Central Lambton FHT: Expanding access to mental health services for youth

Petrolia Topic article published on October 4, 2016. Article in full pasted below.
Melissa Schlilz, Postmedia Network

Family Health Team working to expand mental health services for youth

Breaking down walls surrounding mental health can be difficult anywhere, but in rural areas like Lambton County, there can be different barriers that present themselves in comparison to urban areas.

For youth, there can often be a lack of resources and tools at hand, or a fear of being judged by peers. But the Family Health Team in Petrolia is working to change this.

Executive Director of the Central Lambton Family Health Team, Sarah Milner, has specialized in the mental health field. Since the new building opened on Glenview Road, they have taken on new projects specifically concerning youth mental health. She said that in terms of mental health services, when it comes to funding, the majority of services are where the most people are located – in larger urban centres. While she’s noticed a trend of urban services moving out to rural areas, there is a lot of work that needs to be done.

“Our family health team is very dedicated to mental health and our physicians out here deal a lot with mental health issues,” Milner said.  “Being rural, they see a lot in their practices, and there isn’t often a lot of resources out this way.”

After seeing an ad in the Sarnia Observer regarding St. Clair Child and Youth expanding services in the county, they reached out to form a partnership. Starting this October, they will be expanding hours, coming to Petrolia for two full days rather than just a half day, working with youth up to age 17.

“They would provide service and support to anyone in the community, but we offer them a space to do that here,” Milner said. “It’s wonderful for our patients because they’re here, but it also benefits the entire community.”

Milner said their location, right across the street from LCCVI, is a great advantage for any students seeking help. As many kids are bussed in from Alvinston or other rural communities, this gives them an opportunity to access services while they are here.

The Family Health Team has also worked directly with teachers at LCCVI, giving them the tools and knowledge to help students who may be struggling.

“We’ve established some good relationships with the high school,” Milner said, noting that staff came to the centre to learn more about services offered. “So now staff would be familiar with what’s over here and be able to refer students and help make those links.”

Milner said she finds that anxiety and depression are most prevalent among youth. In an age of social media and instant gratification, she said there are three trends that seem to most affect youth in terms of mental health. These are a lack of resiliency that kids don’t seem to have when it comes to hardship, a lack of a support system as well as online bullying.

“It seems to be in the culture right now that everything is instant, there isn’t a lot of delay to be able to get what you want,” Milner said. “How do you deal with disappointment?”

Twenty years ago, if you were bullied at school, going home meant having a safe refuge. But now, with Facebook and other social media platforms, the bullying follows kids wherever they may turn.

“When those things are out on the internet, there’s no taking them back,” she said. “That can be very difficult for kids.”

Milner said they are working with youth to help build resiliency, so they have the ability to weather those times of difficulty. She said there seems to be a lack of coping skills in young people, especially among girls in grade 10.

In rural areas, Milner also noted that people tend to treat things a little differently, and stigma is still an issue. In smaller towns, individuals are a lot less anonymous, making it harder for some to come forward to seek help.

“I still think there is a ways to go and I often find having worked in the county in mental health, sometimes it’s a little more private out here,” she said. “It’s the culture.”

Despite there still being those who say there is a stigma towards mental health, there is work being done in partnership with the Suicide Prevention Committee to break this down. The Health Team co-facilitates safe talks within the community, including one which is coming up this month in Camlachie.

“They teach anyone in the community skills and how to recognize someone who is suicidal, what to do and how to get help,” Milner said. “They don’t have to be the person to fix it, but they can be the person who recognizes it and help that person get the help they need.”

Milner said that at this time, they are in a key position because they currently have 14,000 patients that come to them from Lambton County and beyond. While there is a desire and interest to expand mental health services out into the county, sometimes there is a lack of space to do so. Milner hopes they can continue to make connections with other organizations, linking services to people in rural areas, and working with schools to offer additional services.

“Where I would like to go with things is strengthen our partnership with local high schools and elementary schools,” she said. “To provide some sort of [education]…resiliency, coping, anxiety, and being able to provide something right at those early grades.”

Milner said the earlier they can lay a foundation with younger people, the easier it will be for them once they reach teenage years in dealing with depression and anxiety. She hopes to offer information sessions and tool kits for youth.

“It’s slow and steady, making progress, and it hinges a lot on relationships that you have,” Milner said. “We want to help the people who have mental health issues but we also want to help the community to better understand and know where to turn.”

With such a high need presenting itself in the county for mental health services, Milner has future plans for expansion in Petrolia’s services.

“We’re definitely passionate and committed to mental health and trying to increase the resources out here because we know it’s a huge need,” she said. “Step by step, we’re slowly getting there to having more resources – there’s never enough – down the road we see ourselves having more robust services, it just takes time.”

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