Eight years after the First Nations community of Eskasoni, N.S., suffered through a rash of youth suicides, a new mental health centre will open its doors with a mandate to focus on young people.

It will be staffed by a clinician, Dr. Heather Rudderham, a psychologist candidate with Eskasoni Mental Health Services, and by Bernadette Bernard, who at age 23 will serve as the clinic's youth adviser.

Bernard says she suffered a number of personal tragedies as a teenager, including the deaths of her father and stepbrother.

She took advantage of a number of mental health other counselling services herself during that time and believes her experience will help her steer other young people to the services they may need.

Eskasoni mental health centre for young people

Eskasoni First Nation, N.S., has a new mental health centre especially for young people. The facility offers a place for recreational activities as well. (Submitted by Heather Rudderham)

"From the counselling services to after-school programming, summer camps ... I'm also alcohol and drug-free," she said. "I've never touched any alcohol or drugs all my life, so I've always seen the importance of counselling and seeking services."

Filling the gaps

Since 2009, Eskasoni has worked to co-ordinate efforts and services to better reach young people before a crisis develops.

Rudderham says the most important concept to come out of multiple community meetings was the so-called "fishnet" model.

"You don't wait in your offices for people to come to you," she explained. "You get out in the community. We partner very, very regularly with Sports and Recreation and we have colleagues who are youth support workers, so the stigma has absolutely been reduced."

Eskasoni, Nova Scotia mental health centre

Computer stations are shown at the new Eskasoni, N.S., mental health centre for young people. (Submitted by Heather Rudderham)

The centre is funded by Access Open Minds, a joint venture of the federal government and a private charitable foundation to improve youth mental health care in Canada.

Reducing stigma

Like many rural communities, Eskasoni has little to offer its young people in the way of entertainment. Bernard says the new centre hopes to fill that gap.

"Even as simple as a movie night on a weekend," she said. "Something for them to do on a weekend, but also bringing them to the centre for them to see what we do there, the services that we do there. "

Offering recreational activities may also serve to reduce the stigma many associate with accessing mental services, Bernard said.

"Because we started adding all these programs that are welcoming youth, it's kind of like, 'Okay, this place isn't so scary. Like, people think I'm coming here for a gamers night.'"

with files from Information Morning Cape Breton