Helping kids in crisis

“Suicide rates are increasing for children and adolescents,” states Alena Thompson, Mental Health Navigator. In 2013, seven children aged 10 to 14, and 29 adolescents aged 15 to 19, died from suicide in Alberta.

“There were so many kids who would be admitted to the Bonnyville Health Centre in crisis,” says Chantal Vallee, Nurse Practitioner. “We were constantly doing crisis management, but that’s not what we should be doing with these kids. Mental illness is no different than chronic disease. We need to manage it, prevent crisis, educate and provide helpful resources and support.”

One local family—we’ll call them the Smiths—needed help. Their adolescent has attention deficit disorder, and the entire family experienced frequent outbursts, anger, frustration and misunderstanding.

“It wasn’t just teenager issues anymore, and we didn’t know who to turn to,” says Mrs. Smith. “We didn’t realize it at the time, but it affected the mental health of everyone who was involved.”

Under Chantal’s direction, and with help from the local physician network, the Child and Adolescent Mental Health Collaborative was formed to help families like the Smiths. The focus was to close the gaps in mental health services for six- to 17-year-olds in the area. Two goals of the collaborative are to decrease emergency room visits by these youth and to decrease admissions and lengths of stay in hospital.

A weekly clinic has been established where the team of physicians, mental health nurses and school counsellors sit with the youth and their family to discuss and co-ordinate the care plan. “A lot of parents feel like they have to work through the challenges on their own because they’re worried about the stigma associated with mental health,” says Alena. “You’re not alone. We’re here to help and ensure your kids live happy, productive lives.”

The Smiths were excited when the clinic opened, as they felt it was a missing link in the community. The family agrees that the first meeting was a much more positive experience than anticipated. They say that everyone is on the same page, which makes diagnosis and treatment more readily available. Within the first six weeks of operation, the clinic received 20 referrals.

“It’s a place where adolescents and parents can seek help and information in a safe environment,” says Mrs. Smith. “This is the first step so no adolescent falls through the cracks and has to face their mental health challenges and issues alone.”

The team from left to right: Dr. S. Palkowski; Julia Lavallee, RCSD; Kathy Pelham, Mental Health Nurse; Dr. L. Smith; Chantal Vallee, Nurse Practitioner; Alena Thompson, Mental Health Navigator; Dr. J. Barnard. Missing: Dr. P. van der Walt; Dr. T. van Deventer

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