Our People in Profile: From New York social worker to Cape Breton clinician, Paula Nishi says mental health is ‘integral part of our overall health and wellness’
Somewhere on the roads between Cape Breton’s Inverness Consolidated Memorial Hospital, Baddeck’s Victoria Consolidated Memorial Hospital and Cheticamp’s Sacred Heart Hospital, you’ll likely find Paula Nishi driving from place to place.
Nishi is an adult mental health clinician who works out of all three sites throughout the week.
In her job, Nishi sees adults who have been referred to her – typically by family doctors or through central intake – for mental health and addictions issues. She provides a range of services for clients, from initial assessment, to consultation for psychiatric consultation, to therapy for symptoms of depression, anxiety and other forms of mental illnesses.
After meeting with clients, Nishi then makes recommendations about treatment plans moving forward. But she doesn’t operate in a silo. Nishi works with a dedicated team of other clinicians whom she meets with once a week to review cases that are more challenging or complex and may need the attention of people from other professions.
Nishi is also quick to include in that team the hardworking administrative professionals who keep everyone organized and on point.
When working on client cases, communication and teamwork are paramount, she said.
“What’s most important is that we want to ensure people don’t get lost in the system or fall between the cracks,” Nishi said. “Increasingly people are considering one's mental health as an integral part of our overall health and wellness.”
A social worker by training, Nishi is not new to this field. She grew up knowing she wanted to go into social work since she was a young woman. She got her masters degree from Hunter College in New York City.
Before coming to Canada, she worked in New York’s private sector delivery of residential social work services for children with developmental disabilities. Her family used to spend summers up in Cape Breton, since the 1940s. When she was deciding where to practise, she felt a deep connection to the place and decided upon her move.
“Each of the places I work has an amazing view – it would be a million dollar view in New York – and I to enjoy it from my office!” Nishi said of choosing Nova Scotia.
More than just the view, Nishi appreciates working in a rural environment and helping people directly, and she feels appreciated here, too.
“Of great benefit is a team approach for support and encouragement,” she said about her colleagues. “Drawing from different experiences and skillsets helps us all in our practices and keeps us current.”
The rural communities of Cape Breton come with their own unique challenges, though.
Confidentiality and anonymity are important to residents so that they can seek mental health and addictions counselling without being singled out or stigmatized.
However, because she works in three communities, Nishi said that clients feel less anxious because they have the choice to come see her in an office location outside of their home town.
Nishi’s clients also often deal with frustrations that many rural residents find relatable, such as unemployment, low job satisfaction, lack of affordable housing, limitations and other stresses from day-to-day life in the country.
“Self-care in this job is important to avoid burnout,” she said.
“You have to understand your role and boundaries and separate your professional life from your personal life to not only protect yourself, but to help your clients in the best way possible.”
Words of wisdom from a seasoned social worker.
Are you experiencing a mental health issue and need help?
If you need help immediately, please call our mental health crisis line toll-free at 1-888-429-8167.
If you’re unsure of what services you need, talk to one of our intake clinicians in your area.
Our numbers can be found at http://www.nshealth.ca/mental-health-and-addictions-intake-phone-numbers.