News / Calgary

Alberta rolling out new youth mental health treatment approach

Calgarian breaks through addiction; services provided needed supports

Sakura Nakamura, 18, has been recovering from her addiction for about a year and has made much headway due to new mental health treatment methods.

Jennifer Friesen / For Metro

Sakura Nakamura, 18, has been recovering from her addiction for about a year and has made much headway due to new mental health treatment methods.

A new youth mental health model aims to help Alberta kids better cope with trauma so they don’t wind up in the justice system later in life, according to a Calgary doctor.

New government funding has meant Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT) is being implemented by service providers, child intervention and agency staff, foster parents and kinship caregivers across the province, as part of Human Services’ Foundations of Caregiver Support model.

NMT, which was piloted by Hull Services in Calgary, lets caregivers better understand how past trauma may have affected children’s development, therefore creating tailored intervention to meet children’s unique developments.

Prior to NMT, some caregivers would normally treat children solely based on patching up problems, rather than understanding their history.

Hull Service’s Dr. Emily Wang, who’s spearheading the provincial implementation of NMT, said the model is preventative, where kids learn themselves how to better manage their mental health.

“Instead of focusing so much on their behaviours that often bring them into our care, we focus on more of their developmental history and work with them individually,” she said. “The kids then have more capacity to regulate.”

Human Services spokesman Aaron Manton said the evidence-based approach provides a more “thoughtful and compassionate approach” when understanding the needs of youth who’ve experienced trauma.

Wang said many of the kids experience trans-generational trauma, where parents’ pass on the trauma they endured as youth to their children.

“This lets us do more prevention and work with kids earlier than until they possibly get into the justice system,” she said.

Treating addiction

Sakura Nakamura had to hit her breaking point before beginning her road to recovery.

Nakamura, who’s been recovering from addictions and past trauma, learned much about self-regulating during her treatment at Hull Services, where doctors were first to use Neurosequential Model of Therapeutics (NMT).

NMT, which the government has begun rolling out provincially, lets caregivers better understand how past trauma may have affected children’s development, therefore creating tailored intervention to meet youth’s unique developments.

About a year, Nakamura, 18, said she was using a lot of prescription medication, falling into what she describes as a hole.

“I became so dependent and would take anything that was in front of my face,” she said. “I was never able to sleep and it wore down on me and my mental health.

“I was so empty and I hit my breaking point. I couldn’t stand it anymore.”

She said she decided to attend Hull Services — she became determined to beat her addiction.

“It was something I really, really wanted,” Nakamura said. “There were a couple hiccups when I got out, but you can’t let that deter you from wanting to reach your goal, so I just kept on going because I didn’t like how it felt.”

She has been clean for about one year now, she said, adding her mental health has slowly begun to improve.

“For a second I thought jail would be good for me,” Nakamura said. “After I watched Wentworth (a television show about women in prison) I realized I didn’t want to be that junkie that needed to sell drugs to get by.”

Nakamura said doctors at Hull learned about her past to better understand who she is, therefore understanding her brain function to know which coping mechanisms work best.

“I know I can’t exactly help myself, by myself all the time,” she said. “But that also helps me when I go back. Talking helps.

“I’m here now,” she added. “I have to refocus on my goals and that will help me get back where I need to go.”

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