Introducing…the Georgian Bay Family Health Team Unbreakable Program

Charolotte, how long has the program been established?
Our first group was held in the Spring of 2013, beginning mid-March and going until mid-June. We had fantastic retention during this group with a steady 14 participants. We ran a second group in the Fall, from mid-September to mid-December. Retention was not so good for this group . I think the difference has a lot to do with the weather improving over the course of the three months in the Spring and deteriorating in the Fall. We run a closed group, meaning new members must wait until the next group the join the program due to the sharing that inevitably gets done between the teens and the multiplicity of psychiatric issues.

Who are the current leaders of the program and their roles?
I am the facilitator of the group and I am so lucky to have three other Child and Youth Mental Health clinicians who co-facilitate the group all from the Child & Youth Mental Health Department here. We share the organizational tasks pre-group, for example, arranging the speakers, preparing the forms/paperwork and generating lists of teens to contact. We are all responsible for ensuring safety, setting limits, providing motivation and encouragement. 

We also have several other mentors from various other disciplines who also work at the Georgian Bay Family Health Team, including a nurse, an occupational therapist and an administrative staff. I think having such a skilled group of adults is partly responsible for the success of our program.

What benefits have you seen in the people who go through the program?Generally a 40 per cent  subjective increase in mood both pre-post run, as well as pre-post group. This translates into happier faces, improved self-efficacy and internal narrative. These are amazing stats and the teens speak more to their improvements on the video posted on our website. Overall, there is an improved sense of ability and accomplishment…like ‘wow, I can actually do this!’ We try and make connections throughout the group between the challenges they perceive in-group, to those they experience outside of the group and how life’s hills and valleys can be taken in stride. You can see the transformation by watching the video we produced

Do you have any personal stories about special individuals who have been helped?
Every teen referred to the program was originally referred for counselling at the Georgian Bay Family Health Team for various reasons, such as anxiety, depression, PTSD, grief/loss, self-harm and/or suicidal thinking. Every one’s story is unique and their participation in the group plays a unique role.

However, one particular teen, who participated in both the Spring 2013 and Fall 2013 groups (and who plans to join the Spring 2014 group), is a beautiful story of finding oneself. He came from a long history of family dysfunction and a very hard life; he struggled with depression and self-harming. He never participated in sports previously and took some convincing to join the group. He found himself to be a natural runner and now plans to run a marathon in October 2014.

What do you like best about the program?
One of the best things about this program is seeing the more optimistic and accepting relationship teens develop with themselves. They challenge their old definition of themselves and replace it with a new, empowered meaning. Because this program is run outside of the counselling office, it offers an alternative to those teens who are not interested in more formal counselling or who do not need that level of service, or a supplement to counselling. It is a more indirect and experiential approach to helping teens improve their mental health and wellbeing.

 What is the most rewarding part of the program for yourself?
The most rewarding part of this program is being part of the final event and watching the teens redefine themselves as achievers in reaching their goals…something they thought was impossible at the beginning. The growth is amazing from day one.

Anything that makes your group unique?
A unique feature of the GBFHT Team Unbreakable is that the teens in the Spring 2013 group were also invited to participate in the Metcon Blue – Canada’s most extreme adventure race un Blue Mountain. The organizers were generous enough to waive the fee, so a group of us also competed as a team in this event. It was an amazing experience to work together to beat the obstacles and through blood, sweat and tears we completed the race as a team. It was amazing. We also hand out certificates after the final run event in recognition of their commitment, as well as identifying something unique each teen brought to the group.

Anything you would like to highlight about your program we didn’t ask you already?
We are beginning to plan the Spring 2014 group. Each new group we try and make better than the last. This time we will be offering teens to choose either the 5km or 10km of the Barrie Waterfront Half Marathon…as well as the Metcon Blue.  The weekly speakers we organize add a richness to the group experience. It certainly takes making some connections and proactive work to organize a range of motivational and educational speakers that will appeal to the teens. We are so pleased to have a fantastic selection of speakers who present on highly interactive topics and who also run with the group after they present.