Mental Health Q&A with Chantelle Partyka

The Challenge: “Do a 10-question Q&A with someone you admire. Record it, transcribe it exactly, and take their photo.”

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Chantelle Partyka has always wanted to help people, it just wasn’t until she came across Brandon University’s psychiatric nursing program did she decide how.

I have known Chantelle for approximately seven years. She is one of the most talented, hard-working, and empathetic people I have ever met. She has a passion for mental health that reaches far beyond her simply making a career choice. Not only does she genuinely want to support the community, she also strives to use her education to spread awareness and debunk misconceptions of mental illness. Her dedication to making a difference in the lives of Winnipeggers (and wherever else she may end up) is admirable and I cannot wait to see the impact she has on the community.

Kelsey James: “Why did you decide to study psychiatric nursing?”

Chantelle Partyka: “Ever since I was in junior high I was always really interested in our perceptions of things and peoples behaviours. So when I found out what psychology was I was really interested.  I always really wanted to help people, I just didn’t know what I wanted to do. Then I guess when I was in high school I was researching programs and this one caught my eye. And I mean, also not to mention, I have some lived-experience of living with anxiety, which has led to some depression problems, but also friends and family.”

KJ: “So what are your goals after graduation?”

CP: “I would like to work in the community because I think there are limited accessible services that don’t involve high cost or long waiting lists. Also I have a theory about acute inpatient psychiatric wards. I feel like if you treat someone with a mental health crisis, stabilize them, and then discharge them right back into the same environment that made them ill in the first place, what’s the point? Why don’t you just work in the community and get to the heart of the problem? That’s kind of my personal philosophy.”

KJ: “How does the psychiatric nursing program operate?”

CP: “Well, it’s a joint program between the University of Winnipeg and Brandon University. There are 10 prerequisite courses in order to enter. So after you take the required courses you can apply into second year. Usually about a third of the applicants are accepted based on GPA only, no interviews, which is wrong. Then once you’re in it’s just three full-time years of school with practicums.

KJ: “And how many practicums have you done?”

CP: “I’ve done a total of five or six.”

KJ: “Did it help you feel like you’ve made the right career choice?”

CP: “Yes. There was a time during second year, which is a lot more medical focused as opposed to mental health, where we had to do a surgical rotation. Once a week I was on a neuro supportive unit with a lot of people who had intensive brain injuries. That was really hard for me because that’s not what I want to work in. So when I was in that practicum, I was like, okay, why am I in this medical program? I don’t want to be a medical nurse. It’s not for me. They just had to teach us medical nursing as well as psych nursing. I stuck through it.”

KJ: “Do you have any frustrations with Canada’s mental health system?”

CP: *laughs* “Yes. There’s a major lack of funding for mental health care within Canada’s health care budget. The World Health Organization recommends eight to ten per cent of the total health care budget be allocated to mental health. In Manitoba, only 4 per cent of our budget is allocated, and of that the majority is used for inpatient services inside of hospitals and less on community resources, health promotion or recovery. So most of this money is going to acute psychiatric wards and, in my experience, acute psychiatry needs to come a long way because they’re very uninviting; they’re full of locked doors, they generally use medication as a first-line treatment, and there are minimal activities. This type of environment, in my opinion, doesn’t promote recovery. I just feel like the system is very flawed when it comes to acute care, which is pretty much why I want to work in the community.”

KJ: “Do you have any idea of how these problems can be fixed?”

CP: “Not particularly because they’re very structural problems. I think as per the funding, that’s very government institutional based. I don’t know what I could do personally as a singular nurse to change that, even though I wish I could do more, which is very frustrating when you work in a system that you know is flawed. Manitoba also though just recently mandated reform in mental health care and now we are required to operate within a recovery oriented framework.”

KJ: “Instead of?”

CP: “Instead of just maintenance therapy or stabilization. We need to change the way we talk about mental illness. It hasn’t really been put to practice everywhere yet, but it is a mandate and I think it will help but I don’t think it will help the structural problems I was talking about.”

KJ: “What is a common misconception about mental illness and treatment?”

CP: “Okay, I’ll just throw a couple out there. A lot of people assume that because an individual is having an episode of psychosis that they are a higher risk of being violent, and it’s actually the opposite. People who live with psychosis are at a higher risk of being a victim to violence. A lot of people think the contrary. Also, people like to assume that mental health professionals basically just push medication onto patients, like without doing anything else, any other kinds of therapy or counselling. Although I mentioned that I think medication is too often used first-line in acute psychiatry, I think most mental health professionals view it as a tool. It’s not a cure or a band aid or whatever, it’s a tool that can help some people make necessary changes in other areas of their lives. I think it’s really important to be respectful of that and not dismissive. A lot of people like to shut psychiatric medication down, but some people wouldn’t be alive if it wasn’t for it.”

KJ: “Do you think Canada is currently having a suicide epidemic?”

CP: “I don’t think I would go so far as to say it’s an epidemic, but I think people are finally recognizing the disparities between privileged and underprivileged populations in terms of mental health care, accessibility, and cultural awareness, competence and practice. I think as a result of that there has been an increase in awareness with First Nations communities and, as you’ve probably heard on the news, smaller communities like Cross Lake are obviously at a much higher risk of suicide because they lack resources and live with all of the effects of intergenerational trauma and discrimination. Also, I know it’s kind of an odd thing, but suicide contagion or clusters is a real phenomenon and Cross Lake is the perfect candidate for it, which is scary but we have unfortunately seen that this past year. So I don’t know if I would call it an epidemic, but I definitely think there’s more awareness around it.”

KJ: “With Cross Lake then, I know the system is generally flawed, but how do you think the government can aid in sending more services up to Indigenous communities and reservations? Is it their fault?”

CP: “I don’t know if it’s specifically the government’s fault but it’s not the community’s fault. Basically after colonization and all Indigenous people went through, mental health care wasn’t equipped to really help First Nations people in a culturally competent way. Now I think there’s a shift in recovery oriented practice and the need to be culturally competent that we need to recognize their ways of healing and incorporate it and respect it into their recovery. And I think it can be done but I don’t think it’s as easy as just sending mental health professionals over there. I don’t know the answer to that.”

KJ: “Almost like it’s more engrained.”

CP: “Kind of like a bigger structural issue. I mean, no doubt it would help just to send mental health professionals out there, which they have by the way, but the problem is larger than just that.”

KJ: “I recently read an article about post-secondary students struggling with mental health issues. Do you have any recommendations for how they can manage?”

CP: “Well, I think it’s important not to go through things alone. If you’re feeling overwhelmed, whether it be with anxiety or depression or intrusive thoughts or whatever it may be, tell somebody. I know that the U of W, and I’m sure Red River College and the U of M, have free counselling services and stuff like that. Being able to recognize when your body is reacting to stress in a negative way is really important and just kind of building that self-awareness. Tell someone though. You’re not alone.”

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