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Harbour Grace woman wants more mental health services in rural Newfoundland

Jesselyn Harris sees a need for more services to address mental health in rural Newfoundland and Labrador.
Jesselyn Harris sees a need for more services to address mental health in rural Newfoundland and Labrador. - Andrew Robinson

Concerned Bell Let’s Talk campaign not doing enough for under-served regions

HARBOUR GRACE, NL — When it comes to Bell Let’s Talk Day, Jesselyn Harris of Harbour Grace tends to have mixed feelings about the national campaign dedicated to raising funds and awareness for mental health.

“I can’t say it enough — I love the fact that we’re talking about it, but there needs to be more.”

That “more” she’s looking for is more mental health services for rural Newfoundland and Labrador.

Last February, her psychiatrist at Carbonear General Hospital left for a job elsewhere, and Harris has been on a waiting list ever since. She was discharged at the time and unhappy about the situation, given the same thing happened to her a dozen years ago when her former psychiatrist retired.

Harris has battled depression since her childhood, though she wasn’t formally diagnosed until the age of 18.

“There’s days I’m lucky to get out of bed, and there’s no supports,” she told the Compass. “I’ve said to numerous friends and family members, if I were to say win the lottery — we all do the ‘What if?’ If I won the lottery, I’d buy or build a building where people can go and avail of sensory therapy, art therapy, music therapy, a room where seniors can go and play cards. We have so many seniors who are living on their own and they’re lonely.”

She has managed to maintain her prescriptions through a family doctor, but not having a psychiatrist to talk with has not been easy for Harris. Equally, she feels bad for the lone psychiatrist remaining at the hospital in Carbonear with a heavy patient load.

Other members of Harris’ family have their own struggles with mental health, she added. She does not feel youth are getting enough help locally, though Harris appreciates the good work happening at the SPLASH Centre in Harbour Grace, where support services are offered to aid youth development.

“If we can get them the help they need to be successful adults, then we’ve got a generation that can help us when we’re in need of help,” she said.

From the 2018 Bell Let’s Talk campaign, a reported $7 million will support 414 community grants for projects designed to improve access to mental health services, with $2.54 million going towards projects for children and youth. The deadline for applicants is March 31.

Harris hopes rural communities will find ways to benefit from that pool of money. Centralization of services in St. John’s is less-than-ideal for families struggling to make ends meet, Harris said, noting the costs associated with a trip to town can start to mount when you factor in meals and potential errands.

“I know there’s more people in the metro area and that’s why they focus on those areas for services, but we need it out here too.”

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