South Dundas residents may be unaware that professional help with mental health issues is much nearer than they may have supposed.
In December of 2010, the Canadian Mental Health Association, Champlain East, established a satellite office in the Morrisburg Plaza. The Morrisburg facility is linked to main offices in Cornwall and Hawkesbury. It has been established to directly serve clients in need in the Dundas area.
The Morrisburg office has two case managers, Linda Lloyd and Stéphane Fortin, on site, to help clients dealing with mental health issues.
“We are not a crisis centre,” Lloyd and Fortin explained. “If a person or loved one is in immediate crisis, the family should contact the crisis line in the phone book. We have dealt with some crisis calls in the past, but we immediately directed these callers to the right response teams.”
Instead, the Morrisburg case managers work on a wholly volunteer basis. A client must agree to referral to a case manager, and must take the “initial step” to seek help.
Community support services, like the Morrisburg satellite office, offer client-centred services designed to enhance the rehabilitation, adjustment and community integration of those 16 or older living with a severe psychiatric disability.
“A client has to volunteer for the services we provide,” Fortin explained. “There are no fees and no contracts in our service, but a client has to make a personal choice to continue the program. We don’t prescribe medicines or counselling or therapy. We are strictly case managers. What we do is connect people to the resources and the professionals who can best help and serve them.”
Case managers like Fortin and Lloyd are funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health and have backgrounds in social work.
“There is a real diversity of educational backgrounds among the 24 case managers who serve the five counties through our four satellite offices,” Fortin said. “Each case manager comes from a different educational background. We have addiction specialists, probation specialists and psychiatric nurses. As a team, we offer a lot of strengths which can provide help to people.”
The training and experience that individual case managers bring to clients often enhances the help they receive.
“I think we sometimes act as a pair of extra eyes for our clients,” Lloyd said. “We sometimes can see an issue manifesting itself, and can then direct a client to specifically discuss it with the doctor.”
CHMA community support services are flexible and portable. They are designed to facilitate maximum client participation and self-determination.
Case managers provide individualized support and opportunities to learn and practice essential life skills needed for independent living. Because they improve clients’ ability to access services, they may help reduce the incidence of hospital re-admission.
Despite the great improvements in mental health treatments and options, both Fortin and Lloyd are aware that the stigma attached to mental illness has not disappeared.
“The stigma is out there at every age level,” Fortin said.
“Sadly, I think a lot of mental illness is still pretty much hidden,” Lloyd said. “From my experience, what I often see is people suffering in silence. I find there is a tendency in rural areas to keep silent, to not admit there is a need and to seek help. A number of factors enter into this: lack of resources, transportation problems, few accessible doctors. These can all act as barriers to someone needing help.”
“Of course, people in large communities can also choose to isolate themselves,” Fortin said. “In this area, Dundas county, the public is most definitely under-served. There is no one actually practising psychiatry in this area. Our cases have to be referred to Ottawa or Cornwall.”
Have there been some positive changes on the mental health scene in the last decade or so?
“Well, we’re here now,” Lloyd said. “I think there is a growing understanding of the real need for community outreach. Workshops and educational venues are far more in evidence. I’m an optimist. I believe the situation is getting better. There are some very good people reaching out to those in need.”
“I think we have better educational programs to create public awareness than 10 years ago,” Fortin added.
“People with mental health issues go to work, love their children, contribute to society,” Lloyd explained. “People with mental health issues are all around us, not locked up in wards and closets. Help is out there. Recovery is possible.”
Clients can be referred to the CMHA Morrisburg community support office by doctors, health professionals, clergy, friends, or by contacting the office themselves. Appointments will be set up.
“A client who wants help can always find help. The community medical resources are out there and we help people to access the ones that will serve them best,” Fortin said.
Visit the web site at www.cmha-east.on.ca