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3 mental health nurses
(L to R) Stefanie Lys, Tara Lightfoot and Janan Arefin, addictions nurses within the Centre for Mental Health, came together to develop a workshop on addictions for UHN staff. (Photo: UHN)

Aideen Carroll, nurse educator at UHN's Centre for Mental Health (CMH), was looking through her email one day when she saw a workshop on leukemia being offered at another institution in Toronto, and thought, "Why can't we do something like that?" 

Now, a mental health nurses education committee is organizing mental health workshops for TeamUHN members to teach skills and curriculum that will help them better care for patients, regardless of their roles. The group recently kicked off their education series by hosting an Addictions 101 Workshop.

Aideen was inspired by the apparent need for an educational opportunity like this, as she is regularly approached by other nurses within UHN with questions about mental health nursing and requests to do a shadow day on one of the mental health units. She hopes to do the workshops on a quarterly basis.  

"We often hear from nurses that they didn't get to do a mental health placement in nursing school and never got experience in mental health," Aideen says.  

One of the main reasons is that mental health training is not a mandatory education requirement in all nursing schools in Ontario.  

But as multidisciplinary teams and healthcare professionals at UHN are seeing more situations involving mental health on their units and around the hospital, coupled with the changing landscape of health, Aideen says more and more people are reaching out for advice.  

This is Mental Illness Awareness Week in Canada, which coincides with World Mental Health Day, on Thursday. It's an opportunity to raise awareness on mental health and suicide.

At UHN, a smaller group within the Mental Health Nurses Education Committee, which is comprised of three of UHN's four addictions nurses and Aideen, worked together to plan a workshop that would give staff a basic overview of knowledge, tips and resources that could be applied to their work every day in situations where they encountered someone struggling with an addiction. 

Tara Lightfoot and Stefanie Lys, addictions nurses in the CMH, led the first workshop, where they talked to attendees about basic knowledge around addictions, stigma and countertransference and resources available both within and outside of UHN for patients. 

The importance of delivering integrated care from all sides  

"Most people in healthcare went into this industry because they want to help other people, but a lot of people don't feel competent in helping people with addictions for a number a reasons ranging from their own personal biases to just not knowing how to talk to someone with an addictions issue," Tara says. 

Because there are limited addictions nurses at the CMH, it is possible some addictions needs aren't being addressed as often as they should.  

Janan Arefin, the third addictions nurse organizing the Addictions 101 Workshop, says in her work at the Ossington Men's Withdrawal Management Centre, she sees many patients go between UHN's detox sites and the Emergency Departments.  

"Having staff equipped with greater awareness about addiction and how it combines with mental health and concurrent disorders would help patients better navigate their care," Janan says. "If we are able to teach staff skills, they would be able to provide optimal care from all sides, not just look at the physical, medical piece."

Stefanie says it's that more complete view of the patient they are striving to achieve.

"It would be such a loss if someone came into the hospital for a broken leg because they fell while they were intoxicated, that would be such a missing link if all we did was fix their leg and send them home," she says. "It's not holistic care at all."  

A goal in educating staff about addictions issues is so the opportunities to help patients while they are in the hospital can be taken.  

"If we aren't addressing their addiction while they're here, nothing is going to change, they're just going to be sent back home and that's it," Stefanie says.  

Tara says trying to make a connection for patients is important because that positive experience while at UHN may inspire and motivate them to get help in the future.  

"Seeing the addictions nurses isn't always necessary," she says. "If staff have the competency and awareness to notice signs of someone struggling with addiction, they can help and address the situation just by providing resources and letting the patient know there is help out there."  

The next workshop hosted by the Mental Health Nurses Education Committee will be about suicide and will take place in December.  

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