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Mental Health and Addiction Nurses at work in schools

girl and distracted boy student at desksNearly one in five Ontario children under the age of 19 experiences a mental, emotional or behavioral disorder. Seventy per cent of mental health problems have their onset during childhood or adolescence. The statistics are startling. 

The Mental Health and Addictions Nurses (MHAN), now working in schools across the South West, are helping ensure children with mental health issues get the help they need, as quickly and effectively as possible.

The MHAN program is a partnership between the Ministries of Health and Long-term Care, Children and Youth, and Education, implemented by Ontario's Community Care Access Centres. In the South West, nurses began working in schools in December 2012 and are now in every school in the region.

The program works in partnership with school boards. Boards determine the criteria for referral and student populations they want nurses to work with, and each board has a Mental Health Lead who works closely with the nurses.

Issues faced by children referred to the program are diverse, said Melody Boyd, manager of the Intensive Home Care team, which includes the MHANs. "They range  from anxiety, emotional disturbance, suicidal ideation and depression, to family dynamics and abuse, mood disorders, and addiction." 

The nurses are trained to approach each situation holistically. "They know about medications and side effects, and are trained in therapeutic interventions such as cognitive behavioural therapy, grief counselling, suicide prevention and crisis intervention," said Boyd.

Recently, a nurse helped a student with an anxiety disorder by having the student record his thoughts for a period of time. The nurse then challenged the negative thought patterns, helping the student to achieve improved feelings of well-being and, ultimately, better success at school.

Nurses also help educate students and educators about mental health promotion and resiliency building skills, and meet regularly to work in partnership with mental health providers in the surrounding community.

Initial response to the program from school partners has been very positive, with many reporting that students were more stable and practicing coping strategies more effectively, said Boyd.

"And most importantly, this team's work makes it possible for these students to stay in school."

Mental Health and Addcition nurses are part of the South West CCAC's Intensive Home Care Team, which is comprised of more than 40 Registered Nurses and Nurse Practitioners and provides important services to patients via specialized roles. 

For more information on the Mental Health and Addiction Nurses, please contact Melody Boyd, manager, Intensive Home Care Team. Melody.Boyd@sw.ccac-ont.ca