There’s a farm stress line. Where’s the number for the oilpatch?

There’s help out there, and it starts with a call to intake

Estevan –“Farmers have the farm stress line to call. Where’s the number to call for the oilpatch?”

That’s a question that was raised to Pipeline Newsin December. For some people who have employee assistance plans through their job benefits package, that might be the first place to call. But for those who don’t have such plans, or who are independent contractors, they may need to turn to the health district for mental health support.

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Saskatchewan now has one health authority, the Saskatchewan Health Authority. Marlene Salmers is a mental health supervisor who works out of Estevan and Weyburn, while Jody Miller is a supervisor for addiction services in those same communities. They spoke to Pipeline Newson Jan. 13 at St. Joseph’s Hospital in Estevan.

Pipeline News:This downturn is now over five years, and we’re not really seeing a return to good times in sight. How is that affecting people?

Marlene Salmers: I have to say that whether we have a good, robust economy, or whether we have an economy that’s in a downturn and struggling, most clients who come in don’t identify that as the reason why they’re coming in for services. What they’re looking for is things that are going on at home, and they identify it that way. So they’re identifying their own personal struggles, or they’re identifying family struggles or financial struggles. As the conversation continues, then we will often hear about their jobs, or their losses or so forth. Most clients, when they come in, focus on how they feel or how my family is doing.

P.N.: Is there a correlation to the downturn in the oilpatch economy to the number of people that are coming in?

Jody Miller: We would have nothing that says there is a direct correlation. Just like what Marlene was saying, we see we haven’t had an influx of numbers because of that reason, so we would have nothing to say that’s why our clients are coming in. We have the same if there’s a good economy or bad economy.

P.N.: I’m really surprised you would say that. Walking in, I ran into a guy I know in the patch who said he was between jobs himself, and he said he had talked to someone about counselling (somewhere else) and, absolutely, there’s something going on.

Salmers: I would want to add there may be a lot of individuals in communities, given what’s going on in their home situations. Sometimes we may not see that. It may be very well some are going for services with financial assistance, or services that have to do with debt consolidation, and those aren’t ours. There may be people coming for services in other parts of the community that we’re not aware of.

When it comes to what we see, we actually will see more of an influx of service at certain times of the year, more than I would say dependent on what’s going on economically right now. Maybe certain times of the year are harder on people than others.

One of the things that we notice is that, a lot of times in the spring, we see an influx of service. We also see an influx of service before the summer holidays. Because, I think what is is “I’m not feeling well, I want to get myself feeling better before holidays start.”

For sure, child and youth services is very busy until the end of June. And then there’s a bit of a lull in summer.

P.N.: I would think winter, with the crappy weather, people would get most depressed. That’s not the case?

Salmers: I can’t say for sure. We don’t have any statistics that say that here. But we do have people coming in, talking about hibernating. Oftentimes people will struggle with changes in the weather, in the fall, when the days are feeling shorter. People will complain about feeling groggy and tired and they feel they should go hibernate like a bear. But mostly, we see an influx during the change of seasons.  

P.N.: What are the mental health issues in the oilpatch?

Salmers: What I find, a lot of times when we have individuals who are struggling, the stressors they identify are different. When things are good, the stressors are different. When things are not so good, people may struggle because there’s not enough money going around. They use their coping strategies – and most people do – they’ll use their coping strategies that they’ve normally used, and they’ll try to make those strategies work when times are difficult. What they struggle with, often, is when things don’t change.

So the thing I normally would do is I get out and I talk to my friend, or whatever, right now, this isn’t working. So when that happens, some people will get very resilient, and they’ll find other ways to cope. I used to walk, but now I’m going to go to the library. I’ll do social stuff. I need to do something. They’ll get resilient and find things to do. Their coping strategies evolve, and they adapt.

What we often see is people who don’t do that. So they tried A, and A didn’t work, so they went to B, and that was it. They didn’t have any C, D, E or F. And unfortunately, what happens with those individuals is sometimes they fall back on some unhealthy coping strategies.

The phrase I’ve always liked is “doubling up on your vices.” If they drink, they drink more. If they smoke, they may smoke more. If they use, they may use more. If they gamble, they may gamble more. They may shop more, thinking this will bury my head in the sand, and they won’t think about it. The problem comes when they’re in a state of distress because of their situation, because there’s no recovery, and other stressors pile on.    

P.N.: Are you seeing the oilpatch hitting the bottle more, or other substance abuse?

Miller: Specifically to the patch, I can’t speak to that. To our general area, Weyburn and Estevan, addiction services sees that all the time. We see people that their incomes are stressed. They may choose to engage in alcohol or drugs or gambling as a coping stress management technique. We see all the time as they continue to fall back on the use of those things, is it actually creates more stress and negative consequences because of that.

In our line of work, we see that it the time, where people are using what might have once worked for them, and it might not work anymore.

Salmers: I think people assume, generally, that anytime somebody feels they have a problem, they’ll access service. They’ll come and they’ll see somebody. That’s not always the case. So that’s why the focus for us is getting the message out there that there are services. There are a lot of services. And they’re not just between 9 and 5 and 8 and 5. There are other things that available.

I think sometimes the assumption is that “I don’t understand. All these people should be calling for help.” But, we’re not seeing all those people.

Miller: Obviously, we can’t deny that Estevan has a big oilfield population, right? But are we seeing it stand out as opposed to other areas? I think we’re seeing just as much other sectors of people come in for services – agriculture, health care, retail. Mental health and addictions don’t discriminate.

Salmers: It’s a trickle-down effect. If something is happening that impacts jobs, it will impact jobs across the board. I know what you’re saying about the oilpatch, but retailers may see it. And other people may see it. So we may get third or fourth levels of contact because people are struggling at jobs. It’s been very quiet at work, and we’re afraid the outlet’s going to close or we’re going to lose the business. Unfortunately, in our neck of the woods, it seems to be feast or famine. We know that.

The immediate response may not be because of the oilpatch, this is what’s going on. People are just dealing with their small corners of the world – the restaurants, hotels, Wal-mart, rental, housing. Some of those areas definitely may have an impact, but they not be things that we see at this point.

Some folks don’t come here for service. Some might go to other places, and that’s great. I’m happy that they’re going. A lot of those places have private therapy or employment assistance programs, or they may go out of the community.

P.N.: How serious is this? Are we seeing suicides? Marital breakdowns? Physical/mental abuse? Divorces, etc.?

Salmers: The suicides stats, we wouldn’t have. Again, when we’re hearing about people in crisis, that’s why we do these talks. We want people to know these services are out there.

Often a myth is that people who are suicidal, or dies by suicide, has had contact with us. That’s not the case. We want to make sure that we would be available, and make people aware of the services we have.

I can’t say specifically. I do know the families that we’re seeing were coming here have been coming because they’re under a tremendous about of stress. Could the employment situation, or the downturn, be part of that? Yes. Would it be the only cause, no.

P.N.: Some companies have benefits packages which include some mental health support. But what about those people who don’t have such benefits? Where do they turn?

P.N.: What is available out there for help?

Salmers: We have a number of services. Mental health and addiction services is located in Estevan and Weyburn. What we have, that works well for us, is an intake program, the first open door for the client, the first point of entry. It is on the phone.

The reason we have intake is they’ll assess risk. They’re very good developing rapport If someone calls in, and says, “You know what? I’m really feeling these really feeling horrid. I have these really dark thoughts, I don’t know what to do.”

That person will be prioritized for service. And that means that person gets services very quickly. They triage, and do a clinical assessment for us. Instead of us having to sift through all referrals, we actually have a very clear idea of who is in need of services and how quickly.

We have mental health and addiction services. They also provide single sessions and information about other services. Intake will give you information, if you call them, about all services. Anything they know of in the community, they will let you know. And if you fit those services, they will make sure you get the information.

We have community resources. An example would be Envision Counselling, which is offering single sessions, daily. We have online therapy services out of Regina. It’s computer-based, at home. You can do it when you have time. Some people can’t come for services during the day, or they can’t because they finally got a job that works, and they don’t want to get yelled at by their boss, or they don’t want him to know. It also works for people in the rural area who can’t get in.

There’s no cost for mental health and addiction services. (Envision has a fee.)

There’s also 811.

Miller: There are also 12-step programs in the community – Alcoholics Anonymous, Narcotics Anonymous, Al-Anon. They can be really good resources for individuals wanting counselling services.

P.N.: Playing devil’s advocate, what good is an unknown counsellor on the phone, whom you have never met, and never will meet? How can a distressed person expect that voice on the phone to really care?  

Salmers: Every day, we strive to learn more, and look at ways to help people that are coming to us or calling in. The only example I can give that’s relevant for us is if you call our intake. I have listened to our intake staff as they have supported and counselled and encouraged. Our phone calls are, on average, 30-40 minutes. So they don’t just do “Hi, bye.”

Hindsight’s 20/20. We make sure, if people call in, if they’re in distress, we don’t say, “We’ll check on you in two weeks and see how you’re doing.”

We assess risk. Every phone call that we do, when we take a phone call from intake, there is a suicide risk screen, there’s an addictions screen, that happens right off the bat.

It’s not “Hi, are you suicidal?” There’s seven questions. And they go through the seven questions with a client. And sometimes you’ll get “No, not really,” but then you ask if they’ve had thoughts of driving into traffick, and yeah, they have. So that’s a “Yes,” and we follow up on that.

Every year, we get better at this. Every year we try to listen to the concerns, learn from what’s happened, and what things we’ve learned from talking to our clients.

I know what we do, and I support my staff, and I know Jody does, too.

(Addiction services has 8-10 staff members, and mental health services has 21-22). 

P.N.: What should a person do if they see a problem for themselves or a coworker?

Salmers: I would say call in. Intake is our first point of entry. Intake will sift out, sort out, what’s required. A lot of people will assume it’s addictions, or mental health. We know it’s both. We know we have times with both problems at the same time, and we sort it out with the client.

If they’re looking for a certain type of therapy, intake does a really good job to find out. So I would call in.

Miller: We, lot of times, get that phone call for a family member or a spouse or friend who they think needs help. We would encourage them, in that instance, for the person whose calling to come in and meet with us. Even on the phone, we can talk about what kind of services are available for that person, and what sorts of interventions services might be available in helping a friend or family member. Right there and then on the phone we can start making a plan with that individual on how to address the problem, whether it be their own support or some other intervention with a friend or family member. 

Please don’t hesitate to call if you are struggling or you think someone else is struggling. We have staff that are willing, able, to help, and that’s what we’re here for.

There’s a big misconception in accessing services that “There’s something wrong with me.” Our services are confidential. There’s nothing wrong with you. We’re here to support you in your wellness. 

Salmers: I want people to know that asking for help takes strength and courage. If they can do that, it shows their strength and courage. It’s hard to take that first step. But when they do, a lot of times, the outcome is positive.

(The intake number for Estevan and Weyburn is 306-842-8665 or 1-800-216-7689; other callers in southeast Saskatchewan can call these numbers and may be redirected if needed. In southwest Saskatchewan, please call 1-877-329-0005. In west central Saskatchewan, please call 1-866-268-9139. In Lloydminster, please call (306) 820-6250. Callers across the province can also reach out to Healthline by dialing 811.)

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