Island Health Centre’s expansion of mental health services adapts to match community needs

“Every Nova Scotian deserves access to mental health services,” said Joyce Morouney, manager of outpatient services with the Mental Health and Addictions program in Western Zone. 

It was this vision that led management of Southwest Mental Health & Addictions to meet with municipal councilor for Briar Island, Long Island and Little River, David Tudor just over one year ago to initiate a conversation about improving mental health services. 

“We saw a lot of need in our community that was going unmet,” said Tudor. 

Conversations between local government and Nova Scotia Health’s Primary Health care program have since evolved to monthly phone calls where local health care topics can be discussed and resolved. 

“We’re working together as a team to provide the best services for our local residents,” said Tudor. 

Prior to these discussions, residents in the Southwest Nova Scotia community of Digby Neck had little access to mental health services. 

“The only way to access mental health services at the time was to travel to the mainland,” said Tudor.

“And that’s a four-ferry, multiple-hour round trip.”

To overcome these barriers, Tudor began brainstorming ways to provide the much-needed mental health services to island residents. 

He began working with Joyce Morouney, manager of the child, youth, and adult team mental health and addictions program at the Yarmouth Regional Hospital, and Emily Courney, a local Schools Plus clinical social worker, to develop a program. 

“We had space available at the Islands Health Centre in Freeport,” said Courney.

As plans progressed, Courney transitioned out of her role as a schools-based clinician into a role as a clinic-based clinician for outpatient mental health services. 

“Our goal was to make mental health accessible and de-stigmatized,” said Courney. 

To increase accessibility, Courney, Tudor and Morouney had to get creative.  

“The traditional intake system just did not work for the majority of our population,” said Tudor. 

A lack of internet connection and phone service make traditional intake appointments hard to complete. As a work-around, appointments that are typically completed online or by phone may be transitioned to in-person meetings. 

“We’re trying to think outside the box to make sure our services match the needs of the community,” said Courney. 

“Everything we do is based on their feedback. We aren’t just providing a service and walking away -- this is a very community-driven initiative,” noted Courney. 

The Islands Health Centre began covering child, youth and adult mental health services in November 2020. Courney, along with clinical social worker Deanne Neufeld, attend the Centre every Thursday.

“We knew that the demand was there because the spaces were filled immediately,” said Tudor. 

“The fact that it’s run by familiar faces makes a huge difference for a community that is so close-knit,” added Morouney. 

In fact, Courney suggests that the local culture and community have contributed greatly to de-stigmatizing mental illnesses. 

“People are asking ‘how can we learn more? How can we get more information?’” she said. 

Tudor and Morouney are looking forward to expanding the mental health and addictions services at the Islands Health Centre over the coming months. 

They are currently working on renovating the mental health services room to include soundproofing and to create a more inviting atmosphere. 

“I’m really looking forward to expanding the program based on what the community needs and wants,” said Courney. 

“As the need increases, so will our services,” echoed Morouney. 

“We’re thrilled with what we’ve accomplished so far and we’re motivated to continue providing the best care to island residents,” added Tudor. 

Visit Mental Health and Addiction’s website, http://MHAhelpNS.ca, to learn more about our services, resources, and tools. 

Nova Scotians are able to self-refer to the Community Mental Health and Addictions clinics, Withdrawal Management Services or Opioid Replacement and Treatment Program. Call the Mental Health and Addictions Program Intake Service Line (toll-free) 1-855-922-1122, to be connected to a clinician Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. This line has voicemail only on evenings, weekends and holidays. 

The Provincial Mental Health Crisis Line is available 24/7 for anyone experiencing a mental health crisis or someone concerned about them. Call (toll-free) 1-888-429-8167.