Our People in Profile: Mental health and addictions program leader Mary Pyche and health services manager Matt White believe ‘In the face of crisis, there is hope’

Mental health and addictions program leader Mary Pyche and health services manager Matt White (Contributed).
Mental health and addictions program leader Mary Pyche and health services manager Matt White (Contributed).

The people

Mental health and addictions program leader Mary Pyche is “passionate about mental health and addictions” and believes “strongly that we have a responsibility to provide care for vulnerable populations.”

“I support the teams to do what it is they need to do to deliver the care that matters to us,” she said of her role with Nova Scotia Health Authority (NSHA), which is focused on managing  and assuring the quality of mental health and addictions resources and services, including acute care and crisis services.

Health services manager for crisis services Matt White is also committed to ensuring Nova Scotians receive high quality mental health and addictions care.

“I make sure that we have the appropriate amount of staff to deliver the care we need,” said White, who is responsible for human resources, staffing, and supporting teams in clinical triage.

“I look at how we can best support our clients each day and respond to the needs of staff so our front-line clinicians can provide quality care,” he said.

The work

Pyche and White work together to respond to complex needs using a multi-disciplinary and multi-agency approach. 

“We use evidence-based care that allows us to focus on the wellness of individuals, not just illness of individuals,” Pyche explained.

Their focus isn’t driven by a person’s deficits, but is based on a person’s strengths, both Pyche and White emphasized.

“The stories that make the news, the stories that we hear about are when people are at their most vulnerable,” Pyche said. “In the dominant culture, what people are believing is that the way that person is when they’re ill, is the way they are all the time, and that is not true.”

The challenges

What Pyche and White find difficult is addressing the myths surrounding mental health.

“There are myths out there that when people are ill, they are ill all the time, and that’s just not accurate,” Pyche said.

White points to many options for care that exist in communities.

“It’s important for people to know that there are many great mental health program services in the community outside of hospitalization.”

The solutions

There is a need for public education about mental health promotion, treatment and care, White added.

“How do we build healthy strong communities? How do we ensure health and wellness opportunities are available to individuals before they need the more formalized care and support,” he asked.  

Mental wellness starts with resilience, according to Pyche and White.

To build resiliency, White said, “we have to start young.”

“Life isn’t one steady incline; there are peaks and valleys. We need to let folks know that this is not abnormal, and that it is something we all go through,” he explained.

“Saying, ‘you should do it this way’ doesn’t work like that because everyone finds peace differently.” 

Whe individuals are faced with a struggle, White said, they often forget that they have strengths.

Building resiliency is reminding folks of their strengths and that “they have gotten through tough times before,” Pyche agreed. 

It’s important that when individuals access mental health services that their feelings are normalized and validated.

“Validation is the reminder that nobody does well all of the time,” Pyche said, “and while you’re not doing well right now, ‘what can we try to do to move you forward a little bit at a time?’”

In the face of a crisis, there is always hope, Pyche and White agreed.

“We’re never starting from scratch,” Pyche said. “People have strengths, people have resilience, and we’re here to remind them that they do.” 

The reminder

Often the word ‘prevention’ is used when talking about a crisis.

“I don’t think we do prevent crisis,” Pyche said. “Everyone is going to have a crisis in their lives. What we want to do is help people build coping skills.”

"The earlier you can introduce positive coping skills, the shorter the trajectory of that crisis is.” 

Other resources Pyche and White encourage individuals to use is the provincial mental health crisis line, which is available 24 hours a day, seven days a week toll-free by calling 1-888-429-8167.

“The point of the crisis team is to have a big bowl approach so everyone fits, and their needs and interventions are funneled from there,” Pyche explained. “ ‘Crisis’ is not one single definition or situation and the crisis line is there for everyone experiencing a crisis and for those supporting those in crisis as well.’ 

“The more that we talk about the crisis line, the more normalized it will become to reach out,” White added.

“There is help, there is hope, and there are services to provide support,” Pyche said.

Need help now?

The provincial Mental Health Crisis Line is available 24/7 toll-free at 1-888-429-8167.

Kids Help Phone is also available 24/7 toll-free at 1-800-668-6868.

Or if you are in crisis, please call 911 or go to your nearest emergency department.