Volunteers aim to boost mental health services

Front-line workers have started a Terrace Local Action Team to address mental health and substance use among children

Inderpreet Sandhu

A joint effort from front-line workers is aiming to fill the gaps in mental health care for children and families in Terrace.

The Local Action Team – a volunteer collaborative between police, schools, social agencies and mental health workers in the district – boasts government funding to help improve local services.

One of the team’s co-chairs, Lilian Bramley, said together the agencies were able to identify where support for children and youth living with mental health issues was missing.

“In the last decade, there was very little collaboration between agencies and what happens is kids fall through the cracks,” said Bramley, who is also a youth support worker for Kermode Friendship Society.

“And what we’re trying to do is eradicate that so high-risk youth will have access to all services.”

The northwest faces higher rates of mental health concerns, specifically depression, compared to almost anywhere else in the province, according to BC health authority data.

Part of the team’s role is also to increase awareness about mental health and substance use issues here.

For this, they have planned a mental-health focused youth art event in George Little Park on July 17, explained project lead Inderpreet Sandhu.

“The reason we are having this event is to create awareness and understanding around mental health for youth and families and for them to know how to get resources and what those services look like,” she said.

The team has already completed a survey distributed in district schools asking students where they felt services needed to be improved.

From the information collected, the group is now working towards creating a directory of all services in Terrace and holding workshops to train both mental health professionals and youth in conflict resolution.

“We want to empower youth to be responsible for themselves and get themselves help,” explained Bramley.

Early intervention in youth with mental health and substance use issues is key to preventing life-long struggles.

And it became clear through the team’s discussions that youth in Terrace simply do not know about many of the services already available to them.

A similar initiative is being undertaken by the 63 other Local Action Teams in the province working to address children’s mental wellness.

They all receive short-term funding from the government and the Doctors of BC association to fast-track awareness and services in communities.

In Terrace, agencies including the RCMP department, Northern Health, School District 82, and Nisga’a Child and Family Services as well as probation officers and a local pediatrician have signed on to donate their time to the team which will continue to be active through to April of next year.

They not only hold monthly meetings where agencies have an opportunity to partner on issues, but the information they collect is taken to provincial conferences where it can be made a priority for health care.

All the agencies involved know, said Bramley, that there is a high demand for addiction and mental health services among local youth.

They also struggle with long wait times, inaccessibility of services and most to leaving home for specialized treatment.

“We need a closer addiction facility because it is hard for youth to be away for months without access to family and friends and that’s one of their barriers, they aren’t successful because of loneliness,” Bramley explained.

“Sometimes you have to pay for services and a lot of families don’t have the money,” she said, referring to the cost attached to long-term counselling needs not covered by provincial health care.

Access to support for families with children diagnosed with Fetal Alcohol Syndrome is also a challenge specific to the north, she said.

The team is looking to introduce themselves at their event in the park and also teach people about the resources here through various wellness booths.

The public will be able to vote on art submitted by youth who will then win prizes in each age category.

The Youth Art Collaborative event in George Little Park is scheduled to take place from 1 p.m. to 5 p.m. on Sunday, July 17.

Anyone interested in volunteering can contact Lilian Bramley at lilian.bramely@kermode-fs.ca