by Linda Smith McCormack


Let's face it. It is safe to assume that there are few people who have yet to experience some form of mental illness, perhaps through a family member, maybe a friend, or a colleague; to that end, they may also have found themselves with their own such affliction at one time or another. Thankfully, the awareness, acceptance, and successful treatment of various mental illnesses is improving, albeit slowly. There remains a long road ahead and everyone has to do their part. The Auxiliary of the Sackville Memorial Hospital has done just that, first by gathering understanding, and then by extending a helping hand. To whom, you ask? The teens of the Tantramar Region. 


Let's face it. Today's schools are inundated with case upon case of mental illness, and schools simply do not have sufficient resources necessary to effectively assist their students in this respect. Sadly, Tantramar Regional High School is no different - nor are our elementary or middle schools. For this reason, the Auxiliary of the S.M.H. embarked upon fulfilling yet another health care related need within the community, this time to financially provide for professional counselling services for students identified as struggling with mental wellness. 


The S.M.H. Auxiliary hosted Leslie Smyth, founder of Smyth Counselling Services. She provided education and informed the membership of the desperate cry for help that is certainly not unique to the Tantramar Region. 


Susan Lafford, Principal of TRHS, and Mark Bohan, Guidance Counsellor at TRHS kindly attended a monthly meeting of the Auxiliary and explained the status of available resources versus the ever-growing need to help more students. Discussions continued with the administration of TRHS culminating in a proposal by the auxiliary to assist the school financially in order to increase the psychological resources available to the youth of the community. 


Why TRHS? With a number of schools comprising the Tantramar Community of Schools - all of which are in desperate need of more counselling services - an initial goal was set by the Auxiliary to serve TRHS, where all students from the region come together and attend Grades 9-12. The Auxiliary's proposition was met with much enthusiasm and gratitude from both the administration of TRHS and Symth Counselling Services, and the project was born. 


The ball was now rolling, and just six weeks into the program, thirteen students had been identified as lacking in their mental wellness; thirty-one sessions had been held (each one ranging from 50-90 minutes in length), and the program was growing in demand. Mark Bohan, Guidance Counsellor of Tantramar Regional High School, reports that the hired counsellor "is a great fit for the school." He also informed the Auxiliary that "the students have quickly come to recognize her as a friendly and caring professional who has the best interests of the students at heart." It was decided that sessions would be held during the school day. The counsellor would also travel to the school, hence avoiding the potential logistical problem of students without transportation to appointments. These two decisions coupled with the respect the counsellor quickly established, Mr. Bohan reports that "no-shows for appointments are virtually non-existent." What about their classes, some may ask? The timing of sessions is alternated so that it includes the student's study period, and the classes they may miss are also alternated. Let's face it, no one can learn to their potential if not mentally well. Just being a teenager is hard enough on its own, and Mr. Bohan happily reports that with this initiative in place, students "are happier and better able to deal with the rigors of school, family, and friends." 


Recently, the Auxiliary was informed that twenty clients are now receiving individualized counselling services on a weekly or biweekly basis. Group therapy sessions are also in effect, with the intent to teach the teens about Anxiety and Depression, but also healthful and effective coping strategies and the practice of self-care. Once again, education has proven a key component, and the SMHA could not be  more pleased to have played a role in making it possible. Unfortunately, client concerns are numerous to date, and services are in high demand. Providing education and counselling to students with Depression, Generalized and/or Social Anxiety, Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder, difficulties interacting socially, and assistance in learning how to handle any number of challenges including grief, anger, and low self-esteem are amongst the common goals of all stakeholders. 


Let's face it. Education, learning, understanding, acquiring and practicing new skills, and having time for reflection are powerful opportunities to ultimately achieving mental wellness. Not unlike that of the majority of people in society today, a teen's level of knowledge and understanding of mental illness does not have to be a complicated process in order to become aware, accept, and actively help others and/or themselves seek professional help. If achieved, the status of mental health care will move the pendulum in the right direction and at a much faster rate. It is then when awareness and acceptance of mental illness, as well as proper diagnoses and effective treatment of individuals who are afflicted will be as common and comprehensive as that of any physical illness. With a devoted school; teens who are willing to accept help, and able professional services available on-site, this initiative has the potential to help many youth. The Auxiliary of the Sackville Memorial Hospital is pleased to have the opportunity to fund necessary treatment for teens of the Tantramar Region and looks forward to celebrating continued successes. 


If individuals, businesses, and organizations would like the opportunity to contribute financially to this program, please do so by contacting one of the Auxiliary's Mental Health Committee members: Linda Tingley, Jane Jones, Audrey Hicks, and Linda Smith McCormack.   


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