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Interview with Nikki Olguin on Eating Disorders Nova Scotia’s new Peer Support Program

In recognition of National Teen Mental Health Day on March 2nd, 2023, Nikki Olguin from Eating Disorders Nova Scotia was interviewed regarding their new Peer Support Program.

Eating Disorders Nova Scotia has a multitude of programs and supports available to youth.

Q: Why did you feel it was necessary to start this program?

A: There was an increase in enquires from youth, specifically those aged 13-17. There are few supports that exist in this area and so this program was born out of the need for support.

Q: Why are peer support programs so important? In the same light, can you tell me a bit more about the peer support program you offer?

A: Peer support is really important and not often recognized as such. There is currently a lack of community connections and healing through community. Peer supports helps to build this gap and is based on the human desire to connect with others. At EDNS we currently offer three different support groups:

  • youth (15-17),

  • a Thursday night group (18+) and

  • a two-spirit non-binary and trans plus group

We also provide one-on-one mentoring where people can be matched with a mentor who has lived experiences with eating disorders.

Then we have Monday night workshops and clinical services which can be found on our website.

Q: How often do the groups meet?

A: The Peer Support Group began on March 9th and is a 5-week program. With new programs coming soon be sure to check out our social media pages for the most up to date information. The one-on-one program is dependent on both the Peer Mentor and the individual as to how much they meet and how often.

Q: How are the Peer mentors trained?

A: Peer Mentors go through 30 hours of peer support training over the course of five weeks. The training includes everything from role-play, case studies, navigating difficult conversations and reflecting on one’s own experience of recovery.

Q: What are the questions a teenager should ask to decide which is best for them- individual/group?

A: A part of defining your own recovery is reflecting and experimenting. Only you really know what helps and so exploring different programs and workshops, choose what resonates and leave what doesn’t. If you are feeling overwhelmed, try asking what makes sense for you to take on right now. There is no pressure to choose – at EDNS you can use multiple programs at one time.

Q: What are the best ways to access the peer support program?

A: Our Instagram page will take you directly to registration for the Peer Support Group. For our other programs you can access these on our website as well as Body Brave’s website.

Q: Are there any barriers that teens face in getting help for Ed’s that is specific to their age group?

A: We need to acknowledge the systemic and structural barriers that are in place for individuals trying to gain access to ED supports. Medical Fatphobia is common among health care professionals, the continued use of BMI as an indicator for treatment access is harmful for youth. There needs to be a more collaborative approach when supporting youth and being aware of culture, race, and gender when addressing eating disorders. Teachers and guidance counsellors need to be more aware of eating disorders and the supports available. Talking to young people about food is extremely important and ending the “good” vs. “bad” food binary is necessary. There is also a lack of harm reduction, and we must acknowledge Gloria Lucas and her contribution to this field. It is asking the question: Can we support those who are not ready for recovery but want to address the physical concerns caused by their eating disorder. Social media and society’s view of what a body should look like deeply impact teenagers and is a barrier for young people with eating disorders.

Q: What can be done to help de-stigmatize eating disorders among teens?

A: Collective effort is very important; young people are tied to their friends, family, teachers, and coaches to name a few. As a collective we need to work to push against the idea of disordered eating and the struggles. Eating disorders are not an individual problem, but rather a society problem. Awareness and conversations about eating disorders, and mental health in general, needs to happen.

Q: Since the peer support program is new, are there different additions to the program you are hoping to add in the future?

A: We are excited to be expanding our existing programs to include young people, specifically BIPOC and two-spirit non-binary trans plus group. As well as groups specific to certain ages (such as 18-25, 14-17).  Keep an eye out on our socials for more up to date information.

Q: Is there anything else you would like to share?

A: I just want to say, I don’t know who is reading the blog, but I understand that this is scary and how terrifying and overwhelming it can feel to read about the potential of having an eating disorder, asking if something is up with me, and reaching out for support. Most of the time it takes a while to get to the point where you want to reach out. I want to ensure folks that the fear makes sense and the relief you feel after hearing someone else’s struggles overpowers the initial fear 1000x over. We have a whole identity outside of our eating disorders and we can talk about many topics separate of our body and eating struggles.

NIED thanks EDNS for their ongoing and innovative programs to support those impacted by Eating Disorders.

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