By Dee Dwyer
On an afternoon in early September, I met with the vibrant and personable Crystal Tobin Legere, who lives in a cozy old house built in 1900 with a panoramic view of Jeddore Harbour. She has named her home “Tigh Na Mara”, Gaelic for “gateway to the sea,” a nod to her Cape Breton upbringing.
Crystal is a “communitarian,” involved in community development, adult education, literacy, and health care, with an emphasis on mental health, all from a passionate, compassionate, holistic and very human approach.
Always busy with work and volunteering, she is now working for Nova Scotia Community College (NSCC) in Organizational Development and Human Resources, supporting fourteen campuses, and teaching about employee health and wellbeing-- while she is also completing her Adult Education Master’s thesis on the social determinants of women’s mental health, especially rural women.
She is using autoethnography, a form of social research which uses storytelling, life writing about lived experience, to enhance women’s mental health care. On her deck where we sit, she shows me one of her books with a weaving on the cover. “All these different threads,” she says, “reflect different parts of the whole person, their childhood experiences, their environment, their resiliency, and self-care, and how it all weaves into who we are.”
Crystal is not reluctant to say what lead to her work with and passion about mental health. “My father lived with bi-polar disorder,” she says. “As a kid, I learned how to support him. I was living in northern Cape Breton with no peer-support, no services. Later he had addiction issues. The field of mental health education chose me. My job is to inform and educate to help remove the stigma about mental illness and to promote that we all have mental health. The pandemic taught us that.”
She talks about the range of people she works with at NSCC. “The scope of my role touches down everywhere including working with faculty, the trades, operational support, or facilities teams. My work is focused on breaking down stereotypes and promoting mental wellness in the workplace.”
As a single mother in Cape Breton, Crystal knew her ticket out was education. She obtained a B.Sc. from Dalhousie University in Health Promotion and worked for ten years with the Mental Health and Addiction Services team as a Rehabilitation Counsellor within Nova Scotia Health. Working rotational shift work for many years took its toll and she experienced burnout. This led her to the completion of an Honours thesis on the impacts of rotational shift work on health care workers, and ultimately a career change.
After working with the NS Dept. of Health & Wellness, she was consulting with the Canadian National Institute for the Blind, which offered her a contract. What started as a trial couple of months turned into five years as a Provincial Vision Loss Rehabilitation Health Services Manager. Negotiating with government, she secured $1.1 million a year to provide vision loss rehabilitation services and to integrate them into the health care system.
She managed a staff of eleven vision rehab specialists and oversaw the case management of 5,000 clients in Nova Scotia and 1,000 clients in PEI. “My job is about aligning my people skills to build relationships or to make an uncomfortable situation comfortable- this is essential to compassionate and client centered care.”
From January 2016-June 2022, Crystal was co-chairing the Eastern Shore Musquodoboit Community Health Board, and was a part of the team that helped them win a Making Waves Outstanding Community Contribution Award in Sept 2020 for community work with Mental Health.
She also teaches Mental Health First Aid and creates helping trees, which show health resources, specific to each community. You can reach her at [email protected].