MHSU program.

“Everyone’s recovery is very much an individual process and the Heart Awards is an event that celebrates that,” says Nicola Mark, an occupational therapist with the MHSU residential program. “It’s so easy for those of us working in the MHSU community to get caught up in our daily routines and forget about the significance of highlighting our clients’ many achievements and milestones.”

“The room was filled with people who are getting better, as well as those helping and volunteering. And so many smiling faces!” says Chad.

“To see so many of our staff, leadership, clients, and community in attendance was a huge show of support for our many deserving award recipients,” says Nicola Mark. “It was such a sign of respect, of caring and really exemplifies the values that we are all working towards.”

Corey Maruca, an Island Health MHSU peer support worker wore multiple hats during awards night. Maruca is someone with lived experience – diagnosed in his early twenties with schizophrenia and depression, he struggled with both conditions for six years. Maruca not only helped to organize the Heart Awards and served as keynote speaker, he was also nominated for a Big Heart Award for his dedicated work with the MHSU community.

“I’ve been working with Island Health for eight years so to get recognition for all that hard work was really special for me,” he says. “As a peer, a person with lived experience, and also that champion and that voice for my clients, I’m able to tell them that I’ve recovered from my illnesses and they can too. Receiving the Big Heart Award was such an honour and it’s a reminder of why my colleagues and I do this work.”

For Corey, the road to recovery all those years ago started with simple steps - getting up in the morning, doing his laundry, calling a friend, rediscovering his love of painting and trying to remember all the things about himself that he cherished. He reminds those living with mental health and substance use challenges to take it one day at a time.

“A journey of a thousand miles starts with one step,” he says. “Recovery takes a long time and it’s something you must be an active participant in. It takes time to heal.”