Of the thousands of families helped by the award-winning Strongest Families Institute (SFI), a particular case stands out to Dr. Patricia Lingley-Pottie.
“I remember one 14-year-old in particular. When he came to us, anxiety was keeping him from doing all the things he wanted to do. After the program, he became more social, more confident—he even started going to school dances!”
Success stories like these are common for SFI, a not-for-profit organization based in Halifax that provides mental health support to families and young people. Dr. Pottie is president and CEO. “Our mandate is ‘no wait.’ Everyone who reaches out to us is called back within 48 hours,” she says. This approach provides relief for families used to long wait lists for support, and who often have been dealing with a loved one’s mental health issues on their own.
“We remove barriers that others can’t. We are open when others are not.”
Through SFI, children and teens who struggle with anxiety phone in for weekly coaching sessions and group phone chats, eliminating barriers to treatment like cost and travel. Parents receive support and tips to help with issues affecting their children, from disruptive behavioural problems to bedwetting and more.
Dr. Pottie started developing these programs in 2000 with Dr. Patrick McGrath, former head of the Clinical Psychology department at Dal and now chair of SFI’s board. After seven years of rigorous clinical trials aimed at developing an evidence-based program that was fully integrated with the health care system, in 2011, SFI became a federally-designated nonprofit organization. Dr. Pottie and Dr. McGrath were recent recipients of a Governor General’s Innovation Award for their work in creating the SFI.
In their first year of operation, 700 children were helped. This year, it will be 4,000. More than 85 per cent of families report resolution of issues most affecting them and improved academic success. While most mental health programs have a drop-out rate of between 40 and 70 per cent, SFI has a drop-out rate of less than 10 per cent.
The institute provides quick ramp-up to reduce existing waitlists, alleviates the strain on the mental health system and provides immediate help to thousands of families. SFI’s reach goes far beyond Atlantic Canada with services extending nationally and internationally in Finland and Vietnam. Dr. Pottie is grateful for support from the Bell Let’s Talk Community Fund which augments government funding, allowing the institute to help to more families each year.
“If you have a 13-year old plagued with anxiety and you can reach that person quickly with support and give them valuable life skills, they might never have to access the mental health care system again. How wonderful is that?”
She says in providing the tools young people need to meet mental health challenges head-on, the institute sets them up for future success. “If you have a 13-year old plagued with anxiety and you can reach that person quickly with support and give them valuable life skills, they might never have to access the mental health care system again. How wonderful is that?”