The room may be on the small side, but big things are happening in a cozy space at Salmon Arm Secondary.
The Wellness Centre, a safe place for students to access services regarding physical, mental and sexual health, opened in April 2018. It has its roots in the Shuswap Local Action Team, a mental health collaborative where an idea became a vision and is now a reality.
Centre co-ordinator and “den mother,” Monica Kriese, welcomed partners and dignitaries to a grand opening on Nov. 22 where she shared information on the services provided in a non-judgmental atmosphere that has attracted many students and is showing positive results daily.
On Mondays, one of two public health nurses are at the centre; busy Tuesdays begin with a five-minute mindfulness program 15 minutes before school starts; Tuesday is also the OPTIONS for Sexual Health Clinic where students can get free and confidential sexual health counselling, as well as low cost birth control, STI testing, and pregnancy testing; twice a month on Tuesdays an Intersectional PRIDE Project counsellor is available to youth and parents for private counselling, as well as hosting the Gender Sexualities Alliance Club at noon.
On Wednesdays, two clinicians from Child and Youth Mental Health have been hosting a wellness group and in the new year will start a group on anxiety.
“Thursdays are the busiest day of the week as we are open longer with our doctor in the medical clinic, as well as one or more of our wonderful mental health support people also in the centre,” said Kriese.
“Students can walk in, phone or text for an appointment. You’ll also find therapy dogs hanging out with us. The demand for the doctor and a mental health worker continues to grow, so we will have another doctor day on Wednesdays early in the new year.”
On Fridays, Colleen Making from the PEACE Program of the SAFE Society works with her clients and once a month hosts a talk with free pizza.
“Whenever the wellness centre is open to the general student population, the kids can come in here, eat their lunch… Some will curl up on the bean bags or couches with a blanket and others will sit at the table and colour, play board games or work on school work.”
Speak to any of the partners about the centre’s great success and everyone emphasizes the collaboration.
School District 83 came on-board with enthusiasm when approached in 2016 and provided the space at SAS. The Shuswap North Okanagan Division Family Practice that operates under the aegis of the Ministry of Health and the General Practices Services Committee, provided the clinical equipment for the exam room as well the electronic medical record and Internet at the wellness centre, says family practice executive-director Tracey Kirkman.
She says hiring Kriese as co-ordinator was critical in getting all the partners to embrace the vision and direction of the clinic and develop the mission statement.
“The division knew we needed that person to hold the clinic together and get feedback about what is working and what needs to be added.”
“There’ s great energy there and if you look across the spectrum of the kids that are in there, it’s everybody, we’re not just pigeonholing kids as to their needs,” she says, praising all the partners for their collaboration. “What amazes me is the short time it has grown, how it is supported and how the space has become so much bigger than a medical place. It’s become a safe place, a place where kids can de-stress, it’s become a place that embraces diversity and all the different programs that are housed in that space cover the full range of issues that affect our youth… I was quite impressed how every day of the week there’s a full spectrum of the youth needs.”
Dr. Richard Currie, who has also been integral to the success of the centre, works closely with Kriese and is at the centre’s medical clinic every Thursday afternoon.
Also offering high praise for the wide range of practitioners, therapists and volunteers who are working together, volunteering their time for the same purpose, Currie gives the students a great deal of credit.
“I think I am most proud of how the students themselves have used the centre and so quickly recognized the potential, and have been so supportive and so open in coming to ask us for help,” he says, noting how well many are doing since seeking that help but feeling “a little bit haunted by the idea of what happened before this clinic existed.
“We’ve all had the experience, either in emerge or working out in the community, seeing what happens when kids don’t have the opportunity to advocate for their own health.”
Currie says he is impressed by “how quick the uptake has been,” and how he has perceived no stigma attached to any of the students who seek help or solace in the room.
Dawn Dunlop, executive director of Canadian Mental Health Shuswap-Revelstoke, also commends the collaborating partners who have so enthusiastically stepped up to make vital physical, mental and emotional help available to meet students’ needs.
That view was echoed by Neskonlith elder Louis Thomas, who opened the Nov. 22 event with a Secwepemc prayer, and emphasized the need for collaboration and inclusivity between Indigenous and non-Indigenous members of the community.