Mental health and Addictions RN
I often hear people lament that things are getting worse in the area of mental health. I feel it isn’t getting worse. It’s just now we’re talking about it. Before it stayed hidden.
I work for the Mental Health and Addiction team. Our program started in Waterloo-Wellington in 2012, and it was the first program of its kind in the province. It started as part of the “Open Minds, Healthy Minds” mental health provincial funding initiatives for Ontarians. There was recognition of a need to bring together education and medical resources to support young people who were struggling.
The nursing scope of practice includes providing care for the body, mind and spirit. It’s not just about medications and tests. Those are important elements, but so is the caring and compassion we deliver as nurses. We take a holistic approach, which is important for a program like this one.
I learned the importance of this approach as a young woman watching nurses care for my brother. He suffered significant burns over 75% of his body. I remember sitting with him while the nurses came every day to change his dressings. It taught me about connecting on a deeper level. Healthcare allows us to do that. Nursing is one of the most holistic approaches to wellness, in healthcare.
The WWLHIN is open to allowing our team to take different approaches with the youth we meet. That means we can determine that even if we may not have a concrete admission, we can provide support. It means we’re out in the community, connecting with youth and families where they live and go to school. It helps them to feel heard and validated.
My previous professional practice included 25 years at McMaster Children’s Hospital working in the high-risk delivery and neonatal critical care unit. There’s an immense level of mental health processes for the parents and families of these babies. We walked with them while their children were in the hospital – sometimes for months at a time. During this time we were able to build strong family relationships.
I felt drawn to the parent part of that medical experience. When the posting came up for the position here at the WWLHIN, I wanted to learn more. I was hired on and I’ve been here since the beginning of the program.
Every day my team meets with young people who are facing challenges that adults might not be able to understand; For some, they are dealing with big issues that mean participating in school is not a priority. If they are coping with a parent at home who is ill or has an addiction issue, that English essay seems much less important. Yet they have goals, they do want to graduate, so, we’re there to help guide them.
For three to four months, we’re here to share a bit of the load they carry every day. We help them connect to other resources in the community, encouraging them to persevere. We are a check in resource and educator for prescribed medication for youth and their families as well as school supports. It can be valuable for youth to have a perspective from another caring adult in their circle of care.
We’re also there to support families and help everyone learn about the brain science involved in growth and development. We talk about risks and consequences with them. We want them to understand what happens if they drink and take prescribed medication. We approach important harm reduction conversations in a very specific non-judgmental way so they hear what is best practices to make informed decisions.
Success is different for each person we meet. It isn’t always about graduating from school; for some, it is a longer journey. We have a philosophy on our team that high school is not a race. It looks different for everyone.
The young people I meet are very much pioneers. They didn’t ask to be in their position, but they’re brave enough to tackle it. They’re paving the way for the future. They’re making us think about different solutions. They’re coming up with new ideas that may not be available for them now but may help someone in the future.