Can you tell us about your role at Alberta Health Services?
I have been the program manager for Child & Adolescent Mental Health Acute Care services since 2012, and have been working with children & youth for over 20 years.
Can you tell us about the wonderful children and youth that access your services?
The adolescents we serve (in hospital) come to us in acute mental health crisis. For many of these youth, this is their first time ever in hospital. Through the support of nurses, allied health, family counselors, and psychiatrists, these youth are reconnected to their natural family support networks, school supports, and community supports. Having connection to their support networks encourages these patients to meet their mental health needs in positive ways.
The youth served at Youth Substance Use & Mental Health Services are either self-referred or referred by professionals. These youth are engaging in substance use often as a way to manage mental health concerns. With the open and supportive staff at YSUMHS, these youth learn to embrace their personal strengths, reconnect with their natural support networks, and manage mental health is a positive way. These youth have strength and courage to face their substance use at an early age.
In your opinion, how important are the surroundings and immediate environment for children and youth seeking services for mental health?
For anyone who has ever been in hospital, it is essential that the environment be open, clean, positive, and welcoming. This is not always the case in the typical hospital/clinical setting.
An environment that is positive, bright, and welcoming improves the mood or atmosphere in the unit. Our youth spend a lot of time in the common areas, engaging with each other, attending groups, and connecting with staff. The appearance of the unit sets the tone for all of us.
How has your role and the experience of the children and youth been impacted by the new Smilezone spaces?
This has been an amazing experience for me, for the staff, and for the patients. Our unit was looking worn prior to Smilezones. As I said previously, it set the tone for all of us when it was run down. It’s hard for youth to imagine something better for themselves, when the work is being done in a worn space.
The color changes immediately changed the mood within the unit. It was brighter, cleaner walls, new cupboards, and sitting spaces, and the murals created a feeling of connection to the outside community (mountains, nature, and hockey). The unit feels organized. The youth who were here through the process commented on the great changes. The atmosphere of hope was immediately developed for staff and patients – on all the units changed.
Are there any features or items in the Smilezone spaces in Foothills or Youth Substance Use and Mental Health Services that have been particularly well received?
It is all so fantastic! The units at FMC have embraced the color schemes. The kitchens and murals are such a great hit for both the units. We really can’t thank the artists enough for their great work.
YSUMHS has really been impacted by the new reception room as this truly sets the first impressions of the center as being warm, welcoming and full of encouragement. This is what these youth need.
What is the biggest change you have noticed since the completion of the project?
The biggest change that has been immediately noted is the ‘respect for the unit’, and parents no longer expressing concerns about the environment. The adolescents have a space that has been developed for them, creates a connection, and is bright & engaging. Patients want to spend time in the common areas.
Are there any special moments or stories you can tell us about?
The youth who attended the ‘grand opening’ presentation were amazed at how many people were invested in helping them and the programs. This helped the youth understand that their mental health has the support of many people.
The Monahan mural on U26 is a great conversation piece and located in our conversation corner (interview corner) for the unit. Patients and staff find this to be a great “ice-breaker” and the feel of the interview is less intimidating for the youth.