RNAO Region 7 Mental Health Workshop

On Monday, March 21, I attended the last event for the academic school year hosted by the RNAO: The Region 7 Mental Health Workshop. The aim of this workshop was to educate Ryerson’s nursing students about the importance of Mental Health in health care and the application of medicine. There was also an emphasis about actions nurses in the field can take to prioritize and maximize optimal outcomes for the mental health of the patient population. The evening consisted of a dynamic panel of speakers – all of whom are professionals in the field of mental health – that provided a unique and comprehensive perspective on the role of nurses play in mental health. Some of the speakers who spoke out on the issue of mental health include: Alumni of Ryerson’s Nursing degree program, representatives from the Toronto Police Mobile Crisis Intervention Team (MCIT), and a new graduate registered nurse working in Psychiatric Emergency.

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Each speaker shared their personal experience in dealing with mental health throughout their clinical practice. The first speaker of the night – a Ryerson Nursing alumni who now worked at Ryerson to guide current nursing students as they navigate through this program – spoke about her experience with mental illness and working with nursing students. She spoke about nursing students being one of the most notorious group of students who experience the highest level of stress. This is all credited to a demanding, highly difficult, and competitive program; having to balance academic work with clinical placements; balancing extracurricular activities; balancing personal life; etc. All of these aspects can create quite a toll on the student’s mental health, as they begin to feel overwhelmed and over-stressed. Without a strong social support network, and without adequate coping mechanisms, the nursing student’s mental health may be compromised. They may feel isolated and depressed, their grades may suffer, their personal life and self-care may be neglected, etc. This speaker spoke about the importance for nursing students to seek help for whatever they may need; whether that’s academic or otherwise. She emphasized the importance of building a strong social support network, whomever that may include, and to take advantage of on-campus resources at Ryerson. Attendees were attentive and receptive to this speaker’s insights, as often times, nursing students neglect to take care of their self as they are too focused on taking care of others. Personally, I found it refreshing to be reminded that my own mental health is important as well, and that while the mental health of my patients is an important prioritization, it is important to take care of my own mental health. Providing care for others begins there.

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The next speakers for the evening were representatives from Toronto Police’s MCIT program. One of the representatives included a Toronto Police Officer who is specially trained to handle cases with individuals suffering from mental illnesses. The other representative from Toronto Police’s MCIT program was a mental health nurse, who is specially trained by Toronto Police to respond to cases with individuals who are compromising their conduct in society, due to their mental illness. This was a significant topic for the night, as the involvement of nurses in the industry of forensics is a relatively novel concept. Nurses typically work in the traditional health care environment – acute or community – whereas police officers work in their separate jurisdiction. Although there has been significant co-operation between both industries in several cases, the concept of merging both industries to address issues of mental health has only just been introduced. The speakers spoke about their individual experience with mental health as a police officer and as a mental health nurse. The police officer drew on different strategies he would employ to de-escalade situations where individuals who suffered from mental health were at jeopardy of experiencing trouble with the law. For example, as a police officer, he would often exert force and assertive actions in order to de-escalade situations and calm the individual down. If the situation escalated any further, he would be forced to apprehend the individual and take them to hospital to treat their mental illness. The mental health nurse described her role as the individual who would be typically more successful in de-escalating the situation and calming the individual down. She noted that most individuals tend to avoid police officers when in this state, for fear of repercussion, so they would prefer to talk to someone else. In this scenario, the mental health nurse is particularly useful in communicating with the individual, negotiating with them, and working with them to ensure they receive the most adequate care for their mental health illness. With both roles working together in the community, they prove to be a very successful service for the municipality of Toronto. They promote health and safety within communities in Toronto but addressing mental health crises experienced all over the city.

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The final speaker of the evening was a new graduate RN, working as a psychiatric emergency nurse at St. Joseph Healthcare Hamilton. This final speaker was especially significant as not only was she working in the mental health field, she also experienced mental illness herself early on in her life. This was a highlight of the evening as not only did we get to hear the insights and perspective of someone working in mental health, but she was also able to enlighten us with her experience as a mental health patient. She spoke about the struggles she faced making sense of her illness as a young child, how it progressed when she entered university, how difficult it was for her to find the help that she needed, and what resources she used when she was finally able to find the help that she needed. She talked about ending the stigma related to mental illness, and emphasizing how important it is to understand that mental illness is a biological and chemical imbalance in your physiology, not an “attitude you just need to fix.” She spoke about not being ashamed about having to take medication for your illness, and how taking medication can be life-saving measures to take. It was refreshing to hear a perspective that was beyond nursing and professionals. Hearing this perspective from someone having experienced both sides of the spectrum – both the patient and the health care provider – renewed my personal way of thinking, and my own clinical practice. She talked about how her personal experience has catapulted her career and how she uses it to affect positive change in the mental health of her own patients today, and how her personal experience today not only shaped her as an individual, but has shaped her personal clinical practice.

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Needless to say, this workshop provided quite a dynamic and varied range of perspectives and insights on mental health. Nurses are often used to hearing quite similar and repetitive talks about mental health issues and what we can do to address such issues with the patient population. During this night, new perspectives and thoughts word brought to the table. It gave eager nursing students something to really think about in terms of new ways to tackle mental health issues. It opened eyes and doors to different opportunities that will enable you to affect positive change in mental health on a larger scale. At the end of the night, attendees were able to leave with a renewed understanding of what mental health means to them, their patients, and to their clinical practice.

Global Health Nursing Conference 2016

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On Tuesday, March 15, 2016, I attended the Global Health Nursing Conference held at the University of Toronto, hosted by the Nursing Undergraduate Society at UofT. The purpose and the theme of the conference this year was to shed light on Refugee and Immigrant Health.

This year’s conference is particularly poignant due to the current social climate regarding the war conflicts that have started occurring in 2011 (and are still ongoing) within Syria, and the large influx of Syrian refugees within Canadian borders. Throughout this night, we explored topics related to refugee and immigrant health, and ways in which nurses play a significant role in facilitating access to safe and appropriate for a vulnerable population. The wide variety of panelists, speakers, and session facilitators encompassed a diverse group of registered nurses [RNs] and nurse practitioners [NPs] from a variety of different global health backgrounds. They offered their experiences and perspectives on global health, the impact that nurses can create in health care on a global scale, and the types of work in which nurses can play a part in on an international health care level.

This event garnered significant attention from a variety of different undergraduate nursing students. The evening was comprised of attendees from UofT’s second-entry BScN program, Ryerson’s BScN program, Nippissing, York, etc. It was refreshing to see variety in different nursing backgrounds, making it an optimal night for opportunities to network, meet new people, and make new nursing friends!

The first part of the evening began with a panel of four RN speakers with diverse careers within global health. Some of them worked in various acute care and community health settings in different parts of the world (i.e Sudan, Ethiopa, Sierra Leone), implementing global health initiatives such as surgical programs, vaccination clinics, maternal health education, etc. Some of them worked within the local community (i.e Women’s College Hospital), addressing refugee and immigrant health needs and concerns in the Greater Toronto Area. Having these varied experiences and backgrounds in nursing come to light truly widened perspectives and opened many minds. The nursing students in attendance, a majority of whom have yet to have any solid exposure to global health nursing, were able to think of adequate health care outside of a framework that is well-resourced, highly affluent, and well-supported by a competent government structure. We were forced to think critically about what health care and health care delivery looks like in various populations and cultures, and how we – as Canadian nurses – can use our influence to affect change, in order to improve global health outcomes. Moreover, we also had the opportunity to think critically about how to address global health issues within our own local community. Various speakers spoke about what immigrants – specifically refugees – experience, in terms of health services, once on Canadian soil. We discussed barriers they often face to receiving appropriate care, such as a lack of adequate health care insurance coverage and a lack of unfamiliarity in terms of navigating a new system. The panelists did a fantastic job in articulating that our roles as nurses are to ensure that immigrants and refugees receive a care that is reflective of our health care system’s values and beliefs – that is, a care that is individualized, patient and family-centred, and comprehensive.

 A highlighted global health organization that was brought to attention during this period of the evening was Medicins Sans Frontieres [MSF]/Doctors Without Borders. A number of the RN panelists discussed their own experience in working with this organization and how MSF carries out various global health initiatives in a number of resource deficient countries. The purpose of MSF is to provide medical support and services where it is most needed on a global scale, and to ensure that health care systems and organizations are well-supported and have sufficient resources to deliver adequate care across boarders. More information on MSF and their work, as well as how to get involved, can be found on:

Medicins Sans Frontieres/Doctors Without Borders

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The next portion of the evening was a dinner and Social, where we got to engage with the founders of the company iamsick.ca. iamsick.ca is a company that has created a technology platform in the form of an app and a website, to help facilitate access and equity to adequate health services in your own area. They have developed a system whereby one is able to access the most appropriate health care provider, for their specific needs, online. Furthermore, through this system, they are able to minimize things such as emergency visits, wait times, etc., as it specifically matches the individual’s health need with the specific health service and provider that addresses that need. iamsick.ca is a company that began at UofT and has grown over the last four years, with a large number of consumers that have been helped through its services. They work directly with healthcare providers and organizations to ensure that the link between patient and provider is more effectively established. iamsick.ca ensures that health needs do not go unaddressed and are addressed appropriately. For more information on iamsick.ca, please visit:

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The last portion of the evening involved Breakout Sessions, from which students were to choose whichever session they would like to partake in, to develop more knowledge in more specific niches of global health nursing. I chose to take part in the Sick Kids International Paediatric Global Health session, due to my interests in maternal and paediatric health. In this last hour of the evening, the Nursing Manager and the Advanced Nursing Practice Educator from Sick Kids International and Sick Kids Centre for Global Child Health spoke about paediatric health and nursing care on a global scale. They spoke about their past, present, and future projects and global health initiatives to address gaps in international paediatric care. A significant gap that they have found in terms of global child health is that nurses internationally lack the advanced competencies of paediatric nursing care, making it difficult for them to deliver the care that their country’s paediatric population requires. Sick Kids Centre for Global Child Health has taken steps towards developing a project that educates nurses abroad about paediatric nursing and paediatric care, in order to empower that country’s health care providers. This project has been a focus for a large part of their work and they hope to continue educating various nurses in various parts of the world, to ensure they receive adequate paediatric nursing education and training. For more information on Sick Kids Centre for Global Child Health, and to learn more about their work, please visit:

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The Hospital for Sick Children – The Centre for Global Child Health

Needless to say, the night was successful and the nursing students in attendance learned a lot about global health and how nursing plays a pivotal role in global health. With Canadian nursing school curriculums having a strong focus on nursing in the local and national community, there is a significant lack in education about the work nurses do on an international and global scale. This conference has definitely enabled nursing students across GTA to develop their knowledge and awareness in global health nursing, and has inspired us to build careers built on the foundation of community health development alongside with acute care development.

Good Food and Good Times

This past Tuesday, October 20th, I attended a free event hosted by the Good Food Centre.

For those of you who don’t know, the Good Food Centre (GFC) is one of the equity services provided by the RSU (Ryerson Students’ Union). It is one of the oldest post-secondary relief programs in Canada. GFC provides hunger relief for those in need by offering services as well as free non-perishable food items, and fresh produce. To read more about our amazing Good Food Centre please click here! Or if you want to stay in the loop through Facebook you can like their page here.

The workshop I attended is called Eat Up Meet Up: Fermentation 101. It is part of the Eat Up Meet Up cooking workshop series. The purpose of this series is to bring together post-secondary students and give them the opportunity to learn new skills, recipes, and food related knowledge. Which is exactly what we did on Tuesday.

We learned the basics of fermentation and it’s nutritional value. Then we attempted to make our own fermented food (sauerkraut) and ate a delicious vegan meal afterwards. Tofu tacos with avocados and sauerkraut, with salad, and cherry perogies for dessert. Yum!

Tofu tacos with salad on the side

Tofu tacos with salad on the side

Cherry perogy topped with icing sugar

Cherry perogy topped with icing sugar

So what exactly is fermentation and how does it work?

It works through a process called lacto-fermentation. There are beneficial lactic bacteria that are naturally present on cabbage or other produce, in the air, or on our hands such as lactobacilli. These lactobacilli ferment the sugars in the cabbage. The brine (water saturated with salt) used creates an anaerobic (without oxygen), acidic environment, which allows for the growth of beneficial bacteria and stops harmful bacteria. It is beneficial not only because it extends shelf life, it is easier, faster and more sustainable than canning but also because it enhances nutritive value and creates many enzymes and probiotics.

Where and when did it originate?

It originated before refrigerating and freezing was possible, it was a way to preserve foods and provide nutrients during the winter. It dates back in Eastern Europe to the 9th century but now exists in almost every culture.

For more information check out this website: http://www.culturesforhealth.com/how-to-ferment-vegetables

So to put our new knowledge to the test we tried making sauerkraut. If you’re like me and haven’t really had sauerkraut before let me explain to you what it is. The word sauerkraut means “sour cabbage”. It is finely cut cabbage that has been fermented by lactic acid bacteria, which are the same good bacteria found in yogourt.

There are many health benefits of sauerkraut. Because it is uncooked it contains live lactobacilli and beneficial microbes, and it is rich in enzymes. The fibre and supply of probiotics help improve digestion and promote the growth of healthy bowel and intestinal flora, protecting against diseases of the digestive track.

At first I was taken aback at how yummy it was. The only experience I have ever had with sauerkraut was when eating perogies but I don’t even think I tried it so I was a complete sauerkraut newbie. I had no clue sauerkraut could be eaten with other things such as tacos or salad.

All in all this was an amazing experience and I cannot wait until the next one coming up on November 3rd, they haven’t announced what exactly we will be learning yet but you should join us! Like the Good Food Centre on Facebook and they will be creating the event page for it soon.

But anyway, the process of making sauerkraut was actually quite simple (even I could do it and I am culinarily declined!) see below if you want to learn how to make it.

SAUERKRAUT RECIPE

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Is Anyone Else Hungry Besides Me?

Gurgle gurgle

That’s my stomach again

There’s $16 in my chequing

Gurgle gurgle

There’s $400 due on my MasterCard

Maybe I’ll just eat later

Gurgle gurgle

I wonder if there are people who forget about food. If there are people in this world that are not thinking about what they will eat next or when or where it will come from. Who are these people? I don’t know, but I know the people who are thinking about when, where, what, and how they are going to eat next. These people are food insecure– they do not have access to affordable food that is culturally acceptable, nutritionally adequate, and there is not enough agency or policies in place to ensure that they do.  In Canada, one of the wealthiest countries in the world, food insecurity is an alarming issue. Approximately 3.9 million Canadians experience food insecurity or 1 in 3 Canadians according to Food Secure Canada. In Toronto, often cited as Canada’s poverty capital, 1 in 6 children experience poverty, which includes being food insecure. These statistics are at least doubled for Canada’s indigenous population and minority communities. These questions and statistics are especially important to consider on a days like yesterday, World Food Day.

On October 16 1945, the Food and Agriculture Organization of the United Nations (FAO) was formally instituted in Quebec City and so every October 16 World Food Day is celebrated. The issues of food security are so grand that for even localizing them to Canada will bring up a plethora of research that has been done and is currently underway. Along with this, there are several initiatives all over Canada and the world to end hunger. Looking specifically at Toronto, which was the first city to create a council for food policy 25 years ago due to rising rates of hunger and the need to institutionalize food banks. Toronto has taken several initiatives to combat food insecurity within its borders such as the creation of FoodShare and a poverty reduction strategy to be discussed at City Hall this coming week.

FoodShare has been working for the last 25 years to create equitable access to good healthy food, through empowerment and community development. FoodShare has developed many programs that work with other services to try and reduce hunger within Toronto. One service that FoodShare has been operating since their beginnings is the FoodLink hotline (416-392-6655) which connects callers to the food programs in their neighborhood including food banks, drop-in meal programs, and information on how to find community gardens, markets, and kitchens. FoodShare is also involved in bringing good food to schools with their Good Food Cafe, which turns school cafeterias into providers of fresh and nutritious meals that are made in-house daily. Having volunteered with the Good Food Cafe I have been able to experience what can happen when the healthy choice is the only choice. The girls at St. Joseph’s High School showed me that kids will eat good food when they are given the option, but if it is not even an option how can they take it. Along with this, FoodShare operates Student Nutrition programs which provide children with healthy snacks and breakfast everyday at school to promote learning and increase consumption of fruits and vegetables. FoodShare is a Toronto initiative but it has many partners throughout the city including school boards, Toronto Public Health, and Ryerson.

Beyond the work Ryerson does with FoodShare, which includes working with Good Food Cafe, developing community garden initiatives, and working with the Good Food Box program, we have our own services to combat food insecurity on campus. The Good Food Centre, a Ryerson equity service centre, works to provide food to Ryerson community members. In 1993 Ryerson began operating the Student Feedback program which operated as a food bank on campus, eventually becoming the Good Food Centre and expanding to operate as more than just a food bank but as a service hub for community members. Along with the food bank, the Good Food Centre also facilitates the community gardens on campus which supplements the fresh produce available at the centre as well as provides students with education and skills on how to grow their own food. The Good Food Centre is also a pick up location for Good Food Boxes, which is a program run by FoodShare that provides Ontario grown fresh produce (whenever possible) for a nominal fee. Ryerson has even more initiatives beyond the Good Food Centre in the form of the Centre for Studies in Food Security.

Ryerson’s Centre for Studies in Food Security works to provide education and manages projects to fight and understand hunger. In collaboration with the School of Nutrition and the Chang School the Centre offers the Certificate in Food Security which involves courses in food policy, gender and food, indigenous food systems, and urban agriculture. The Centre’s projects include work in urban design, food studies, as well as indigenous food security and international work with scholars from Brazil, Africa, and the Caribbean.

This discussion of food security and what is being done about it could go on for pages as it has been going on for years. This crisis is of global proportions and it can be difficult to see it when you do not know what you are looking at or for, but I can assure you it is right in front of you. Your classmates, teachers, friends, family, strangers on the street, they could too easily be food insecure even in a country like Canada and we must understand what that means. Not having money for food will greatly impact not only your physical health but emotional health as well. The stress in combination with a lack of proper nutrition opens your body up to disease and it’s lethal. The food security crisis did not happen over night and it was created by humans, therefore, it will take more than a night to solve but it must be solved by humans. This issue is one that should not be thought of only one day a year, food insecurity is on the mind of its victims everyday and therefore should be on ours as well.