Meet Sara - Engaging Young People Where They Are
Sara McAuley (far left) with colleagues at SSO’s annual Yogathon in Oakville
March is National Social Work Month. Social workers are the heart of SSO’s work in providing support for families and individuals living with schizophrenia and psychosis. Sara McAuley is one of SSO’s social workers and a member of the Youth Wellness Centre Mobile Team that supports the Hamilton community.
Sara cares deeply about the work she does in the community and was attracted to social work because of her interest in how different facets of one’s identity can affect their life. “I was interested in how intersectional identities, like gender, race and class impact how we see the world. Schizophrenia is still an illness that is deeply misunderstood,” she says. “Social workers are able to help reduce stigma through education, creating safe spaces and making the community more welcoming to people with schizophrenia.”
As a member of the Youth Mobile Crisis Team, Sara visits McMaster University, Redeemer University College and Mohawk College weekly, speaking to students who have questions about mental health, providing counselling and system navigation. “The young people I meet inspire me every day,” Sara says. “They are thirsty for information. When I meet with them, I find that they already know a lot, they’ve done their own research and come to me with thoughtful questions.”
She also meets with marginalized young people in the community who are experiencing barriers to service, have questions about mental illness or are in need of system navigation. “The most common problem young people come to me with is being in limbo between the child and adult mental health systems,” Sara says. “Many of the young people I meet are supporting someone who lives with mental illness, whether it’s a roommate, partner or friend and they need guidance and support.”
It is important to meet young people where they are, which is why being available in the community is crucial. Post-secondary students are faced with many pressures, from the independence that comes with being on their own for the first time, to financial obligations and keeping up with their schoolwork. Having mobile teams available on campus when young people need them is key and can mean the difference between getting access to the right help or going on untreated.
“A barrier to service can be something as simple not knowing how to seek out a mental health professional,” says Sara. “Our team is here to help young people get the support they need, when they need it.” Mobile teams like Sara’s are on campus once a week and can be a lifeline during a critical time in a young person’s life.