NOVA SCOTIA HOUSE OF ASSEMBLY
Tuesday, February 23, 2016
Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia
Re: Mental Health in the Labour Force and Workplace Initiatives
& Appointments to Agencies, Boards and Commissions
Printed and Published by Nova Scotia Hansard Reporting Services
STANDING COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
Mr. Keith Irving (Chairman)
Mr. Gordon Wilson
Mr. David Wilton
Ms. Joyce Treen
Mr. Stephen Gough
Mr. Eddie Orrell
Ms. Karla MacFarlane
Hon. Maureen MacDonald
Hon. Denise Peterson-Rafuse
[Mr. David Wilton was replaced by Mr. Joachim Stroink]
[Mr. Eddie Orrell was replaced by Hon. Christopher d’Entremont]
Ms. Monica Morrison
Legislative Committee Clerk
Mr. Gordon Hebb
Chief Legislative Counsel
Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia
Ms. Starr Dobson
President and CEO
Ms. Colleen Fraser
HALIFAX, TUESDAY, FEBRUARY 23, 2016
STANDING COMMITTEE ON HUMAN RESOURCES
Mr. Keith Irving
MR. CHAIRMAN: Good morning, I’d like to welcome everyone to the Standing Committee on Human Resources and call our meeting to order. My name is Keith Irving, I am the MLA for Kings South and Chair of the Committee on Human Resources.
Today we’ll be appointing a few folks to the ABCs, as well as we’ll be receiving a presentation from the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia, the topic being Mental Health in the Labour Force and Workplace Initiatives. I’d like to welcome our guests, Ms. Dobson and Ms. Fraser to the table this morning.
I have regrets from Ms. Peterson-Rafuse this morning but the rest of us are here. I’d like to begin by going around the table and doing introductions.
[The committee members introduced themselves.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: Just a reminder to turn off the electronic leashes, or at least to vibrate. We have washrooms and coffee just in the anteroom there. If there is an emergency, we’ll exit through the Granville Street entrance and proceed to Grand Parade Square.
With that I’d like to turn it over to our guests for their presentation. You can introduce yourselves and proceed.
MS. STARR DOBSON: Thank you very much, it’s a pleasure to be here. My name is Starr Dobson and I’m the President and CEO of the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia. I’ll let Colleen introduce herself.
MS. COLLEEN FRASER: I’m Colleen Fraser and I’m the Communications Coordinator of the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia.
MS. DOBSON: I thought the first thing I’d do is kind of bring you up to speed on what the foundation does, because a lot of people tend to get mental health organizations confused because so many of us have similar names. We are the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia, often confused with the Canadian Mental Health Association of Nova Scotia.
Our non-profit organization is located in the Nova Scotia Hospital in Dartmouth. We are in the Mount Hope Building. The foundation started as the Nova Scotia Hospital Foundation back in 1986 when Dartmouth resident and businessman Charles Keating decided it was important to raise funds and awareness to support patients who are living with mental illness.
A reimagining of the foundation took place in 2002 and the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia was born. The organization’s mandate at the time was broadened and it was to raise awareness and support for mental health care in the Capital District Health Authority, which is now the Nova Scotia Health Authority Central Zone, and throughout communities in Nova Scotia.
The foundation provides annual and quarterly grants. We just started quarterly grants this year and they have been very successful. Our aspirational goal and our strategic plan is to distribute $500,000 in grant funding. This year we have distributed just over $300,000, up from $203,000 the year before.
Some of the organizations we support include: Eating Disorders Nova Scotia; Kids Help Phone; Family SOS; CMHA branches from one end of the province to the other; EPIC in Cape Breton; Roots of Empathy; Summer Street Industries, well-known in Pictou County; the Schizophrenia Society of Nova Scotia; the John Howard Society; LOVE, which is a program called Leave Out Violence for young people; SOAR, Survivors of Abuse Recovering; Laing House; Adsum House; Mainline Needle Exchange; and Canadian Red Cross - so you hear a lot of organizations that you are familiar with.
We also fund in-patient groups across the Central Zone. In-patient groups focus more on programs that aren’t readily available in a hospital situation, things like art therapy, recreation therapy, wilderness and community outings, peer support sessions, coffee hours, and drama therapy. We tend to fill in all those gaps and remind patients what it is that makes them full, whole human beings.
I’d like to say that people who are living with mental illness require three things, we know that. They require doctors, they often require medication, and they do require the support of family and friends. They also require all those things that so many of us take for granted: socialization, music, art, dance, communication, beauty, learning, and so much more.
Beyond our granting program at the foundation we have a Pathways to Hope campaign. It provides lead funding for the Meriden Programme in Nova Scotia. The foundation has contributed $445,000 over the last three years to this program which serves the whole family and not just the patient.
There are two components to Meriden: Families Matter in Mental Health, and Family Work. They’re basically programs that are offered free of charge to families. They’re 11-week programs where families can come and learn about how they can identify warning signs associated with mental health triggers and how they can diffuse problems before they really start.
The response to this training has been wonderful. One clinician trained in Family Work through Meriden says: “Having family members share their specific experiences of the illness with each other - this was a powerful experience . . . and it was something that had not been done in the past, even though they had been living with mental illness in the family for many years.” I think that’s key to point out because even though people are living with mental illness, oftentimes it’s difficult to even talk amongst their own family about the issues that they’re experiencing and the concerns they have.
The foundation also works to help many partners throughout the year, and we do offer an episodic fund as well to meet emergency funding needs. We also have a Welcome Home Fund that helps in-patients who are being released from hospital get set up in their new homes.
While we are working on expanding our sustainable fundraising, right now we rely heavily on events. Just this past Friday we had our 13th annual A Different Stage of Mind fundraiser, which was a wonderful success hosted by Mayor Mike Savage who appeared on stage as Phantom of the Opera. If you weren’t there, you missed quite a show. (Laughter)
This May we will host our third annual Let’s Keep Talking event. That takes place at the Spatz Theatre, and that’s designed to remind people that Bell Let’s Talk Day doesn’t just happen one day a year - that we need to keep talking. So we’ve developed a relationship with Bell Alliant and developed this event called Let’s Keep Talking, to remind people the conversations need to continue. This year we’re incredibly pleased to be offering this event free of charge to Nova Scotians because we heard some people found it difficult to find $25 to come to the event, but they really wanted the information. So we’re working with sponsors and opening it up to be free to anyone who wants to attend, with a capacity of 700 people.
Of course, in November of this year, we will mark our 25th Anniversary of our Compass Group Canada Festival of Trees, which is really our signature fundraising event. The foundation does not receive funding from the Nova Scotia Government.
From an awareness front, the foundation has a popular website, strong social media channels - thanks to Colleen Fraser - and a dedicated group of loyal volunteers. We are so incredibly fortunate to be an organization where we have waiting lists for volunteers who want to volunteer at our events, so we consider ourselves very lucky. I think it speaks volumes to the fact that mental health truly is a cause that is first and foremost in so many people’s minds.
We also write a monthly column in The Chronicle Herald’s Senior Living publication, a quarterly article for Our Children magazine, and we produce our own half-hour talk show on CIOE 97.5 FM, and that’s on Fridays at 10:30 a.m. We do that to really connect with people on a community level. We talk a lot about prevention and about success stories because we think “hope” is truly the key word that we need to reinforce with all Nova Scotians.
The foundation is also very active when it comes to connecting with our community. We speak at schools; churches; service clubs; health expos; provincial, regional, and national conferences; and private companies. One of the programs we now offer that is really growing in popularity is our Lunch and Learn program. We ask employers to provide “the lunch,” and we in turn provide “the learn.” Our formula is very simple: we share personal first-hand experiences of living happy and productive lives with mental illness - because, yes, there really is such a thing as living a happy and productive life with mental illness.
By being welcomed into the workplace, we are able to truly connect with employees and share those important messages of hope while emphasizing the need for dialogue. As a former journalist with 23 years’ experience, I know about the power of a story. Sharing stories with positive outcomes with employees is critical. It breaks down barriers and creates safe spaces so that people feel they can come forward.
We’ve all read and watched the stories that centre on mental illness and violence, crime, and suicide, but what we need to do is start focusing more on stories about mental illness and success.
Let’s take a moment to talk about the impact of mental illness on our Canadian employers and our economy. Loss of productivity, medical fees, and unemployment due to mental illness cost the Canadian economy more than $50 billion annually - and that is billion with a “b.” Every week a half-million Canadians miss work due to mental illness or a psychiatric issue. But then think about this: only 23 per cent of people say they would talk about their mental illness with their employer, and 20 to 25 per cent of people in the workforce are affected by a mental health problem every year - that’s not in their lifetime, they’re affected every year.
Why is that? Why is it that so few people will come forward and talk when we know the numbers are so high? The answer is very simple: it’s one word and it’s a word we all know well, and the word is “stigma.” Stigma is still alive and well; it runs so deep that countless people are continuing to struggle in silence. You don’t have to be a researcher or a statistics expert to know that. Think of yourself, your own family, your friends, and your extended community; think of the people you know who are impacted by a mental health concern. Are any of us immune? I know I’m not.
One of the hardest things I ever had to do as an employee at CTV for 23 years was walk upstairs to the HR Department and ask for the Employee Family Assistance Program phone number. I remember being so incredibly embarrassed and ashamed to be a producer and cohost of the Maritimes most-watched news organization and not be able to solve my own problems. I felt like it was a weakness. Today I can honestly say the only thing I am embarrassed and ashamed about is that it took me so darn long to work up the courage to walk up those stairs, because just as I wouldn’t expect to be able to cure myself of cancer or diabetes on my own, I don’t know why I had this thought that I could cope with my problems and figure them out on my own.
What does my own personal experience say about the prevalence of mental health issues in our current labour force? It says to me that even when there are programs, and employees are educated and know they are there, they will have a difficult time admitting they need them. It’s one thing to see that EFAP contact information on a staff bulletin board, but it’s completely another thing to pick up the phone and make that call.
How can we change that? I’m going to go back to the power of the story again; talking about it helps. It sounds so incredibly simple but it’s not. Letting employees know there is a safe place to discuss their issues and concerns and, most importantly, identifying safe people who can have those personal conversations.
Nick Peters is the chair of our foundation. He is also the Director of Business Continuity at Emera. Nick is incredibly open about sharing his story of living with bipolar disorder. One of the reasons he can talk so candidly about the impact of bipolar on his life has to do with his employer, Emera; Nova Scotia Power is incredibly supportive of Nick. The company has its own peer support employee in its Health and Wellness Department and employees are encouraged to ask questions, share stories, pick up information, or simply visit the Peer Support Office. I like to use that as a great example of safe spaces at work and how they can truly make an impact.
As far as workplace initiative goes, there are many options. Mental health first aid is an accessible course that many companies are now offering to their employees and health and safety committee members. It’s a reasonably-priced course, it’s $120 for a two-day program course. I would strongly say that anyone who takes first aid should also be taking mental health first aid. It is provided to a person developing a mental health program or experiencing a mental health crisis. Just as physical first aid is administered to an injured person before medical treatment can be obtained, the Mental Health First Aid Canada Program aims to improve mental health literacy and provide the skills and knowledge to help people better manage potential or developing mental health problems in themselves, a family member, a friend, or a colleague.
I completed the course and I know it absolutely improved my mental health skills. It’s very straightforward, it’s not rocket science, and I think that’s what we need. So many people are scared to say the wrong thing when they’re dealing with mental illness or mental health concerns. There’s a very simple acronym in the mental health first aid course, it’s ALGEE and it sticks with you because: “A” is assess the risk of self-harm or suicide, and it’s the number-one thing we have to do; “L” is listen, non-judgmentally - it’s one thing to listen, it’s completely another thing to listen non-judgmentally; “G” is give reassurance and information; “E” is encourage professional help; and “E” is encourage other supports. It’s something so simple like that that can just stay with you so that if you are in a situation where you see a co-worker, someone who just needs some support and some help, having information like that in your back pocket to be able to pull out is such an important thing.
Taking mental health first aid certainly does not make me a clinician, it simply gives me guidance as to what I can do to assist until professional help arrives. There are many other programs available across Nova Scotia, including: safeTALK, which is suicide alertness for everyone; and ASIST, Applied Suicide Intervention Skills Training.
Beyond paid-for programs, there are countless ways for employers to encourage workplace discussion. Our organization, the foundation and many others - including CMHA, SSNS, and the Healthy Minds Cooperative - all offer information brochures on mental health topics. We also have extensive resource contacts. Workplaces so often post the phone numbers for Poison Control and security and emergency at the front desk and on their bulletin boards, but they also need to start posting the number for the Mental Health Mobile Crisis Team there, as well, because this number is just as important. Since we’re on the record, for the record: 1-888-429-8167 is the number. It’s a number we should all know and not be scared to call when we need it.
Health and wellness days are also commonplace across the province and they allow all employers the opportunity to make sure mental illness and mental wellness have a strong presence.
At the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia, we offer a unique program designed specifically to start conversations in Nova Scotia workplaces. It’s called Mental Health Above All. It was developed by the President and CEO of Premiere Executive Suites, Sue Bachur. The program is so incredibly simple but it opens dialogue so well. So Sue calls on local artists to paint recycled ceiling tiles that have been rescued from buildings that are about to be torn down. Then once they create them, she gifts them to businesses, organizations across the province. So they show up in dentist offices - by far my favorite place for them to show up because you’re always lying down, looking up - doctors’ offices, retail shops, they’re in office towers. You can find them at car dealerships all across Nova Scotia.
What they’re designed to do is when people walk into a room, they look up and ask what’s that? It shows that we put mental health above all. It shows that this is a safe place. It shows that if you have questions about mental health or if you want to talk about mental illness, you can. It’s an incredible program because it’s a win for the environment. It’s a win for the artists who get to have their artwork displayed. It’s a true win for Nova Scotia employers because it’s a beautiful piece of art that shows we’re safe and we’re comfortable talking about mental health.
You can find standards on psychological health and safety in the workplace. They’re available through the Mental Health Commission of Canada, the Workers’ Compensation Board, the Department of Labour and Advanced Education - and the standards are all critical resources for Nova Scotia employers and employees. The Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia does not implement standards or get involved in the advocacy surrounding them.
As mentioned earlier, the foundation exists to raise money and awareness, and in keeping with that and our vision, which is to ensure Nova Scotians with mental illness are thriving in our communities, the foundation supports any and all workplace initiatives designed to get employees talking about mental health and to create those all-important safe spaces.
Our motto at the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia is: Changing the Way People Think. I’d like to thank you all for making mental health a priority here today because just by opening up the dialogue, you are indeed helping us change the way people think about mental illness in the province.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Ms. Dobson. I have started my list with Ms. MacFarlane.
MS. KARLA MACFARLANE: Thank you so much for your most informative and thoughtful presentation. There are so many questions and so many comments, and we are limited to time. I wish this committee allowed - as you spoke about dialogue - I wish we could just have an open discussion because I think we would all benefit more from that, but I’m going to try to specifically ask a couple of questions. My first one is with regard to youth.
We all know that mental health is in a crisis here in Nova Scotia. In fact, in the last two weeks in Pictou County there have been three suicides. I am deeply concerned about all of them, but I believe that much of it starts with the youth.
Recently I met a bunch of teachers and I asked if there was something we could do for you, what would be the number-one thing? They said more support for mental health in the school system. So I’d like you to just elaborate a little bit on what exactly you do when you go into the schools to chat. Is it with the teachers, is it with the students? I know that if it is with the high school students, that’s great because you’re able to relate more, but I’m hearing that much of it starts before they even get to school and in the early grades. How do you approach that?
As well, when you mentioned about taking that course - I know I’m throwing out a lot here - can teachers take the course and is it paid for?
MS. DOBSON: Absolutely. There’s no doubt that youth are incredibly at risk when it comes to mental health concerns, mental illness, and unfortunately suicide. We know the onset of mental illness typically shows between the ages of 16 and 24.
We go to every school we are invited to and we can get to. Colleen has spoken at various elementary schools, middle schools, and I’ve spoken at high schools and to parent-teacher organizations as well. Our message is basically to talk about it and don’t be scared to ask about it and talk about things like suicide because talking about it isn’t going to make it happen.
I’ll give you an example. About a year and a half ago I was speaking at a high school, it was a Grade 12 class. I asked them what the number-one thing to do was if they were with someone and they thought that they might take their life by suicide. No one raised their hand or would even make eye contact with me. I asked again, can someone please tell me, just take a guess, like what would be the number-one thing you shouldn’t do or you should do if you have a friend who you think may hurt themselves or take their life by suicide? Again no one would look at me and make eye contact. Finally I said, you know guys, somebody must have something to say and they said they had no idea because no one had ever talked to them about suicide before, and they were Grade 12 students.
I think so many of us have become so worried about saying the wrong thing that we’re not saying anything. I told them that the number-one thing to do if you are with a friend who you think may take their life by suicide is stay with them; people don’t take their life by suicide while their friend is holding their hand, sitting beside them.
I think we need to have more conversations like that but we can’t expect teachers to be clinicians because they are not - no wonder teachers are scared to talk about it because if a teacher says the wrong thing, it’s an incredibly difficult spot to be in. I instantly turned to Dr. Stan Kutcher who has an incredible website, teenmentalhealth.org, and the work he is doing with adolescents across the province, across the country, across the globe is awe-inspiring. He truly is one of the best child experts in the world. He will tell you the same thing: talk - talk is so critical.
The Mental Health Foundation just provided a grant to students at St. F.X. to do some peer support work on campus. We support the Family SOS cyberbullying program and that connects with students in Grade 4 and Grade 8. I know that talking about it sounds simple but talking about it is truly what is going to make the difference. It begins with parents and conversations that happen around dinner tables at home too.
MS. MACFARLANE: Just one quick follow-up; once again the first aid mental health course, are we encouraging, though, teachers to take that? As well, is there an age that you have to be in order to take the course?
MS. DOBSON: As far as I know, there is not an age that you have to be to take the course. It’s funny because I was just speaking with the President and CEO of St. John Ambulance yesterday and he informed me that they have educated - I believe the number is 84,000 - students across the province in mental health first aid free of charge and people don’t know about it. I will double-check on that number for sure because I’m going by memory of a conversation we had over lunch. I do know that the course is available to anyone who wants to take it.
We actually give grants through the Mental Health Foundation for volunteers and members of certain organizations to take the training. Earlier I mentioned SOAR, Survivors of Abuse Recovering - they are based in the Annapolis Valley - and we recently funded a grant to allow all their members and volunteers to take mental health first aid training.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacDonald.
HON. MAUREEN MACDONALD: Can I ask several questions? I have two or three, they’re kind of small questions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Weave them together.
MR. GORDON WILSON: Denise isn’t here. (Laughter)
MS. DOBSON: As long as I remember to answer them.
MS. MACDONALD: Thanks very much. It’s wonderful to have you here today. One of my fondest memories as an MLA is pouring tea at the Festival of Trees event at the World Trade and Convention Centre with Jane Purves one Sunday afternoon. We had a great time, I have to say, and it’s a wonderful event.
The other thing that I think when I listened to you, I was a social worker at the Nova Scotia Hospital back in the early 1980s, and the only bit of money we had for patients came from something called the Friendless Patient Fund. You talk about stigma and kind of Victorian era judgments embedded in that. It’s so wonderful to see a foundation dedicated to raising money for people and the organizations that support them and work with families and communities at workplaces and employers. So this is wonderful.
My questions are, how much do you raise annually? Do you have an endowment? What are the fundraising trends over years? Do you have to turn groups away asking for funds and if so, how many? My last question would be around peer support because you’ve made reference to that several times. Peer support was a piece of the mental health strategy for the Province of Nova Scotia, but it’s one of the things that the government is phasing out of that mental health strategy. Certainly that’s something that concerns me because, as you indicated, peer support is not clinical support, but it has a place. It has a really important place often in prevention, often at the early stages before things become critical.
I’m wondering to what extent the foundation is consulted by government with respect to the mental health strategy. Those are my questions.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I think you have about six there. We can use supplementaries, Ms. MacDonald, and we can come back to you. Ms. Dobson.
MS. DOBSON: I’ll answer from the last question I heard, because that’s most on my mind right now. I sit on the Together We Can advisory committee, so I attend meetings - they’re typically every six weeks or so - with a number of other partners in different organizations from across the province to talk about the advancements that are being made on the strategy; what points are being checked off - as I’ve sat in on the Health Authority at Public Accounts Committee last week and you were going through the checklist. I am on the advisory committee that is involved in that, which is a very good place to be because it allows me to understand what we’re making strides in and what we aren’t.
As far as how often we are consulted by the government though - not on a regular basis at all. I’m always open to taking phone calls so I do take phone calls from anybody any time. I am of the mindset that mental health should be completely non-partisan. I’ve had conversations with all three Parties about mental health throughout my two and a half years that I’ve been there.
Peer support from my point of view and the foundation’s point of view is huge. I spoke personally about when I had to go to CTV HR to ask for help and went through the Employee Assistance Program there. Being able to speak with someone who was going through what I was going through at the same time made all the difference in the world. We are supporters of the peer support program.
We know many of the people who are certified peer support workers in the province right now and they’re wonderful people who make a difference. I see them every day when I walk into my office and go through the cafeteria in the Mount Hope building, sitting and having coffee with in-patients and outpatients in the community. The support that they bring to the treatment of mental illness and diffusing situations is tremendous.
We support peer support at Laing House, and we also support very small peer support groups - depression peer support groups. I can think of one down in the Valley. It’s just eight people, but it’s eight people who come together every week. For them, that hour that they spend together is just as critical as the time they spend talking to their psychologist or their psychiatrist - or just as important as taking their medication. So I believe peer support is huge.
Do we turn groups away? Yes. Do we ever want to turn a group away? No. The quality of our grant applications has gone through the roof. If we could fund every grant application, we would.
To give you an idea of the demand, last year we received grant applications totalling $734,000 and this year the grant applications we received totalled $1.6 million, so in a matter of 12 months we saw that more than double. It may be because the foundation’s profile is growing and more people are hearing about what we do. We did take steps this year to implement a quarterly granting program, which is something that I saw a need for when people came into the office to ask for funding for something that was fantastic, it was current, it was relevant, and it needed help - and I’d have to say, come back in 10 months.
We thought, let’s give it a crack and try quarterly grants and, as far as I know, we’re the only ones doing it right now. It has allowed us to really be reactive to relevant causes and to connect with more people. I think that’s probably also why the number of applications has gone up. When we say no to someone, we try to point them in the right direction and try to help them find funding.
Fundraising trends you asked about - people want to be more connected to the story now. I think that before we saw people, particularly companies that would want to write a cheque and support an event and have their name attached to an event, which we still see thankfully because it’s very important to our fundraising. But what we’re seeing more of now is organizations and people who want to not only give dollars, they want to engage their employees. So we’ve been working on coming up with new ways to ask for fundraising dollars that will also provide engagement.
Something else we’re developing is a named grant. This is an incredibly exciting opportunity for us at the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia and it’s really what we’re hoping will become a sustainable way of funding and a sustainable branch of funding for us in the future. As we look at the grant applications we’re getting, a lot of them fall into certain categories. What we’re developing now is a fundraising protocol where we can go to organizations or companies that share missions and visions that are in line with the applications, and get them to directly fund the grant applications.
I’ll give you an incredible example - Models for Mental Health is a fundraiser in Pictou County. It takes place in Glasgow Square and it’s the direct result of two women from the county - Lily DeYoung and Shawna Coleman - who said we want to do something to raise awareness and money for mental health in our county, we really like fashion and we think a consignment fashion show would be a great idea. I went down and MCd and we did this fashion show. They ended up raising $7,000 on a Sunday afternoon the first year. This year they raised $15,000 on a Sunday afternoon. When we were looking at what to do with the money, what we decided was wouldn’t it be fantastic to create a Pictou County community grant, so that’s exactly what we did.
The first year we developed this grant and we had $7,000 in the pot. We opened it up for organizations within Pictou County. We had Summer Street Industries Society come forward and apply for a program they had been wanting to offer to their clients for some time but they didn’t have the funding - that was to teach them to stand up, and speak up, for people who are living with mental challenges and mental illness. It also helped a small social enterprise organization that makes preserves, it’s called Preserving Our Mental Health. They make pickles and jams. It was a great example of two volunteers from a community who came forward and, as a result, engaged their entire community.
This year when we open up our annual grants we have $15,000 in the Pictou County pot, which has also been supplemented by other people in Pictou County who have come forward with other employee fundraising initiatives, so it’s growing. It’s an example of a community wanting to do something, the Mental Health Foundation being able to help them do that because we have the people and the programs in place to implement it.
We’re very excited about that and we’d encourage anybody anywhere across the province who wants to do something to get involved. It’s also a great opportunity for businesses as well, Maureen, to encourage a business that has a youth mental help priority - well, then, help us fund a youth mental health grant and then maybe we won’t have to turn away half those applications because we’ll have separate pots of money to fund them.
We fundraise typically about $1 million to $1.2 million each year. We do that primarily through events, but also through our Spring and Fall appeals. And I think that’s it for the questions.
MS. MACDONALD: Endowments?
MS. DOBSON: We do have endowments, yes. Our Pathways to Hope campaign is really used for education and housing - two things that we know are critically important when it comes to mental health. That funds our Meriden Programme - our Families Work and our Families Matter in mental health, and our Welcome Home fund.
MR. CHAIRMAN: I’ll move on now to Mr. Wilson.
MR. GORDON WILSON: I guess the only comment right off the bat, I’d say it’s a double-edged sword when you let them ask six questions because I think they took two or three of ours, but that’s good. Actually, I wouldn’t mind expanding on one of the original questions that Ms. MacDonald brought up.
Just before that - an interesting comment, and maybe if I get a chance to go around, I’ll ask this as a question later, but there has been an interesting study that I’ve been following and a release came out here just recently about happiness. Harvard University did an extensive study on what makes people happy, which is all we really want out of life. It’s not money . . .
HON. CHRISTOPHER D’ENTREMONT: Is politics in there?
MR. GORDON WILSON: It’s not politics, no. What it is, is security in a relationship. It’s as simple as that.
In the mental health world, what’s interesting is - you made the comment about you can have mental illness and be happy, which is very true, but it only happens if you have - and you also mentioned the peer support, the support groups, and all those important things that we need to have in any relationship to know that we’re secure and we have a safety net behind us or in front of us.
I don’t know if there is an initiative within your organization or the Nova Scotia Health Authority to try to foster relationships; to try to encourage and allow people to have partnerships. I see it in my community an awful lot. I see a lot of people with mental health problems who are alone, and I see ones who are partnered. It’s truly day and night the difference. Sometimes some of those barriers could be housing. Sometimes some of those barriers could be even navigating through the Department of Community Services together is difficult. It’s just a statement.
I more wanted to get back to Ms. MacDonald’s question around engagement. I’m curious - as an organization I think she touched on it, but I didn’t really get the answer I was looking for. You play a role as a non-governmental that fills a gap that government doesn’t fill. How do you build your strategic planning? Where do you get your information on what your outcomes are, what you would like to achieve? How does that feed into your organization? Do you have strategic planning sessions? Where do you get that information? Does it come to you? Do you go look for it?
Your comment on pushing it out the other end - certainly not in programs, but your engagement with government - I sensed a bit of frustration that in the past it has been very difficult for you to get into that world. I’m sure it was a difficult world. Hopefully it has changed because with nine different health authorities, you would be working with nine different entities. Again, this might be some of the fruit that we can find with one health authority, maybe we can kick a door open. Can you give me that answer from one end to the other on the strategic planning?
MS. DOBSON: Our strategic plan guides every decision we make at the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia. I was incredibly fortunate to come on board the foundation after the strategic plan had already been put in place. It doesn’t really provide us with a framework for evaluation, but it’s really fitting that you brought that up because that’s what we’re working on right now. That has been identified as something we need to work on, because it’s difficult to evaluate success when success is awareness-building and stigma-busting and it’s difficult to measure that.
I’m going to start by talking about - you mentioned the support of people, how you see people in your community who have support and who don’t. Recreation therapy is huge. Actually February is Recreation Therapy Month. Recreation therapy is all about helping people and showing people how to maintain those important things that provide them with happiness. It could be something as simple as going for a walk, going for a hike, photography, music, whatever it might be.
You mentioned about needing someone to help navigate the system. I’m going to draw your attention, if you don’t know about the Healthy Minds Cooperative and their patient navigator, he is a fantastic resource. We send so many people to him from the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia. I’ll get Colleen to get the information and the phone number for me and make sure we pass that along to you. He is there to help people navigate the system. You can call him or email him and he walks you through - this is what you need to do, this is how you can get help. Right now he is focused on HRM but he can provide some assistance in Nova Scotia.
Personally, I believe that if we had a Nova Scotia patient navigator that it would be the biggest step in the right direction for helping people who are struggling in silence right now. One of the things we hear a lot at the foundation is that people are too overwhelmed by the system and they don’t know where to go or where to turn and they are scared that if they pick up the phone and call somewhere and it’s the wrong place that they don’t know what is going to happen as a result. I think if we were able to have a provincial patient navigator to help people through the system here it would be a huge step in the right direction.
Working with government, I didn’t mean to imply frustration so much in getting access to government. For me it’s more that my role at the Mental Health Foundation isn’t necessarily an advocacy role and sometimes I have a lot to say so my role at the foundation is to raise awareness and to raise funding. If I could make one observation, it’s that we need to just streamline and become one voice more in the Province of Nova Scotia, all the organizations that are out there.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you. Before I move on to Mr. Stroink, I just wanted to, in the spirit of Let’s Talk, I’ve been generous in terms of the lengthy preambles, but if we can focus our questions, you’ve got a bit of time to prepare your questions so focus them in as best you can. Mr. Stroink.
MR. JOACHIM STROINK: Thank you very much for your presentation. I guess I kind of want to touch on a couple of things, I promise I won’t do a big preamble.
MR. GORDON WILSON: You’re making me feel bad. (Laughter)
MR. STROINK: I guess for me one of the things that is a big player in the mental health area is the non-visual disabilities - ADD, dyslexia - where that stems into a mental health issue if it’s not dealt with at an early age. I think with the government’s plan and with early intervention, SchoolsPlus, those programs are really addressing that. I think hoping down the road - there’s no proof yet - that we will be able to see a decline in the mental health, especially within the school-age kids because they are getting that.
I guess with the defunct LDANS and LDAC in Canada struggling, too, that’s a big, empty void that I think you guys are bearing the brunt of. I just kind of want to see where your thoughts are in the support that’s needed for you guys within that kind of close-knit group of people who need help. That’s one part of the question.
MS. DOBSON: Well it’s interesting, when I left CTV and came over to the Mental Health Foundation I had a lot to learn because as a reporter, I’d like to say I knew a little bit about a lot and then it was time to learn a lot about a little bit. One of the things that really surprised me about mental illness is that autism, ADHD, and dementia fell under the umbrella because I hadn’t really understood that. I knew that post-traumatic stress, depression, anxiety, bipolar, schizophrenia, but I didn’t realize that autism, ADHD, and dementia were under there, too, so there is a growing demand and it’s reflected in our grant applications.
We receive requests from Autism Nova Scotia and from organizations that are helping children with learning disabilities. Every time, all we hear is that early intervention is truly key, so anything we can do to raise the awareness of that we’d fully support at the foundation and we’d fully support people coming forward and sharing more stories about their struggles and their successes with autism and ADHD.
MR. STROINK: I think that’s where I see the desperate need is a voice, and maybe you guys are the voice to pull out those success stories, because those are the ones that are not being told because of the stigma that’s attached to it. My encouragement to you guys would be to help find those people because if you can find five of those people, you’re probably saving about 30 kids.
Sorry for this little bit, but there was a very powerful story that was written in The Coast magazine about the star hockey player from Dartmouth who ended up jumping off the bridge because he didn’t understand his ADD. If we have the ability to teach those stories and tell those stories, then we aren’t going to be dealing with those suicide stories. We’re going to deal about the success stories, and that’s where I’m happy to help and encourage that avenue.
MS. DOBSON: That’s where language is so key. I’ll go back to the telling stories again, but the way we talk about mental illness is key. I remember when I was involved in the #308conversations - the MPs were asked to host #308conversations about mental illness and suicide prevention and postvention. One of the comments that stuck with me the most was from a mom who lost her son to suicide and she said: If a clinician asked my son, are you living with depression right now, he probably would have said no. But if someone had asked my son, are you feeling hopeless right now, he would have been able to relate and he probably would have said yes. So the way we talk about it, especially to young people, is key.
I wanted to mention, at our fundraiser on Friday night, our top fundraiser, was a young guy named Matt Burgar - a 23-year-old student at Dalhousie, diagnosed with a learning disability at age 14. He openly shared his story and performed as Bob Dylan and he took the house down. He was amazing, he did such a fantastic job. As a result, Dalhousie University has nominated him for an award - the Student Impact Award that he is now in the running for. Hats off to Matt because he talks openly about the struggles he has. He’s not just in his third-year of university struggling with everything that everybody else is - he’s also dealing with his learning disability on top of that. So we are trying to find those stories and we will continue to share them.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. d’Entremont.
MR. D’ENTREMONT: My question revolves around - and I think Gordon asked that question a little bit along the way too. When we started off, it was the Nova Scotia hospital foundation, and it then became the Capital Health foundation. Now we’re the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia dealing with the Nova Scotia Health Authority. I’m just wondering how you’re finding the expanded requirements of the new authority are working with you. How are you getting to those other communities - to Yarmouth, to Sydney - those extreme ends of the province? Are you able to serve the requests that are coming from those areas as well? It used to be focused pretty much in the city and it has expanded over the years as we’ve gone along.
MS. DOBSON: I am a rural Nova Scotian, and you don’t have to travel to many rural communities across Nova Scotia to know that they are having a difficult time. They don’t have access to services and the entire province is critically important to us at the foundation. We just started a new campaign called Opening Doors, and it allows us to visit five rural communities across the province and share mental illness information free of charge with people who come out.
We did our first session in Pictou County, in Alma actually. It was wonderful. We brought Dr. Alexa Bagnell, who is the Interim Chief of Child and Adolescent Psychiatry at the IWK Health Centre now. We brought Bob Ransom who is a gentleman who lives with mental illness and speaks openly. We went there and just talked openly about what the community told us they wanted to hear more about. What Pictou County identified was depression and youth, so that’s what we focused on.
Next month we’re heading to the Valley. Our location and date are yet to be determined but we’re going to ask people in the Annapolis Valley, through our website. Colleen puts out a call on our website for people to tell us what it is you need to learn more about. Is it self-harm? Is it suicide? Is it anxiety? Is it senior depression and grief? Is it dementia? Then we tailor a communications session to go into the community and provide that.
We’ll also be going to Cape Breton, down to Digby and we’ll be visiting a First Nations community as well. I can say, as a person from Pictou County, the rural areas are incredibly important to me and I do communicate with organizations from one tip of the province to the other. When we are doing our grant, releasing our funds, the geography of the province absolutely comes into play.
MR. D’ENTREMONT: As a quick follow-up, from a fundraising standpoint, the majority of your larger fundraising issues happen here in the city or pretty close to the city. Are there opportunities to go to those other areas to have a Festival of Trees or something like that in Yarmouth or Sydney? I know it takes people to do that and there’s travel time and everything that goes with it, but are there partner associations that you might be able to call upon to help with fundraising activities as well?
MS. DOBSON: Really, we rely solely on community volunteers. As I mentioned at the start of my presentation, we’re one of the incredibly fortunate organizations that has a waiting list of volunteers. We’re also an incredibly fortunate organization that picks up the phone some days and it’s a person who has decided they want to do something for us in their community, so we are very fortunate to have that happen.
As far as working with other organizations, we connect with the people we provide grants to on a regular basis. Colleen is in touch with them to get their stories of success and we share them throughout the year, through interim reports and final reports.
Yes, it is a challenge to make the entire Province of Nova Scotia feel engaged. We try to partner with as many people as we possibly can.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Treen.
MS. JOYCE TREEN: Thank you for your presentation. I have two questions that are totally unrelated. About the grants, the list of grants, is it available online? Is that the process in which you do it, and how big or small can your group be to apply for these grants?
MS. DOBSON: Everything is available on our website. If you go to mentalhealthns.ca/grants, you’ll find a complete listing of all the grants we’ve funded through 2015-16 so far, as well as the ones from 2014-15, and complete applications and when the call for applications closes. Everything is outlined there.
MS. TREEN: And it doesn’t matter how big or how small your group, there are no limitations? It could be a church group or . . .
MS. DOBSON: It could be anything as long as there’s a mental health mandate. One of our bigger grants that we gave last year was to the Mainline Needle Exchange in downtown - I think it’s on Gottingen Street in Halifax. It was for a patient navigator for the needle exchange. We gave them $21,500 for a grant to help pay for that position so that person could be there to help people who were showing up.
Now compare that to a grant which is one of our favourite grants that we have funded for the last number of years, it’s $500. We give a $500 grant to Emerald Hall, which is a hall in the Nova Scotia Hospital for people who are living with mental challenges and mental illness. There’s a woman there who, because of the $500, is able to work one hour once a week, serving coffee upstairs to her peers and staff. For her that is the day she looks forward to most. That hour means so much because she is valued. That kind of shows you that something as small as $500 can have an impact, and then right up to something that is over $20,000.
MR. CHAIRMAN: You were short on the preamble so you’ve got a quick one here, Ms. Treen.
MS. TREEN: As an MLA in my office and stuff, most of the calls when they’re coming in are concerning - it has to do with your navigator and all - where to go, how to get help. I gather as much information as I can to build that resource for when people call.
Could you put together all your pamphlets? I didn’t know about this family programs thing, which would be very helpful. Can you put together that and give it to all of us MLAs? We can advertise it on our Facebooks and all our advertising opportunities and stuff if we had this. I know we would all probably want to do that and have that information, if you don’t mind.
MS. DOBSON: Not only do I not mind, but I would welcome the opportunity with open arms. We will happily pull together all of our information and share it with every Member of the Legislative Assembly for sure.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wilson.
MR. GORDON WILSON: That was quick. A couple of questions were taken. I’ll ask maybe a tough question. Our strategy has been rolled out, Together We Can - we’re in the early years of that and the checklist is being ticked off. If it was Christmas and you had a wish list, what’s your wish to government that we could do better in that strategy?
MS. DOBSON: That’s a great question. If it was Christmas, the top thing on my wish list would be to develop a mental health navigation system for the Province of Nova Scotia.
MR. GORDON WILSON: So the Healthy Minds Cooperative position - this would be specific to that position that you’re talking about that’s currently in the province?
MS. DOBSON: I believe it would be something completely new that would serve all Nova Scotians. No matter where they live in the province, they could pick up the phone and ask what is available to me right now in my community, how do I access it - this is what’s happening in my house right now, I don’t know how to deal with it, what do I do?
If you think of a cancer care navigator - there is a huge need for someone to make sense of the mental health system, not just from a government perspective, but from all of those organizations that exist that we don’t know about. I consider myself fairly educated when it comes to the organizations that are out there and I learn about new organizations every week. They’re out there doing work that’s so important and could help so many families.
I also know that there are a lot of people who are scared to pick up the phone because they don’t know what the outcome is going to be. It’s a scary thing to pick up the phone and call 911 because your child is threatening you - is that something you want to do? You know your child needs help, but is it something that you’re prepared to do? The thing with mental illness and the crises that arise is that there is no cut-and-dried answer. Your child falls off the roof, they have a broken leg, so you call 911 and you take them to emergency. It’s difficult to know who to contact and when to contact, and to make the decision to put yourself out there.
So a patient navigator system would be key because I truly believe we have enough concerned citizens and support groups and volunteers and peer supporters - people who have been through it that want to share the knowledge they know - that we can help people who need help, and there is hope. We just need to show people how to connect to it.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Stroink.
MR. STROINK: I guess going on to your newest initiative, which I’m very happy and proud that you guys are leaning on - Brigadoon, as that’s a close part of my family and our charity of choice for our businesses and family. It plays a huge role in our lives. So Camp BELIEVE and what you’re trying to accomplish there - if you could share that with some of our committee members because that’s pretty new for you guys.
On top of that, what nature plays and what the outdoors plays in mental health and healthiness - and the importance of that and peace of mind and the healing process. Nature deficit disorder also plays a huge role in mental health and mental health well-being. I guess you’re kind of accomplishing both with Camp BELIEVE, dealing with health that the environment can offer, and your needs as a camp. The girl who spoke and the family that spoke at your event at Christmas was phenomenal on the importance of Brigadoon and where that plays in our society. So if you could just share that with the colleagues here because I think it’s an important story that needs to be told.
MS. DOBSON: Camp BELIEVE is a brand-new initiative that we just launched at Festival of Trees and we were very fortunate to receive great support at the event. About two years ago I spoke at a Recovery to Discovery peer support group, and when I finished speaking two ladies had kind of stayed behind and asked if they could speak to me privately. One of the women asked if I knew of any place for children of parents who were living with mental illness to go get help. I was relatively new to the field and I didn’t.
When I said, no, I don’t - why? - she expressed to me that as a mum who suffered with depression, the thing that worried her and caused her the most concern of all was the impact of her disease on her children. She said she lived with incredible guilt all the time because of those days when her and her family would be scheduled to do something and she just couldn’t get out of bed. She wondered if there was somewhere her kids could go to be with other children who knew what that was like. It has always kind of stuck with me.
One of the things we wanted to demonstrate at the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia is that we are a partnership organization and we completely believe in working with other providers of mental health services. We thought here’s a great opportunity to partner with Brigadoon and create a camp for children whose parents are living with mental illness, so that’s what we’ve been able to do. It’s called Camp BELIEVE because the theme at our Festival of Trees in November of last year was “believe” - let’s all believe that there is hope and that we can change the way people think. It will run from July 24th to 29th and it will run at the same time as Camp Kedooopse, which is a camp dedicated to helping children who are going through the grieving process, so it’s a bereavement camp. A lot of the people who are already at the camp will be able to help with the Camp BELIEVE campers. It is for ages 8 to 17.
If anyone in your constituencies, if you know of someone who is living with mental illness and they have children between the ages of 8 and 17 who would benefit from spending a week in the beautiful Annapolis Valley at camp where they can talk to other children who know what it’s like when mum can’t get out of bed because she’s living with depression or when they can overhear dad talking back to the voices in his head because he is struggling with psychosis and they don’t have to put up a shield and pretend that this isn’t happening at home, they can talk to other kids, please share the information with them. It’s all on our website.
As far as speaking to the healing power of nature, we know that it’s key. Physical activity and connectedness with nature is key to human happiness. It’s funny, a lot of the time when I share my messaging about mental illness and mental health and self-care, I almost feel like it’s so simple that it isn’t taken seriously. When we talk about the power of sharing stories and the power of talking, it sounds so simple but it is so powerful. If you went to your doctor and she wrote a prescription out and said this will be a prescription to make you happy for the rest of your life and it said enjoy some fresh air and exercise every day and eat well and sleep well, people might take it more seriously but it really does contribute to your overall mental health.
MR. STROINK: With that, and an area that you know obesity is a huge part of Nova Scotia problems and unfortunately it’s everywhere in Nova Scotia, from one end to the other. Do you guys work on nutrition and food and the importance of that, if you eat healthy it creates a healthy mind and taking the time to do that? Unfortunately the access to unhealthy foods is so dramatic in Nova Scotia, I’m just curious, what do you guys do as part of teaching these people that if you drink water instead of Coke, you are going to feel better which, in turn, will mentally make you feel better?
MS. DOBSON: One of the named grants that was brand new last year is the Compass Group Canada Community Grant. That grant specifically deals with food - food preparation, food security. We put that out there this year and we supported the Veith House community kitchen which was a kitchen on Veith Street in Halifax that was in desperate need of a makeover and new appliances. We were able to contribute the money to make that happen so that people from the community can come in and learn how to prepare healthy, inexpensive meals.
Another program that we supported was called the We Dig Food Program; it was at a farm in the Valley, I believe. It taught children about the importance of going in and getting their hands dirty, growing the food from the ground up - harvesting and preparing food. We don’t provide services aimed at nutrition and mental health, but we certainly support programs that do throughout the province.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Gough.
MR. STEPHEN GOUGH: Thank you for your presentation. Like Ms. Treen, I would really appreciate if you could put a package together so we can become more aware of what is available.
Here today, I listened to your presentation and we talk about first aid training. Most everyone is familiar with first aid training and many of us - especially working with youth or part of our jobs, we had to take first aid training as well. Then to hear that there’s a program in place for mental health first aid training - I’m just wondering, is there any particular target for that training? Who is it suited more for?
MS. DOBSON: I think it’s suited for every Nova Scotian. Right now it’s targeted toward employers so employers can make it available to members of their health and safety committees and employees. It is targeted to students, as we talked about it a little bit. It’s targeted to volunteers and organizations. Our staff at the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia took the training. It is available to anyone who wants to take the course. I think it’s just a matter of letting people know it exists - just that navigation piece again.
MR. GOUGH: That’s great to hear. I was thinking, and I don’t know if it’s because I have a 16-year-old who - it has been challenging for him being a 16-year-old, and also for my wife and me as parents. We have an older son who is 21 and we never went through the things we’re going through with my 16-year-old, so I was just thinking about the possibility of this mental health first aid training being targeted to the students. There would be key students that would qualify more so than others. That’s who they use for their information now when they’re going through many of their struggles and challenges - they talk to their friends.
In our situation, in order to try to get my message through to my son, I had to talk to his friends. You could only pick certain ones that you felt would put the answers that were more positive or whatever, and I found that works very well. You mentioned about holding their hand - I know in the high school that my son goes to, there are a lot of students that are holding the hands of their friends because of what they’re dealing with. Sometimes it’s just issues at home, depending on how things come about, but many of our students are dealing with mental health.
I talked to the principal of the high school that’s in my constituency and she told me that 80 per cent of the students that come through her door are dealing with mental health issues. They’re all off the spectrum - it’s not just like to have a breakdown. She said someone could be going through a mental health issue because they broke up with their boyfriend or their girlfriend or whatever. So I like the idea of looking at the students to equip them with the knowledge that could possibly help their friends that are dealing with some basic issues. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. Dobson, do you have a comment there?
MS. DOBSON: Yes, when you were talking about that it made me think that I should mention that Dalhousie University has a student-led volunteer program of mental health first aid providers. St. John Ambulance is working with St. F.X. University and Acadia University right now in hopes of having their volunteer student-led mental health first aid providers up and running.
For our Let’s Keep Talking event that’s coming up on May 3rd, for example, I had a meeting at Dalhousie, and the students there are going to be on site at the Spatz Theatre for us that evening so that we can tell people that if they’re triggered at any point during the event by something someone says that it is a safe place and there are mental health first aid providers located in the building who would be able to help them and assist them outside the room. So that’s a great example of young people getting involved and being the people that young people turn to and talk to.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. d’Entremont.
MR. D’ENTREMONT: Even to sort of what Mr. Gough had to say here, Stan Kutcher has been around and talked about trying to get mental health practitioners more connected to our schools, so not only do you have that opportunity for youth but that whole community being able to access services that they don’t have today, but that was just sort of a secondary thought. If you ever have an opportunity to sit and talk to Stan - Dr. Kutcher - listen to him because he has some wonderful ideas.
I think the navigation issue is a wonderful idea because people come to our offices because they can’t seem to understand where to access the next step in their process with either their youth, their loved one, or whoever. I think that’s an important process. I feel completely unarmed when somebody comes in to our offices, and I know that everybody has probably had that at this point, saying listen, I’ve got this problem and then you’re sort of scratching your head, especially for a rural to say listen, the best you can do is pack up and head off to Halifax because I know you’re not going to get it here in Yarmouth or you’re not going to get it here in Amherst, you’re going to have to go to the IWK for it. Those are tremendous challenges for us when trying to access where those services are.
In order for those services to be offered in areas, of course, there’s a lot of little organizations that get set up and try to do their work. The one I think about - eating disorders was talked about - there are all kinds of these little groups. Last year the government did cut back on some of their core funding. Have you seen people coming back to you saying, government is giving me a little less, can you give me a little more, so they can keep up their important work so they don’t leave that hole in place?
MS. DOBSON: Absolutely we have. I think we saw that more this year because we had the quarterly grants. Eating Disorders Nova Scotia is an example of an organization that came to us as a result of having funding cut. I believe they lost $12,000 in funding and we were able to . . .
MR. D’ENTREMONT: Which doesn’t sound like a whole lot when you’re talking about a budget of $8 billion, but $12,000 for them is huge.
MS. DOBSON: Yes. We were fortunately in a position where it fit with our mission and vision as well, what they were providing, and it was for peer support for people who are struggling with eating disorders. We were able to make up that shortfall of the $12,000 for them.
MR. D’ENTREMONT: Did you see it with other organizations at all?
MS. DOBSON: I can’t say for sure. We have received applications from other organizations that have received government funding in the past but I’m not sure if it was driven because they were cut back or not.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacFarlane.
MS. MACFARLANE: I want to thank you for playing such a great presence in Pictou County. I know you’ve invested a lot of time and effort there and we’re grateful for that. I wanted to go back - actually our vice-chairman, Mr. Wilson, as well as our member Mr. Gough, indicated earlier, and you as well, the importance of having your network there, holding hands. I’m a firm believer of that, just stay with them. It’s a struggle, though, because, as you know, our beds were taken away in Pictou County in August. I have had constituents go as far as Yarmouth or Sydney, where they have lost that network of support and love.
I struggle with that because I’ve seen how it has broken them and sadly, I can’t fix it. I’m wondering if you can add any comment to that, what the negative impact is it actually has on the victim of a mental illness, as well as their family.
MS. DOBSON: There’s no doubt that the support of family and friends is critical when it comes to the recovery process for mental illness. There’s no doubt that when someone is at one end of the province and the family and friends are at the other, it makes it incredibly difficult for that to happen.
I think because of where we live, the geography of our province, that many people find themselves in situations like that, regardless of the reason they are being hospitalized, specialty services that are only offered in one location and not in another, I think we need to remember that. I think we need to try to take steps to help get family members, to give them easier access to travel with a patient and recognize the fact that they are part of the recovery process.
When the closure was announced at the Aberdeen Hospital, we received a lot of calls. People were really nervous and they thought it was a hopeless situation. Our friends at CMHA Nova Scotia were receiving the same calls, as were our friends at Big Brothers Big Sisters in Pictou County. So what we did is, we went to Pictou County and organized a community session with organizations that were concerned and talked about what we can do to let people know that there is hope, that there are people who love and support them still.
What we came up with was to develop a Pictou County resource. So we did that and we worked for several weeks as organizations through email and built it together. CMHA Nova Scotia produced resource material for people in Pictou County that includes contact information of all those organizations.
One of the things we did talk about is trying to come up with a fund to help provide transportation when needed because that’s often what the problem is - people can’t afford it. Sometimes families don’t even have a car. So what we were hearing is there were organizations in Pictou County at the women’s centre, for instance, where they were spending money out of their budget that they wouldn’t normally have had to spend because instead of having their people go to the Aberdeen or go to Truro, they were having to go much farther.
MS. MACFARLANE: Just a quick follow-up. Do you believe that in Nova Scotia it’s unbalanced? I’ll give you an example. Pictou County has a population of 46,000 people and we have currently at the moment, I believe, two psychiatrists. Truro has a population of 60,000-some people and they have eight to nine psychiatrists. So do you think there is an unbalanced approach in Nova Scotia to mental illness in addressing it in the rural areas?
MS. DOBSON: I’ll be completely honest with you and say I’m not an expert in this field. It’s not something that I spend time analyzing in my role as the president and CEO of the foundation where our mandate is to raise funding and to raise awareness. I believe that if people know how to access the service, the service is there for them in the province. I do believe that people can get access to help.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Mr. Wilson.
MR. GORDON WILSON: You touched briefly on First Nations. I’m glad to hear that you’re coming down into my riding. Because they have that federal-provincial crossover on jurisdictional things, service delivery is sometimes challenging. What is the programming that you provide across Nova Scotia for First Nations?
MS. DOBSON: I was just checking in with Colleen here because I know we have a grant that we support every year that is specific to First Nations. It’s through LOVE - Leave Out Violence - First Nations leadership training. It’s a grant that we provide funding to so that they can provide anti-violence training to members of the First Nation, to then share with the community at large.
MR. GORDON WILSON: So you’re coming down to Bear River First Nation - nice to hear. What would you be engaging them in a discussion on specifically? Do you have an agenda or do you just come down to listen?
MS. DOBSON: We have specifically made our Opening Doors campaigns non-agenda driven - we ask the community what they want information on. So we’ll be asking the communities that we’re planning to visit what they want to learn more about. Then we create the program to bring to them to address their needs.
MR. GORDON WILSON: So this isn’t just specific to Bear River First Nation. You would be going to many First Nations . . .
MS. DOBSON: We’ll be doing one First Nation before the end of September and then we’ll be hopefully continuing to do more after September.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Ms. MacDonald.
MS. MACDONALD: We could probably spend a lot of time here talking about these things. We haven’t touched on seniors and dementia and some of the work you might be doing in that field, but I’ll tell you the thing that I’m most interested in hearing you speak to, as we near the end, is the whole question of the use of marijuana. The Canadian centre for addictions awareness was here in Halifax and they’re going across the country. They are attempting to raise awareness about the research so far with respect to the impact of marijuana use on young people. There’s a growing body of empirical research that has raised concerns about early psychosis being triggered in young people who use marijuana.
My question is whether or not this is a piece of work that the foundation does as part of your awareness-raising, given that there are these concerns. I think Doctors Nova Scotia has expressed concerns, the Canadian Medical Association has expressed concerns. Are you involved or do you have any plans to be involved around this particular issue, which I think is going to become more prevalent as we see policy changes in the country?
MS. DOBSON: I mentioned Dr. Stan Kutcher earlier as being one of the people we can be incredibly proud of calling a Nova Scotian. Someone else who I believe we have a lot to learn from is Dr. Phil Tibbo. Dr. Tibbo is the person who runs the show at the Nova Scotia Early Psychosis Program which is located at the Abbie J. Lane. His main area of research is on the impact of cannabis on the teenage brain. I know Dr. Tibbo is doing a lot of work on raising awareness and research and trying to get more information out.
As far as our connections to raising awareness on this from the foundation, that’s not something we would do. Having said that, we certainly are a supporter of the Nova Scotia Early Psychosis Program and we have provided grants for patients who go through the program there.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Are there any other questions? This would be an opportunity then if you would like to make a few final comments before we wrap.
MS. DOBSON: In closing, I’d just like to thank you again for making mental health a priority. There’s no health without mental health, we’ve all heard that statement before; it truly is true. It needs to be a topic discussed openly and safely in Nova Scotia workplaces. One in three workplace disability claims is related to mental illness and 70 per cent of disability costs are attributed to mental illness. The numbers speak for themselves. Nova Scotia employers need to strive for a workplace environment that promotes good mental health. It’s socially responsible, it’s cost effective, and it improves employee retention.
There are many free tools and training modules available online. The National Standard of Canada for Psychological Health and Safety in the Workplace is a voluntary standard. I would challenge Nova Scotia employers, though, to consider making it mandatory in their workplaces.
Mental illness is not going away and the longer an employee is absent from work due to illness, the less chance there is of a successful return to work. We need to encourage open discussion and we need to share those positive stories of success. There is hope, there is recovery, and by working together, Nova Scotians can change the way people think about mental illness. Thank you.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Thank you, Ms. Dobson and Ms. Fraser, for joining us. I just wanted to sum up and thank you both for your work. Your strong, articulate voice for mental health in this province was certainly exhibited here today. I think all the committee members benefited greatly from your advice and your experience and leadership, so on behalf of everyone, I’d like to thank you. We’re all seeing this in our constituency offices, we’re having strong kids being affected by mental illness with their peers in the classrooms. This is a challenge for all of us in Nova Scotia, and again, I want to thank you on behalf of the committee and Nova Scotians for your work.
MS. DOBSON: Thank you, Mr. Chairman.
MR. CHAIRMAN: We’ll now take a short break before we move to committee business.
[11:24 a.m. The committee recessed.]
[11:29 a.m. The committee reconvened.]
MR. CHAIRMAN: I’d like to call the committee back to order. I think we’re all here. Committee business - we have correspondence from the Department of Labour and Advanced Education concerning information we requested at our last meeting from Deputy Minister Montgomerie. That is before you. Can I have agreement to accept that?
It is agreed.
Next we have appointments for agencies, boards and commissions. We have two appointments to one board and an appointment to a second board. I need two motions. Could I have the first motion, Mr. Wilson?
MR. GORDON WILSON: Mr. Chairman, I move that the following be appointed to the Canada-Nova Scotia Offshore Petroleum Board: Roger Percy as a provincial board member and Harold Giddens as an alternate provincial member.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Is there any discussion? Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
Do I have a second motion? Mr. Wilson.
MR. GORDON WILSON: I move that Wayne Mason be appointed to the Halifax-Dartmouth Bridge Commission as chair and member. (Interruptions) You know them better than we do.
MR. CHAIRMAN: Okay, order please. Here we go, we’re almost done. So Mr. Wayne Mason has been nominated and moved by Mr. Wilson. Is there any discussion?
Would all those in favour of the motion please say Aye. Contrary minded, Nay.
The motion is carried.
The next meeting is March 29th. Is the 10:00 a.m. time working for folks? We’re okay on that, 10:00 a.m. to 12:00 noon?
At this point we do not have a witness lined up, staff continue to work on that. At the very least we’ll have ABCs.
With that, I’d like to extend thanks again to all our staff, legal counsel, Hansard, Legislative TV, and our staff in the caucuses for supporting us today.
With that, I’d like to adjourn the meeting. Thank you.
[The committee adjourned at 11:31 a.m.]