Clark’s Harbour clinic addresses barriers, stigma to accessing addictions and mental health help

Rex Stoddard knew his community needed something.

Ever since a doctor who provided part-time service to Clark’s Harbour retired about 10 years ago, Stoddard, the town’s mayor, said efforts have been underway to bring some kind of health-care services back to this small fishing community on Nova Scotia’s southwest tip.

Last summer, municipal council and the community succeeded when Nova Scotia Health opened a new mental health and addictions clinic in the former doctor’s office, providing regular service for adults and young people in the area.

“Driving an hour for mental health [services] just isn’t practical,” Stoddard said in a recent phone interview.

The nearest care options before the clinic opened were in Shelburne and Yarmouth, Stoddard said, so things such as weather and transportation challenges presented barriers to access for people in his community.

“With mental health, if you can’t make it, it might not be a good thing. So driving five minutes locally makes all the difference.”

Kimberly Lombard sees this as one of the key advantages of having such services in small communities.

Lombard, a clinical therapist who works at the clinic one day a week and is team lead for South West Health’s child and youth clinic team, said reducing travel time for clients means that adults miss less work and young people miss less school when they have an appointment.

The site has no parking fee and doesn’t present the same kind of anxiety some people experience when they visit a hospital. The office backs onto a playground and boardwalk, features the clinic staff take advantage of to help connect with clients.

Kimberly Lombard is a clinical therapist who says her days at the Clark’s Harbour clinic are very busy. (CBC)

“People who live outside of the big city centres or even the towns have to travel for absolutely everything for appointments, and I think that, you know, in mental health we really want to reduce barriers and we want to make it easy for people to get the help that they need,” Lombard said in a recent interview at the clinic.

“You’re just getting rid of some of those kind of reasons why people might not reach out.”

And people are reaching out.

Lombard said her days at the clinic are booked full of appointments, and interest seems to be growing. She said parents bringing their children in for appointments can also help open the door to them seeking help if they need something.

Along with the adolescent team, the clinic has someone providing services once a week for adults. A psychologist comes to do assessments and there are community support workers. People access the service by contacting the health authority’s central intake line.

A woman with long hair and glasses sits in a chair.
Kasey Newell, a social worker and adolescent outreach worker, says she’s pleased to be part of the initative in her home community. (CBC)

Kasey Newell, a social worker and adolescent outreach worker who sometimes works out of the clinic, said that with the community push to establish the site, stigma about seeking help isn’t as great as some people might have thought. And the more word spreads about the service, the more she thinks it will help demystify things.

“I am hopeful that in this small community, that the more kids that we can see, the less stigma is going to be around mental health,” she said.

“It’s kind of like starting with a new generation and kind of trying to teach them that talking about mental health and addictions in a small fishing community is actually a good thing.”

A hope for more services

Stoddard is also pleased to have addictions services available locally for the community. He said council is continuing to work to get more services at the site. He hopes at some point that regular visits from a nurse practitioner and women’s wellness clinic could be part of the offerings.

Newell is personally invested in seeing things succeed.

She’s from the area and jumped at the chance to be involved with the clinic when the call went out for people interested in working there. When she meets with young people in the community, she’s often able to build a rapport with them because she likely went to the same school, and knows what it’s like to have a parent who fishes for a living.

“This is like the dream, right? Make the community healthy, make the community happy, and I think that that’s what this space is doing at the end of the day, and I think that’s the most important thing.”

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