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Local Mental Health and Addiction Nurses Program Expands to Support More Children and Youth with Mental Illness

September 16, 2015, Waterloo – The Waterloo Wellington Community Care Access Centre (WWCCAC) is pleased to announce its Mental Health and Addiction Nurses in District School Boards (MHAN) program has expanded to accept referrals from specialized physicians including pediatricians and child & adolescent psychiatrists, in addition to hospitals and schools.

One in five youth suffer from depression, and recent projections suggest that this number will increase by 50 per cent by the year 2020. Timely and appropriate intervention is essential for young people dealing with mental health issues.

"When the signs of mental illness are recognized early and appropriate interventions are made, children and youth can often go on to lead healthy, productive lives," says Martina Rozsa, Senior Director Patient Services, WWCCAC. "Expanding the MHAN program to include referrals from physician specialists' means children and families have greater access to the critical supports they need."

MHAN nurses provide one-on-one support to children and youth with mental illness, both in school and in the home environment. They help the child and family manage medications, co-create coping strategies, provide mental health and addictions education to teachers and students and coordinate community supports for both the child and the family. MHAN nurses also provide families with mental health system navigation supports including collaboration with school board staff, community mental health agencies and the child's physician.

This is welcome news for Jen Reis, whose 13 year old daughter, Makayla, suffers from severe anxiety and obsessive compulsive disorder.

"Makayla's obsessive behaviors eventually became debilitating - she refused to get out of bed, attend school, or interact with peers" says Jen. "When Makayla was 12, I found her suicide plan. As a parent, I can't explain how helpless you feel when you don't know what to do or where to turn to for help."

Makayla was admitted to hospital where she was referred to the Waterloo Wellington CCAC's MHAN program.

"Many of the children and youth in this program have attempted suicide at least once," says Kim Schnarr, Mental Health and Addictions Registered Practical Nurse, WWCCAC. "Families are devastated and anxious because they don't know how to get the support they need. As their partner and advocate, I'm with them every step of the way."

Today, Makayla is a lively, self-motivated teenager who like other 13 year olds is anxious about starting high school. Her family attributes her success to the care she received in the MHAN program.

"Kim continues to work closely with Makayla, but now it's in a pro-active way" says Jen. When I suspect Makayla will struggle with a situation like entering high school, I can request a referral through our physician specialist and Kim will be there to support – she has truly been our angel".

Since the program began in 2012, 883 children and youth in Waterloo Wellington Region have received support through more than 8,000 visits and phone consultations.

About the CCAC

Community Care Access Centres (CCACs) connect people across Ontario with quality in‐home and community‐based health care. CCACs provide information, access to qualified care providers and community‐based services to help people come home from hospital or live independently at home.