Say cheese, the Bright Smiles Project: Dental Health for Mental Health has come to Antigonish.
The project provides access to dental services for individuals living with mental illness and who can’t afford to access services on their own.
Co-ordinator Cecilia McRae was at the People’s Place Library July 3, registering the first Antigonish folks eligible for the project, which has been up-and-running in Pictou County for a couple of years.
“Our group who started this is called the Pictou County Mental Illness Family Support Association,” McRae said, of the volunteer group. “We started this two years ago; right now we have registered, I believe, number 70 in Pictou County.”
McRae talked about expanding to Antigonish.
“The Community Foundation of Nova Scotia, they’re giving us $48,100 each year for two years; half will go here to Antigonish and half to Pictou County,” she said.
“Later, we’ll get some funding from the Mental Health Foundation of Nova Scotia as well. Again, some for Antigonish, some for Pictou County and then, next year, they’ll give us some for Antigonish, some for Pictou County and some for Guysborough County … it’s coming.”
McRae said her group looks for money any place they can find it to support the project, and while they wish they could help everyone, they’ve set the limits on those with documented mental illness and limited incomes, in the stated locations.
“We would like to help everyone and we get a lot of calls from people saying I have heart problems, diabetes, but they don’t fit our criteria,” she said. “It breaks our heart to say no because I know they need the help, but we can only help so many with the few dollars that we have.”
If a person is eligible, McRae said there is no set amount they’ll spend on their dental work.
“What we do is get a predetermination for the person and then we go from there,” she said.
“So if one person is going to cost us a lot, then we wouldn’t be able to do as many. The money will all be spent.”
As for the library setting for registering Antigonish town and county folks, McRae said it’s a good central location and her preference is to be in the heart of the community.
“I don’t go to homes; I think it’s better to be outside in the community, and we want to be visible too,” she said. “Not only are we trying to help people like Lenny [the gentleman signing up at the time], we’re also trying to reduce the stigma that is attached to mental illness in general; and allowing them to get to the dentist, like everyone else does, makes sense.”
On-hand during the time were social worker for St. Martha’s Regional Hospital’s mental health unit Jessie MacDonald, student Melissa Fanning who is doing her practicum by working with MacDonald, and volunteer Gladys MacDougall who is well-known in Antigonish for, amongst other work, helping run the valuable community service the Friendship Corner at the John Paul Centre.
“I’m currently co-chair of the mental health family support group here and Cecilia and I go back ages and ages, so I was very interested in this,” MacDougall said, noting she knows a few candidates she’ll suggest reach out to McRae.
“Two I’ve spoken to in just casual conversation,” MacDougall said, stressing the benefits of having access to proper dental healthcare for individuals with mental health illness. “By the end of the summer, it might be 10 or 12.”
The project can be access through the 211 Nova Scotia database or by contacting McRae either by email – firstname.lastname@example.org or phone – 902-926-2211.