This year, one in five children will experience a significant mental health issue during their time in school. For a child, mental health challenges can range from dealing with a personal loss, to bullying, to feelings of depression and anxiety. Mental Health and Addictions Nurse, Andrew Johnstone, believes a proactive approach is key to helping children and youth achieve mental wellness.
"Even with 16 years of experience in in-patient mental health nursing, it wasn't until I started working as a Mental Health and Addictions Nurse in the community that I truly saw the benefits of being proactive rather than reactive, explains Andrew. " I believe that this program has increased resilience within our students, and played a vital role in the decrease of hospital admissions and re-admissions on mental health units."
The Mental Health and Addictions Nurses in Schools (MHAN) program is open to any child or youth enrolled in a District School Board in Northeastern Ontario who believes they want help, who has been identified as needing help by a physician, teacher or parent, or who has consented to a referral to a Mental Health and Addictions Nurse. At the North East CCAC, the Mental Health and Addiction Nurses work in close partnership with area school board personnel, teachers and educational assistants to help children learn to deal with a variety of mental health issues while they are still in school.
Andrew admits that his chosen career is anything but routine. "On any given day, I could be connecting students and families with community resources, providing students with coping strategies, transitioning students from hospital back to school, or working in tandem with family physicians and child psychiatrists to assess medication effectiveness and tolerance," Andrew says. "It can be demanding, but I know I'm making a difference in each child's overall mental health."
The MHAN program follows the geography of the district school boards and some nurses have over 600km to cover within their area. Andrew has been working with the Huron Superior District School Board since he joined the North East CCAC in 2013.
"The Huron Superior District School Board has been very appreciative of the education and support that this program provides," states Andrew. "From my perspective, I find it very rewarding to see the relief and gratitude on the faces of students I work with. Teachers are now also 'checking in' more and I love being part of that shift in culture."
Andrew has also had the opportunity to provide school faculty with Applied Suicide Intervention Skill Training (ASIST) and Restorative Practice, and has facilitated the SafeTALK program, a half-day workshop for students aged 16 and older that helps identify people with thoughts of suicide and connect them with life-saving first aid resources.
Mental Health week begins May 2nd, and Andrew encourages anyone interested in the mental health field to get involved:
"Every new provider of mental health and addictions services gets us one step closer to a mentally healthy community!"