Innovative Calgary park to support citizens’ mental health

Supporting mental health through the healing power of nature.

Sheila Taylor, Chief Executive Officer of Parks Foundation Calgary, at the unveiling of the new project. Photo: KIRSTEN PHILLIPS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

Parks Foundation Calgary unveiled plans today for a new innovative park aimed at supporting Calgarians, specifically children and youth, on their mental health journeys.

The proposed features include a trellis gateway, central flex space, medicine garden, activity area, community pathway and swinging benches.

Parks Foundation Calgary collaborated with the Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health (CCAMH) to create the first park of its kind in the city. It will provide an area for reflection, healing and connection to nature geared at supporting mental health of Calgarians.

COVID-19 put strain on all Calgarians mental health, with schools and extracurricular activities fluctuating between opened and closed, children were left feeling lonely, overwhelmed, sleepless, sad, irritable and stressed, Carol Coventry, one of the Managers of Child and Adolescent Mental Health with Alberta Health Services, said.

“Stress from isolation is one of the most important risk factors for mental health,” Coventry said.

There was a 45 per cent increase in presentations of kids with mental health concerns compared to pre-pandemic times. There was also a 40 per cent increase in kids and teens who needed a hospital admission during COVID. Further, there was 80 per cent more use of off-service beds because all of the mental health beds were full, Coventry said.

Parks gained popularity during the pandemic as people turned to outdoor recreational activity as an escape from the stress.

“Time [spent] with nature significantly improves everybody’s mental health,” Coventry said.

“Having an outdoor space next to this new child and adolescent mental health centres going to support the clients, the families who access the centre, but also everybody in this community.”

Project plans

The park will be constructed adjacent to the soon-to-be completed Centre for Child and Adolescent Mental Health in northwest Calgary. It’s a purpose-built centre dedicated to the mental health of children, youth and their families – with a walk-in clinic, intensive treatment and day hospital services.

“We know that mental health support is critical today – now more than ever. One in five Canadian youth will experience a diagnosable psychiatric concern in their youth, 60,000 Calgary children will require mental health intervention every year in this city and that there is a proven direct link between nature and positive mental health,” Sheila Taylor, Chief Executive Officer of Parks Foundation Calgary, said.

The CCAMH Park Concept Board. KIRSTEN PHILLIPS / FOR LIVEWIRE CALGARY

“The park will be very unique and have separate zones for families and kids to enjoy. There’ll be an active area, a transition space, a meditative space, an event and gathering space, a sloped open area, a hillside relaxation, space, and beautiful vegetation.”

Support for the park has come from Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation, Alberta Health Services, the City of Calgary, and the Rotary Club of Calgary North, with a major donation from the Brawn Family Foundation towards the construction and endowment fund.

Although there’s no finalized budget at this time, Parks Foundation has a goal of fundraising $800,000. That will go towards covering the projects capital costs and an endowment fund for the sustainability and longevity of the park.

“There are more partnership opportunities available, and we encourage everyone to reach out to us at the Parks Foundation to talk about how we can work together as this project moves forward,” Taylor said.

The park, coined “a park with wellness at its heart” is set to be completed summer 2022.

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