Three young adults are finally having their voices heard at ACCESS Open Minds, a new downtown clinic tailored for young people experiencing mental illness. Featured in the ‘Heads Together’ section of the MHF 2017-2018 Annual Report.
Sincere. Comforting. Safe. These are some of the words 19 year old Jayme uses to describe ACCESS Open Minds, a walk-in clinic that provides addiction and mental health support to young adults in Edmonton.
Located in the Bill Rees YMCA, ACCESS provides immediate in-person assessment and access to a variety of mental health professionals. More than that, it’s a welcoming space with staff committed to turning no one away.
It’s a different approach than what young adults often encounter when seeking help through regular avenues where, says ACCESS Clinician Seren, it can be “challenging to be sick enough” to warrant immediate care. “We never say they’re in the wrong place. We work to triage and find the right place for them.”
The ACCESS clinic officially opened in April 2017–one part of a large national project aimed at learning to tailor services to youth aged 16-25. For someone with a lot of experience with the system, like Jayme, it’s a breath of fresh air.
From her early teens on, Jayme has experienced mental health issues and suicidal ideation. More recently, she’s battled the stress of constant physical pain.
“The only way I could find to get rid of the pain and escalation of my emotional dysregulation was to go to hospital emergency rooms.”
ACCESS staff helped her create a plan of action to follow to meet her goals. She can also rely on resources on site every day, so she can talk to her psychologist or a peer support worker when she is struggling instead of heading to the hospital.
In the four months she has been visiting ACCESS, she’s been back to the hospital only once. “It used to be 2 or 3 times a WEEK.”
The question of where to go when in need of help for mental health is one many other young people struggle to answer. Alexandra, a 2nd year at MacEwan University, thinks finding help is complicated by services that don’t seem designed for young adults.
“Young adults feel dismissed and not taken seriously,” she says.
Alexandra’s previous experience seeking support left her feeling helpless. Two years ago she began experiencing what she later learned were key symptoms of depression: emptiness, lack of joy in her daily life, and exhaustion.
She visited her GP. ”I told him how I had been feeling. It felt like he didn’t believe me because of my age.”
It wasn’t until her stepmom attended an appointment and advocated for her that the doctor gave her an anxiety and depression analysis and realized she was as sick as she said.
“It made me feel like a child, because I couldn’t be independent. I needed my stepmom to go with me because when I tried going by myself, nothing got through to the doctor. I would leave feeling so frustrated.”
Alexandra’s family members are a constant source of support for her when she is low, and she found the same kind of support at ACCESS.
I didn’t feel judged or mistreated because of my age. I was listened to. And when I asked questions about what I was experiencing, the doctor answered all of them patiently.
For Alexandra, validation of her feelings led to the answers she’d been looking for. Through an ACCESS psychiatrist, she finally received a diagnosis—bipolar II disorder and borderline personality disorder.
“It was a relief to have an explanation that made sense of my symptoms.”
Beyond finding care that is age-appropriate, ACCESS fills a gap for young people who struggle to find care at all as they transition to adulthood. High school student Jordan experienced this when he turned 18 and “aged out” of services at CASA.
No stranger to long wait times– he spent 2 years on a waiting list before receiving treatment for stress-induced psychosis at CASA when he was 16 years old— Jordan again had to wait when his referral to adult services got lost, meaning that he didn’t get care for three quarters of the year.
“I just had to accept that I was stuck with how I was feeling until I could eventually get help.” Jordan shrugs.
Jordan eventually resorted to the crisis line, who suggested ACCESS to him. “They said it would be a month until a crisis team otherwise, which they admitted wouldn’t be much help.”
When Jordan walked in, he says he was immediately met with a nice atmosphere. “The staff were really friendly and I was able to talk to someone that day.”
ACCESS is different than services I’ve accessed before. It’s not so institutional. It’s relaxed, more casual. I feel very accepted.
The three youth are now all on track for success, thanks to ACCESS.
Jordan’s learned to separate himself from his negative emotions and hold boundaries with friends. Jordan’s friend, who accompanies him, mentions that he’s definitely noticed a gradual improvement in Jordan’s mental health.
Jayme is getting prepared to go to King’s University in the fall to study politics. “I thought I was going to have to take the year off, but I was able to get into a place where I didn’t have to.” She believes ACCESS provides a path for young people to begin to thrive.
Alexandra’s successfully fulfilled her goal of having more good days than bad days. “Before, I had so many bad days in the week. I was depressed all the time. Now it’s only a day or two every couple weeks.”
“ACCESS is so great,” says Alexandra. “I like being able to turn new people on to it, letting them know that there is a service for them.”