Relief – that's what Jenelle felt when she found out she might have bipolar disorder.
The 15-year old had struggled for years to understand herself – her moods, her anxiety around new situations, her lack of concentration in high school when she'd been accelerated in elementary – but it wasn't until May 2013 that the confusion started to clear.
That's when her school social worker put her in touch with the Mental Health and Addictions Nurses (MHAN) at Hamilton Niagara Haldimand Brant Community Care Access Centre (HNHB CCAC). The MHAN program, launched at the end of March 2013, focuses on students with mental health and/or addiction issues. It aims to help them thrive in school, remain in school, or transition back to school after a hospital stay.
It was exactly what Jenelle needed. A year ago, she was skipping school and using drugs, including marijuana. She felt anxious and out-of-control. She didn't know how to explain to her parents what she was going through. "There was a point when I stopped even going out of the house," she says. "My thoughts would race from one thought to another and my mood would change really fast."
At her first meeting with MHAN Kelly Graves, Jenelle was reluctant. "What's the point?" she asked. "No one has been able to help me before." But then Kelly asked Jenelle what her goals were – no one had done that before either – and listened when Jenelle said she wanted to go back to school, see a psychiatrist and get a diagnosis.
In the weeks and months that followed, Kelly built a professional support team around Jenelle, one that included the psychiatrist responsible for Jenelle's diagnosis. This often involved visiting Jenelle's home in advance of meetings, encouraging her and sometimes even accompanying her during sessions.
Last fall, Kelly helped Jenelle access NuDeal – a Hamilton-based arts education facility where Jenelle has been able to accumulate high school credits in a small class setting. It seemed right for the tenth grader, an avid drawer who plays trumpet and taught herself guitar.
Jenelle loves it so much she's currently completing a co-op at NuDeal while she picks up additional credits at an alternative school downtown. After graduation, Jenelle wants to open a print studio of her own. A year ago, she didn't have a post-high school plan.
Jenelle says she never would have taken the steps that brought her to this point if Kelly hadn't been there to guide her. Her father, Brad, agrees. He says the family would have been lost without Kelly's knowledge and support over the last nine months.
"She's still kind of midway through her journey," Kelly says. "But at least she knows where she's going, where she'd like to be. She can see that now."
Jenelle is one of 426 students who received care from HNHB CCAC's Mental Health and Addictions Nurses in the first twelve months since the program began.
More information about the MHAN Program >>