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Mental health support helps with job search

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For Steve Buttineau, finding the right support in his job search not only helped him find work, but also improved his prospects and self-esteem.

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There was a time, not too long ago, when Buttineau, now 30, struggled to find work – then simply stopped looking.

“I never really looked for a job because I didn’t understand what I was looking for,” Buttineau said, describing the “very intimidating” job search process and sometimes confusing job descriptions.

He said he went through “particularly low lows” when his Ontario Works counselor suggested he try the SkillsAdvance Ontario program.

Offered locally by the Belleville Mental Health Enrichment Center, the eight-week program provides training for the food service and cleaning industries.

This is the first of two courses that Buttineau follows at the center.

“Not only did it involve paid work…but they had resources that helped me approach the job search differently.”

First announced in 2019, the SkillsAdvance program will end on July 31.

Enrichment Center executive director Sandie Sidsworth said three graduates had found work, but provincial closures made it difficult to find restaurant work. Employers have since resumed hiring, she said.

Three surveyed participants said the course was worth it.

Dave, 64, said he found a part-time job as a cleaner and learned skills such as resume writing and food handling.

“I love learning something new every day,” said Dave, who declined to give his last name. “It gave me more confidence.

“I like the job.”

A 29-year-old woman who asked that her name not be published said the course had strengthened her coping skills and made it easier to talk to people and participate in job interviews.

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She said she did a two-week internship at a cafe and has since signed up for the centre’s new program to learn more.

In hosting the SkillsAdvance sessions, Sidsworth said, staff realized they “needed to have mental health support built into” employment programs to give students “more tools” to to succeed.

New support program

This additional support is now part of the Growing Independent Futures 4 Tomorrow, or GIFT, course.

This is a four-week program that teaches job skills, coping strategies and more. Sidsworth said it was designed for people who need more resilience amid the pandemic and for whom mental health has made it difficult to find employment, housing or welfare.

Mental Health Week runs from May 2 to May 8.

“Everyone is dealing with an impact on mental health from the past two years,” Sidsworth said.

“Social isolation has impacted people’s resilience, anxiety and depression.”

Sidsworth said some clients had settled for part-time work, but inflation forced them to seek more employment.

She said GIFT focuses on jobs in warehouses, call centers, retail and food service, as well as construction apprenticeships. The Quinte Home Builders’ Association is a partner organization.

The Ontario Ministry of Labour, Training and Skills Development funds the program. Sidsworth said she could not say more about the funding as the current election campaign means there has been no official announcement of support.

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“We hope to work with 200 people in one year,” she said. The funding period ends on March 31, 2023.

A psychotherapist, a community mental health counselor and an addictions counselor are part of the GIFT team.

If, for example, a panic attack occurs, staff can coach the person through calming techniques, Sidsworth said.

Confidence booster

Buttineau de Belleville, is now also enrolled in the GIFT course. He said the skills program helped him “come out of my shell.

“I find myself engaging in conversations,” he said.

Buttineau said he enjoyed his internship and later found part-time work at a restaurant. But after a brief, minor mistake at work, he was shaken and had to refocus before the next day at work.

He said he remembered the praise and approval he received during his placement and said to himself, “I was worth something there. I can also argue something here.

“When you ground yourself in those thoughts, the things that bother you don’t even matter anymore,” Buttineau said. He decided to improve on his next shift.

“We will do it again. We will do better,” recalls Buttineau, having said to himself.

He is again looking for a job after being made redundant, but said he feels better about the search.

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Sidsworth said the team needs to provide services to clients, rather than referring them to other agencies, although that also happens when needed.

Those enrolled in the GIFT course can take advantage of the centre’s counseling, support groups and transitional housing.

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Sidsworth said the center previously had a housing-focused approach.

“The lack of housing makes this almost impossible.”

An alternative, the Share Our Space program, helps people reduce their housing costs by finding other people to share accommodation; there is mediation to resolve conflicts.

Clients aren’t the only ones receiving training through GIFT: Employers learn to support people “who openly need accommodation for their mental health well-being,” Sidsworth said.

Interviews are now underway for the next GIFT course, which begins May 24. To find out if the program is right for you, call the center at 613-969-8874. The agency’s address is in Building 59, at the rear of the complex at 250 Sidney St., north of Bridge Street West.

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