Salima is a registered social worker and psychologist. She works as a family counselor with adolescents admitted to adult mental health units.
“Many of the teens who come through our doors have attempted suicide, thought about suicide, engaged in self-harming behaviours, are struggling with addictions, or they are struggling with a mental illness,” she says.
Salima believes the hospital is not always the right place to fix the problem. She says, “The hospital can be like a bubble. The usual stressors of life—like breaking up with a boyfriend or conflict with friends or family—are held at bay when you’re in the hospital, but these stressors don’t go away.” Self-harming and other similar coping strategies are often learned behaviours in dealing with stress. She believes the solution is often to help the patient and their family understand there are other healthier ways of coping. She feels this is best done in the environment where the patient lives, through community supports and resources.
Salima finds satisfaction in her work from helping patients understand how their cognitive distortions impact how they feel and contribute to their actions or reactions to stressors. “Medication can stabilize someone, but medication alone will not make them happy,” she says. “Therapy can help young patients change the coping strategies that have likely brought them to the hospital. Changing the way they interpret what is going on around them can shift the way they react to stressors.”
Salima advocates a balanced approach to effectively support a young person struggling with a mental health issue. “It’s important to have openness,” she stresses. “That means active listening, not judging and not giving up. But it also means setting appropriate boundaries and expectations. And it means having open lines of communications with their school and other professionals involved with the young person. This limits any gaps and allows for accommodations to be put into place to ensure effective treatment can be provided.”
Salima also works with clients of all ages, ethnicities and cultural backgrounds in her private practice. She stresses the importance of outreach for new immigrants.
“It can be hard to talk about mental illness in some communities. Sometimes it is not well understood or accepted. People can be reluctant to reach out and get help because they don’t want to be seen as ‘crazy’. It’s important to help people understand that illnesses like depression and anxiety are common human experiences, so as not to marginalize sufferers of these disorders.”
“Some ethnic communities are small and there are concerns about confidentiality,” she says. “Language can also be a barrier. We have immigrants from Sudan and Afghanistan who have witnessed extreme wartime scenarios like torture and other traumas. On top of that, they are dealing with the challenges of cultural adjustment to living in Canada.”
“Shame can be strong in some communities. Because they are smaller in number, people in a particular ethnic community can feel more vulnerable generally,” she says. “Am I going to lose opportunities in my work if I disclose this? Or risk friendships or other relationships?”
“Education and conversation about these issues are critical to the social welfare of our community, in the broadest sense.”