Addiction is a growing issue in our province, particularly among our youth.
A chronic health condition, addiction affects individuals, our families and communities. The good news is that addiction is preventable and treatable, and long-term recovery is attainable and sustainable.
This year, during National Addictions Awareness Week (NAAW), Addictions Prevention Consultants with Eastern Health had the privilege of partnering with the Newfoundland and Labrador Youth Centre (NLYC) in Whitbourne to work directly with troubled youth in a “Mind, Body, Spirit” day.
The day focused on helping young people at the facility understand and talk about behaviours that can impact their physical, spiritual, mental and emotional health. Youth took part in many hands-on activities to help them learn ways to reduce their risks and harms from alcohol and other drug use and ways to promote positive mental health. In addition, they had an opportunity to connect and talk with service providers they can access once they leave the Centre, both from Eastern Health and within the Community.
One of those providers was Janice Field, regional health educator with Eastern Health. “Events like this can be very beneficial for the young people we work with,” she says. “The coping strategies, information we share and, most importantly, the connections we make have the potential to positively impact the future choices these kids make.”
In sessions that talked about the myths of marijuana, alcohol safety, harm reduction for substance use, tobacco-free living and sexual health, youth were given an opportunity to learn how to better protect themselves. Some potentially life-saving tips included knowing the signs and symptoms of alcohol poisoning and what to do; injection drug use and ways to reduce risk of contracting HIV or Hepatitis C; different approaches to support a tobacco-free life and ways to reduce risk of contracting sexually transmitted infections by learning about safer sexual practices.
“A significant portion of the youth who come to the Centre, either on remand awaiting sentencing or serving a sentence, have some degree of substance use history,” says Carolyn Chard, clinical therapist at the Newfoundland & Labrador Youth Centre. “Our role is to help them make the connection between their current situation and the role substance use has played in their lives and, more importantly, help them learn positive coping and practical life skills to reduce their risks once they leave the Centre. Sessions like this help open the doors to discussion and change.”
The Mind-Body Connection
Youth, as well as the Centre staff and presenters, took part in a “mind, body, movement” activity with independent artist, Corie Harnett, who led everyone though a series of improvisation, yoga, and interpretive movement activities designed to help people make the connection between their feelings, impulses, actions and behaviours.
“This was an opportunity for everyone to be on an equal level with each other,” stresses Corie. “We were all stepping outside our comfort zone and supporting one another.”
Trust and Connection
Sharing a meal seems such a simple thing, but when you are a young person in custody, it can be a time when perceived weaknesses are exposed. As with the ‘mind, body, movement’ activity, youth, staff and presenters again moved outside their comfort zones and ate a meal together in the cafeteria. After lunch, principal of the Centre’s school, Mr. Randy Ralph led everyone through a smudging ceremony and drumming circle. Youth were given the opportunity to share what the day meant to them.
One 18-year-old resident summed up the day quite eloquently: “I am 18 years old and I’ve spent my 16th and 18th birthdays in this facility, so as you could probably guess I’ve been a bit troublesome growing up! I’m from a small community where everyone knows who I am and I am used to being judged and looked down on. But today, I just love all of these people who took time out of their lives to come in and speak to me and help me with my life and my path to recovery and to a life worth living. It feels good to know that someone still cares and words can’t express how thankful I am for people like you who still care about me and other troubled youth. It felt so good to be spoken to as an equal as opposed to being looked at as less than the best.”
“Addiction Matters” and so do the youth at the Newfoundland and Labrador Youth Centre.
Visit the Eastern Health website for information about available mental health and addictions services. ■
This story was written by Tracey Sharpe-Smith, a regional addictions prevention consultant with Eastern Health.