By Mackenzie Myatt
[Note: this article is a revision of the story that appeared in the June 2019 print edition.]
There is a large gap between the need for mental health care and the extended wait times for services on the Eastern Shore. The Mental Health Outreach Project was created to bridge this gap and test an alternate model for service delivery.
This pilot project was initiated by the Tri-Community CAST Coalition, a group of community organizations, individuals and health service providers who are working together to create awareness and supporting access to resources for mental health & addictions, to determine the current gaps in mental health and addiction services and to advocate for increased supports for our region.
The Tri-Community CAST Coalition successfully received funding from the Province of Nova Scotia and ran the project for six months from November 2018 to April 2019, offering free outreach events, peer support and some counselling services to the Eastern Shore and Musquodoboit Valley. The Coalition hired Nova Salutem Inc., a local business that offers psychological Health and Safety in the work place advising, critical incident response services and individual counselling (face to face or cyber), operated by Patricia Auchine to manage the project. Mrs. Auchnie and her team of Outreach Coordinators (Anita Rose and Dee Dwyer) delivered the Outreach project on behalf of Coalition.
The goal of the Mental Wellness Outreach Project was to support community members’ mental wellness needs in their community. To be available to meet with them where they are, figuratively and literally. The project model was outreach-focused, with three components. First, Community Liaison Dee Dwyer worked with local organizations to ensure they were aware of the project and the services offered. She worked to gain support of community and to seek out clients in need. Second, Peer Support Worker Anita Carter-Rose met with clients in formal settings and in groups to offer support, navigation to services, and most importantly, compassionate listening, care, and hope. The final component of the project was professional clinical counselling and referral for those in emerging critical or complex needs. The team were also flexible in doing private and cyber-sessions through phone or video chat.
“It can take days for a person to take action in asking for help, even after they’ve decided,” Carter-Rose told the Cooperator. “The most important thing is to be a good listener.”
Over 100 people connected with the program by attending workshops, participating in wellness events, seeking peer support & navigation, and utilizing counselling services. There were 16 individuals who enrolled in the program and agreed to being tracked in their wellness over the life of the project.
Almost all reported an improved sense of well-being after the program concluded this past month,” Carter-Rose. “There is a wellness intake scale form at the beginning, a few weeks into the program and at the end. Most noted some improvement even at the 2-3 week check-in point.”
The Tri-Community CAST Coalition is extremely happy with the results of the pilot project. It has proved that this approach to providing community mental wellness supports works. The project was able to reach people who had never sought out services in the past. In regard to next steps, Auchnie said she is supporting the Tri-Community CAST Coalition as they actively apply for grants to meet the needs of the rural communities and to continue the project. “We will be using the data collected during this project to advocate for services in our rural areas,” she said.
There are a number of Mental Health & Addiction services being offered within the communities with a number of them listed on the Mental Health Helping Tree accessible at https://www.communityhealthboards.ns.ca/s/ESMV-Mental-Health-Supports-Nov-2018.pdf .
“Sadly, our communities are going without timely access to primary care for mental health and addiction needs as the current providers cannot met the demand,” Auchnie said. “People simply do not have access to supports and counselling when and where they need it - which is not acceptable.”
Accessibility to mental wellness supports needs to be improved and barriers removed to ensure residents can get the services they need when they need them. When someone finds the courage to seek out help, it needs to be available without multiple barriers.
If given the opportunity to do the project again, Auchnie would like to see this model across all communities. There would be professionally trained peer supports and social workers in Middle Musquodoboit, Musquodoboit Harbour and Sheet Harbour working with a multi-disciplinary community health team.