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More cash needed to tackle substance abuse problems

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Leslie Grant, the executive director of substance abuse intervention agency Focus Counselling Services (File photograph by Sarah Lagan)
New role: drug and alcohol counsellor Karla Trott (Photograph supplied)

A major funding boost is needed to help “invisible” residents affected by substance abuse, a charity leader said yesterday.

Leslie Grant, the executive director of Focus Counselling Services, added that it was important to remove the stigma that prevented people asking for help.

He said: “Our biggest issue is funding. Funding to expand programming, funding to enhance what we already have.

“It’s very difficult, and I get it – organisations want to know where their money’s being spent.

“But we serve the people that are invisible to everybody else, that’s the reality of it.

“The people that most people walk past daily or ignore daily – they come here for showers, they come here for something to eat and some even come for other assistance that we can offer.”

Mr Grant said that the charity got a Government grant that covered about a third of its costs and cash was also raised through corporate and individual fundraising.

But he added: “What I find is that – and this is a touchy subject for a lot of people – nobody wants to part with their money, especially in uncertain times.

“However, what I’ve noticed is with substance abuse treatment or with mental health services period in Bermuda, it appears to me that generally people want a lot done but aren’t quick to donate to places like Focus.”

Mr Grant said the “reality” was that “substance abuse is the most underfunded entity in Bermuda”.

Mr Grant added: “It’s not recognised in its entirety as a mental health challenge, which is part of the problem.

“There’s a huge stigma around seeking help, there’s a huge stigma around substance use disorder period.”

He pointed out that substance use included not only alcohol and illegal drugs but that there were “quite a few people” who suffered from addiction to prescription medications.

Mr Grant said: “It’s not talked about and in some cases it’s not addressed at all.”

He added: “Everybody has their priorities but I personally believe if more funds were put towards substance use disorder and substance abuse treatment in Bermuda, and all mental health challenges, we may see some of the other social ills change.”

Mr Grant said that he was “very grateful” to the Bank of Bermuda Foundation for a $52,000 donation earlier this year for the Focus drop-in centre.

He added that help from the Third Sector Coordinated Crisis Response Team, launched in response to the Covid-19 pandemic, was “awesome”.

Mr Grant said that drive to encourage more women to visit Focus started last year.

He explained: “It was quite clear that the women didn’t want to be here or participate in any services because there were so many men around in the building at the time.”

Karla Trott, an addiction counsellor who joined Focus in April, said that greater attention to women’s needs meant they were more likely to seek help.

She added: “At present I have a group running, so the participants have individual counselling and they participate within the group.”

Ms Trott said: “There are some issues that in the group we talk about that would not be talked about comfortably in a group with men, so there is a level of trust that’s created.

“I’m a very strong believer in building rapport and someone is only going to share deep issues when they feel comfortable - that doesn’t happen overnight.”

She added that women clients were also offered skills like resume writing and interview techniques as well as assistance with searches for housing or jobs.

Ms Trott said that her wish-list included a group home where women could recover from addiction in a safe environment.

Mr Grant said that Focus had recently added services for adolescents and young adults aged between about 15 and 25.

The charity said it had moved from a “clubhouse” model where people could “hang out" to a “strictly treatment-oriented programme” that offers help to anyone who wants it.

Mr Grant said: “Most people come when there’s some type of consequence that kind of makes them reach out.

“It could be homelessness, it could be joblessness it could be breakdown of relationships … stress, trauma, what they might call ’the bottom’.”

He added that the charity served up to 300 meals a week across breakfast and lunch on weekdays and a handful of people used showers at its Hamilton base every day.

Focus staff said they hoped for the addition of a van to reach people in other parts of the island.

Mr Grant said: “Nobody runs to treatment, most persons are normally motivated by something that’s going on in their life, unfortunately most of the time negative.

“But the numbers are picking up noticeably, we’re getting referrals from organisations that we previously never had relationships with so that in itself suggests that something may be working.”

On the Focus Facebook page earlier this month[October], Mr Grant published details about “barriers” that can discourage people from seeking help.

They included “perceived absence of a problem”, stigma, demands on time and treatment availability.

The post said that almost a fifth of people who did not seek treatment said they worried about what others would think.

It added: “Despite their worst fears, most family and friends of people with substance use disorders would prefer their loved one get better and not suffer in silence.”

It added: “Treatment is more effective when people seek help before their addiction becomes severe and recovery is easier if you start sooner rather than later.”

*For more information contact Focus Counselling Services on 296-2196, e-mail info.focus@focus.bm or visit www.focus.bm.

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Published October 23, 2020 at 1:00 pm (Updated October 23, 2020 at 1:17 am)

More cash needed to tackle substance abuse problems

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