When Farida Dirisu accepted a summer job with Providence Care’s Dual Diagnosis Consultation Outreach Team (DDCOT) she had no idea of the impact she would have. Dirisu, a 3rd year nursing student at Queen’s University, accepted the position looking to make a difference in the lives of the program’s clients; however, her role quickly expanded as soon as she met Julie Whiteman. Whiteman, a social worker with the program, recruited Dirisu for a much larger mission, one aimed at improving the health and well-being of persons with intellectual disabilities in our communities.
The Dual Diagnosis Consultation Outreach Team provides community based mental health services for individuals 16 years of age or older living with an intellectual disability combined with a diagnosed or suspected mental illness. After attempting to direct her clients to available harm reduction resources, Whiteman quickly realized that there was a significant gap: materials that are accessible to her client population. “Harm reduction includes programs, practices and educational materials that aim to keep people safe and minimize death, disease and injury from high-risk behaviour.”  For individuals living with an intellectual disability or who have a low level of literacy, the current available resources can be difficult to comprehend. And if the individual lacks support, they could be missing out on valuable information on how to manage and avoid risk.
The discovery fueled a new project for Whiteman and Dirisu; to create harm reduction information and resources for a broader, more inclusive audience. By tailoring resources to be more accessible, the two have uncovered an additional opportunity to provide preventative education and health care for a much larger audience.
Through their research, the pair has created a series of harm reduction workshops accompanied by supporting reference materials to empower individuals with intellectual disabilities to advocate for their own health and safety. The workshops cover 12 key target areas for harm reduction which include peer pressure, substance use, tattoos and piercings, domestic violence and sex trafficking. “Our clients can be particularly vulnerable, and if they are lacking information and education, it can put them at an even higher risk for harm” Whiteman pointed out. “If we want to reduce the risk in the community, we need to work together as a community. We’re eager to collaborate with other knowledgeable organizations in order to deliver the most accurate and relevant material to our audiences” said Whiteman. As part of their collaborative model, the pair has been working with Doug van der Horden who works as a child and youth worker at Ernestown Secondary School as well as the founder of Fighting Against Sex Trafficking or FAST. With human trafficking becoming an increasingly prevalent issue in our communities, the group knows the importance of having open conversations with all individuals and educating them on how to stay safe in language that is comprehendible.
When speaking with Whiteman and Dirisu their passion for the project is palpable. They work diligently each day to provide education on harm reduction so their clients are empowered to make positive health decisions. But they also know that there are others in the community that could benefit from their workshops. The pair’s overall goal is to share the workshops with community partners so that they can increase awareness and take a preventative approach to improve the health and well-being of our communities.
In the fall Dirisu will leave DDCOT and return to Queen’s for her 4th year of nursing, but her unrelenting commitment to the project means she will continue to volunteer throughout the school year. “It’s important to get this information out there, we just need to find the right channels” said Dirisu. With several of the workshops ready for audiences, Whiteman and Dirisu are looking to begin offering their workshops later this fall.
If you work with individuals with intellectual disabilities or people with a low level of literacy in our communities and are interested in hosting the workshops or obtaining the curriculum, please contact Julie Whiteman at firstname.lastname@example.org
You can learn more about the services offered by Providence Care’s Dual Diagnosis Consultative Outreach Team here.
 Understanding Harm Reduction: Substance Use. (2017, July 25). Retrieved August 03, 2018, from https://www.healthlinkbc.ca/healthlinkbc-files/substance-use-harm-reduction