Everyone has a story: UFV nursing students propose anti-stigma campaign options for Chilliwack Overdose Community Action Team at Stó:lō Nation

Chilliwack is one of the many communities across the province that is in urgent need of community-based interventions to combat substance misuse and overdose.

The Chilliwack Overdose Community Action Team (OCAT) is a provincially funded table responsible for a multi-sectoral, collaborative, community-based response to the overdose crisis that includes stigma-reduction efforts.

A perfect framework for UFV nursing students to put their health promotion skills into motion.

Last month, upper-level students from the Bachelor of Science in nursing (BSN) program at the University of the Fraser Valley had the opportunity to create anti-stigma campaigns to address stereotypes that may exist among sub-populations in the community. The goal was to reduce the stigma attached to substance use and to encourage community members to approach matters without judgement.

Nursing students were invited to the Stó:lō Nation Service Agency to present their ideas to a panel of OCAT members.

“I commend each of the students for their insight, advocacy, and dedication in working towards a socially just community where all people are valued. UFV was one of the earliest stakeholders at the OCAT table. An opportunity developed to invite semester 7 BSN students learning about community health nursing to create anti-stigma messages as part of a health education class,” says Kate McCulloch, associate professor in the nursing program at UFV.

The students demonstrated compassion and creativity as they shared their understanding of substance use, addiction, the social determinants of health and health inequity in the creation of these messages to reduce stigma.

Students were invited to present their messages at the Stó:lō Government House by Jennifer MacDonald, former OCAT coordinator and current cultural safety training coordinator, and Sam Kaji, former OCAT member and current Stó:lō Nation proposal and grant writer.

“We felt honoured to be welcomed into the Stó:lō community and we deeply appreciated learning about Stó:lō history and culture,” noted McCulloch.

Messages were shaped to reach a variety of audiences ranging from local business owners, to emergency staff, health care professionals, law enforcement, teachers and youth workers, guardians, athletes and tradespeople.

Recognizing the human element to substance use and addiction was a common theme among the campaigns.

“To better understand how we can support our patients, we need to consider the complexities that come together and make them who they are as people, as human beings. If we fail to recognize this, we fail to address who they are and their real needs. Participating in this project allowed us, as health students, to consider barriers that exist and how reducing stigma can start to break these down,” says Amy Mueller, an upper level student in the BSN program at UFV.

Students described the sense of fear that drives stigmatization of people who misuse substances. Often, the general population and even people who work closely with people who misuse substances believe it is about choice and may fail to understand the complex interaction and influence of multiple social determinants of health that contribute to substance use in communities.

Other groups challenged the idea that people misusing substances or struggling with addiction are homeless. UFV students’ anti-stigma campaign drew attention to people in many populations where substance use and misuse can occur.

Nursing students and faculty hope to use their messages to create awareness within the university community as well.