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A passion for mental illness prevention brings Westville native back to Pictou County

Sep 18, 2023

Home 5 News 5 A passion for mental illness prevention brings Westville native back to Pictou County

New Glasgow, Nova Scotia, Monday, September 18, 2023 It’s rare to find a career opportunity that marries your personal and professional passions, but that’s exactly what happened in the spring for Westville native Alisha Griffin. In March, Alisha accepted the position of Research Coordinator for the newly-opened New Glasgow division of the Families Overcoming Risks and Building Opportunities for Wellbeing (FORBOW) study.

FORBOW has been successfully operating in Halifax since 2013 as a program within Nova Scotia Health and affiliated with Dalhousie University. The aim of the study is to reduce the burden of mental illness on youth through early identification of risk and targeted prevention. With funding from the Aberdeen Health Foundation, the internationally-recognized program was able to open a satellite location in New Glasgow early this year and hire Griffin as Research Coordinator to lead their efforts on location.

                                                        As Research Coordinator for the newly-opened New Glasgow division of the FORBOW study, Alisha Griffin (above) is helping families overcome                                                             risk of developing mental illness and build opportunities for wellbeing through early identification and targeted prevention.


Alisha has a Bachelor’s Degree in Psychology and a Diploma in Mental Health Recovery and Promotion and has spent the last ten years working with adults living with serious mental illness in Dartmouth, Nova Scotia. Her passion for working in mental healthcare stems from her own personal experiences. “Having grown up watching my mom struggle with her own mental illness piqued my interest in working in the mental health field. When the opportunity to work for the FORBOW study presented itself, it interested me as a mental health professional, as a daughter of a person with a mental illness, and now as a parent myself.”

“We know that mental illness runs in families. Kids in the general population have a one in ten chance of developing mental illness, but when one parent has mental illness, those odds increase to one in three. If both parents have a mental illness, the odds further increase to one in two. While these can seem like very stark statistics, I think there’s actually a lot of hope in that. With the FORBOW study, we are aiming to determine what interventions can make a difference and what we’ve seen is that prevention may be possible in more than half of the cases.”

While she loved her previous career, it was becoming a parent herself that really sparked Alisha’s desire to relocate from the city back to her hometown. “Coming back to Pictou County has been something my husband and I have wanted to do since our son was born almost three years ago,” says Griffin. “Pictou County was a really great place to grow up; there’s a sense of community and connectedness you get here that you don’t get from the city. There’s a belongingness here, and a sense of this place belonging to you, that we really wanted our son to experience.”

The move back to where Alisha has always considered to be ‘home’ combined with her career shift from mental health recovery to prevention has highlighted for Alisha the potential impact FORBOW can make on individual and community health in the county. “In my last role, I had extensive experience working with people who faced significant challenges from their mental illness, to the extent that they weren’t able to live independently,” Griffin explains. “I worked with people in a long-term capacity and got to know them and their stories really well. I often wonder what life would have looked like for some of those people if interventions and understanding had been available to them earlier in their journey. Kids who grow up to develop mental illness can lose a lot of time and life experiences to their symptoms. The hope is if we can intervene earlier and with better care, they’re not going to have to go through that, and neither will their families.”

For right now, Alisha’s goal is to get the word out to the community and create more engagement with the study. She is currently seeking families with youth aged 9 all the way up to late-twenties, who may or may not have experienced mental illness within the family.

“If you’re someone who has a child and wants to come in and talk about your experiences, we would love to hear from you. If you are struggling with your own mental health, we would love to see you and your children as well. We aim to be as flexible as possible with our families and help remove any financial or scheduling barriers that might prevent them from participating. For example, we know that people are busy and schedules are tight, so we’re able to work around that by meeting at a day and time that works best for them. We know transportation can be an issue, so we are able to provide taxis as a transportation option. We really try to make it as easy as we possibly can for families to participate.”

The New Glasgow FORBOW study has capacity to enrol and monitor up to 100 families. Interested participants can reach out to Alisha directly at alisha.griffin@nshealth.ca or visit https://aberdeenhealthfoundation.ca/forbow to learn more about FORBOW.

The Aberdeen Health Foundation is the leading charity for health care in Pictou County. In 2022 the Foundation invested over $2 million to fund equipment and enhance health programs at the Aberdeen Hospital and in our community.

Michelle Ferris
Executive Director
Aberdeen Health Foundation

902-752-7600 ext. 4442