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CAMH Stories Centre for Addiction
and Mental Health

Treatment plus education: CAMH’s youth service packs a double punch

By Mike Hajmasy

“Regular school just wasn’t working for me. I was constantly preoccupied with anxiety, which led to self-loathing and depression because I didn’t understand why I couldn’t just exist at school like other people,” explains Brian, a 21-year-old former client of CAMH. “This environment just worked so much better for me.”

At an open house event for CAMH’s Youth Addictions and Concurrent Disorders (YACD) Service, Brian and another former client, Shannie reflect on their experience with the REACH (Recovery and Education for Adolescents Choosing Health) Program, one of two academic day school programs for youth ages 14 to 20 with substance use and co-occurring mental health concerns.

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(L to R): Michelle Murray, Case Worker, YACD; former client Brian; former client Shannie; Igor Abinun, Social Worker, YACD; Stacy De Souza, Case Worker, YADC; Melissa Griffin, Advanced Practice Clinical Leader, YADC; and Clara Tam, Manager, YADC. The group spoke to community partners and other health care service providers at an open house event.

REACH and CAMH’s Youth Day Hospital (YDH) are among several Toronto District School Board (TDSB) Section 23 Programs, which assist students who require their educational needs be met in a specialized setting. Both of these programs offer young people an opportunity to participate in treatment while earning school credits.

“REACH clients like Brian and Shannie participate in three academic periods per day, with a fourth devoted to group or individual therapy,” explains Stacy De Souza, Case Worker, YADC. “Our TDSB teachers have different areas of expertise, which is great because it exposes the class to the same diverse subjects that are taught in a traditional environment.”

The difference being, class sizes are no larger than eight students and the curriculum isn’t delivered in a rigid way. “It starts to feel like a family in many ways. You and the other students are on a similar page; it’s completely non-judgmental and totally supportive,” Brian adds.

For Brian and Shannie both, this alternative learning environment has been life changing.

“Honestly, there are some days I think REACH saved my life,” says Shannie. “I was in an angry, destructive state when I first came to CAMH. I was in bad relationships, mismanaging my emotions and using alcohol and drugs to cope.”

After several months in the program, however, things started to change.

“I finally felt like I was able to show my strengths academically because I was no longer stuck on worrying about the stress I felt in my typical school environment.  And once I started seeing the results – my grades went up, relationships were improving – it got super exciting for me.”

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Shannie says she still loves coming back to the Ernst & Young LLP REACH Classroom she spent so much time in.

Today, Shannie, now 24, is a graduate of the REACH program and runs her own pet grooming company with her sights set on moving out on her own. “I’m not really sure if the people who work at CAMH understand the full impact they have.

“This program doesn’t just help you get through school; it helps you get through life.”

Having graduated from CAMH’s REACH program in the winter, Brian is also ready for a new chapter, gearing up to start at George Brown College for video game programming this September.

“For the longest time I felt like I was stuck. Now I’m excited to be moving forward with my life.” 

​​​​For more information about CAMH’s YACD Service or to access a referral form, click here. To speak to someone directly or to make a referral, please call Access CAMH at 416 535 8501 and press 2.​

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