CANNING, NS - A recipient of the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers says we’ve come a long way as a society when it comes to mental health issues but we still have a long way to go.
In celebration of National Volunteer Week, Governor General of Canada Julie Payette presented the Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers to 41 recipients at Rideau Hall in Ottawa on April 17, including John Murphy of Canning.
The former Annapolis Valley-Hants MP’s citation states that Murphy “has helped improve the lives of countless Nova Scotians affected by alcoholism, poverty, mental illness and abuse. Through his involvement as a director and psychiatric social worker in numerous community health centres, he is a true champion of mental health and wellness.”
Murphy said he’s seen a lot of change in the mental health field over the years but there is more work to be done. A very small percentage of health care tax dollars go into mental health versus physical health and more resources are needed.
He said a little more consideration on the part of individuals would also go a long way. The stigma against those dealing with mental health problems is still very prevalent in spite of the fact that so many people will encounter these issues. This stigma often leads to lost lives as people won’t seek help.
He believes that offering more outreach as individuals or through programs would make a big difference. If people with mental health concerns get the feeling that someone is interested and wants to help them, it could lead to the individual seeking more assistance.
“One of the things I think that we can do as individuals is reach out when someone is having mental health difficulties instead of closing the door for fear of not knowing what to say, not because you’re disinterested but just because you don’t know what to do,” Murphy said.
He said it’s very humbling and quite an honour to receive the medal. He said the recognition comes as the result of Mental Health Commission of Canada president and CEO Louise Bradley putting a great deal of time and effort looking into his background and involvement.
Bradley was the nursing director when Murphy was the director of mental health and psychiatric services for the Annapolis Valley area. After Murphy got into politics, an opportunity that he believes presented itself because of his volunteer work in the mental health field, Bradley took over his position.
“It’s a wonderful recognition and I really take the recognition to highlight mental health. I’ve done a lot of volunteer work but generally that volunteer work started as a result of my background and role in mental health for some 30 years,” Murphy said. “I’m just one of the players, that’s all.”
He said perhaps if he hadn’t been a director of mental health services and a psychiatric social worker, nobody would have recognized his ability to help with various volunteer organizations. Murphy, now 80, said he comes from a family that valued volunteer work and social justice causes. His inspiration for getting involved in the mental health field was an older sister who suffered from Schizophrenia and the difficulties she faced. Murphy said this led to him later earning a degree in psychiatric social work.
“I often think of my dear mother who had to deal with my sister, and this was a long time ago,” Murphy said. “I happened to be studying for the priesthood for three years while all of this took place.”
This was during a time before there were programs to support families. Murphy said he started the Schizophrenia Society in the Valley to honour “the most tiring work” his mother did for his sister.
“Things got better for her but she had a very hard time as a 17 or 18-year-old when the Schizophrenia came full-blown,” Murphy said of his sister, who passed away a few years ago. He said she was doing well at the facility where she lived and was “very social in most of her approaches in life.”
Murphy said he was very fortunate that while he was studying for his degree in social work, he was contacted by representatives of the Fundy Mental Health Centre in Wolfville for a job interview. He said anyone who had a chance to work at the Fundy centre “certainly would grab it.” He described the facility as “a very forthright community mental health centre, maybe one of the most forthright in Eastern Canada.”
Murphy said he was honoured to be offered a job. He had felt destined to go to the Nova Scotia Hospital in Dartmouth to repay a bursary that had kept him, his wife Julia and son Patrick going while he was studying.
Murphy was at the Fundy centre for only six months before Dr. Eric Cleveland offered him the position of clinic director. Murphy said he didn’t care that he wouldn’t be paid anything for his work as director because he was being given the chance to work with such wonderful people. He said he had the best of two worlds then as an administrator who also saw patients.
“We used to call ourselves the Fundy Family, and we were known as that, and well known for our work in community mental health,” Murphy said, pointing out that they helped train many other professionals who went on to emulate their approach.
His involvement in community mental health led to Murphy teaching courses part-time at Acadia University for 25 years, something he “never thought for a moment” that he would end up doing. He said it was very inspiring to get to work with the students and he remains a big fan of Acadia.
Did you know?
- The Sovereign’s Medal for Volunteers recognizes the exceptional volunteer achievements of Canadians from across the country in a wide range of fields.
- As an official Canadian honour, it also pays tribute to the dedication and exemplary commitment of volunteers.
- John Murphy was one of two Nova Scotians honoured with the medal in 2018, the other being Jennifer O’Connor of Halifax.
- O’Connor launched the Forty 4 Change project for her 40th birthday, which featured 40 different acts of volunteerism.
- Anyone can nominate a volunteer by submitting an online nomination at caring.gg.ca. There is no deadline for submissions as nominations are accepted on an ongoing basis.