Advocating for Change: Jenna Schonke’s Insights On Self-Care, Advocacy & Mental Health

Content Warning: 

This audio episode contains some sensitive content, such as discussions of addiction, the ongoing opioid crisis, suicide, grieving, and loss. As such, we recommend that you listen to it with caution.

Family is so important to our mental health, and not just family, but any kind of connection. Because we're all busy, we're all virtual, we're not getting that human connection anymore, that's needed. That's my biggest thing that I advocate, is we need more human connection, and I think that's my end goal. 

Jenna Schonke,Registered Psychiatric Nurse and board member of CMHA BC

In this episode of the Care to Listen podcast, host Sean Burke sits down with Jenna Schonke, a registered psychiatric nurse and board member of CMHA BC. Jenna shares her personal journey through mental health struggles, her professional insights, and her aspirations for the future of mental health care. This episode covers topics such as the impact of personal experiences on professional practice, the importance of self-care, and the need for systemic changes in mental health access and support.

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[00:00:00] Sean Burke: Welcome to the Care to Listen podcast. Today I am joined by Jenna Schonke. Jenna is a registered psychiatric nurse and a board member of the CMHA BC. In this episode, Jenna dives into her personal journey navigating mental health and the healthcare system. She shares her personal healing journey and aspirations for the profession going forward.

Today’s episode is being broadcasted to you on the unceded and traditional territories of the Tsleil Waututh Nations. Trigger warning, this episode includes discussions that may be sensitive to some listeners, including self harm and addiction. Hello and welcome back to another episode of the Care to Listen podcast.

I’m your host, Sean Burke, and today joining me is Jenna Shon Kee. Welcome to the show, Jenna. 

[00:00:46] Jenna Schonke: Thank you for having me.

[00:00:46] Sean Burke: So Jenna, uh, registered psychiatric nurse, clinical practice lead, uh, working in an acute, uh, psychiatric unit in hospital, and also a board member on this, for the CMHABC. Got a lot going on.

[00:01:01] Jenna Schonke: Yeah, yeah, I do have a lot going on. Um, but it’s, it’s, I like it. It keeps me busy. Um, and it keeps me kind of moving forward. 

[00:01:09] Sean Burke: Absolutely. Well, thanks for taking the time today. Um, we’d love just, you know, the first question we always ask our guests is to tell us a little bit about yourself. What do you do?

Who are you? 

[00:01:19] Jenna Schonke: Yeah, so, I always find this question interesting, because really, who I am is a mother and a nurse. Outside of that, I’m really just family focused. I had my daughter very young, so I do have a 12 year old going on 13 year old, so that’s keeping me very busy right now. And yeah, I, I work a lot, but I, and I just finished, um, my degree in psychiatric nursing.

I had only had my diploma up until last week. 

[00:01:49] Sean Burke: Oh, well, congratulations. Thank you. That’s exciting. Um, and you know, jumping into it a little bit, everybody has a story. Um, when it comes to [00:02:00] your career, your, like, progression through the profession. What does that story look like for you? Where does it start?

[00:02:07] Jenna Schonke: It started when I was really young. Um, I’ve always, always wanted to help people. Um, I guess my, my own, uh, mental health issues started when I was a little girl as well. Um, my dad’s side has a long line of addiction where my mom’s side, um, my grandparents came over from. Germany after the war. So there’s that own kind of trauma mixed in there.

Um, so I, I deal with my own mental health issues, but even then I’ve, I’ve always just wanted to help other people who are struggling. Um, so after having my daughter at a very young age, my grandparents sat me down one day and said like, Jay, like, We’ve got to help you before we can’t help you. Um, and so I actually reached out on Facebook and just asked the Facebook world.

Um, does anyone know about any jobs in mental health? But obviously I had to focus on ones that’ll be a career. Um, and put a roof over my head for my daughter and I, um, and one of my friends, she, um, She commented and said, um, there’s a, you can become a psychiatric nurse. And at this time, I had no idea that that was even a thing.

You only hear about RNs and LPNs, and all of a sudden there’s this thing called an RPN. Um, so she showed me, um, the program, which is through Stenberg College, which actually allowed me to do, um, almost all of my theory online. Um, and then my practice comes in person. It kept me central in Prince George. So I was able to be home with my daughter, um, and work around her schedule.

So I started that when she went into kindergarten, just cause it was the perfect time. She wasn’t at home all day. Um, and then during that time though, um, I was managing a restaurant and who’s It was a sister, they had a sister pub as well with a banquet room. So I was managing a restaurant, a banquet room, being a mom to a five year old, um, and going through nursing school.

[00:03:56] Sean Burke: Wow. So consistent theme here. I’m seeing you trying [00:04:00] to do staying busy. Well, you know, I think that’s something obviously jumping into the line of work that you’re doing and supporting, you know, your, your clients, how has your lived experience helped you in the work that you’re doing today? 

[00:04:16] Jenna Schonke: Um, tremendously.

I think I can relate to my patients a lot more. Um, it is interesting in nursing. They say, like, don’t share too much about your life. But I think in the field that I work in, we have to in order to connect with the people. Um, so my own mental health struggles, I struggled with anxiety, depression, um, I did have a history of self harming.

Um, and I did struggle with alcohol use up until. Like probably a year ago. Um, so yeah, um, I, I bring all of that and I share it all with, with my patients just to say like, you’re not alone. Like I do actually understand how you’re feeling and here’s what’s helped me. Here’s what’s helped others and kind of just getting them on their own journey.

[00:05:00] Sean Burke: You know, being in the profession, how do you manage and walk that fine line of, uh, sharing too much versus sharing enough so that you can build that rapport? 

[00:05:10] Jenna Schonke: I think it’s really trying to figure out what the message is that you’re trying to send. Um, so especially, like, I really connect with, obviously, women.

Um, that being said, also, while I was going through nursing school, um, and Prior to that, I was in a very, very toxic relationship. It was very abusive and many ways, and so I think taking that into it like I can connect with women in that way, um, I don’t have to share the details, but I can say, I can stay like I’ve I know what you’ve been through.

Um, I’ve been through something similar and especially when it comes to being a young mom, um, it’s extremely difficult to be a young mom for anybody and never mind in, in, uh, how society is now. Um, but just giving women that power, that mom struggle. We [00:06:00] all struggle and we’re all trying our best, but everything will be okay.

[00:06:05] Sean Burke: It will. And, you know, sometimes it takes some time for, to get to that stage and to, you know, to have the wherewithal to continue to go through it and to put in the work. Um, I want to jump back to something, you know, that you’ve been talking about, which is a lot of things that are happening in this concept of having home life, work life, and, you know, The reality is, is that it’s just one life, and you happen to be at work and you happen to be at home sometimes.

But often we try to separate the two. What, you know, for somebody who sort of brings that mentality of, Yeah, I’m going to separate, I’m going to keep my home stuff at home and work at home. What, what sort of, you know, thoughts do you have around that? 

[00:06:44] Jenna Schonke: It’s very difficult. We try our best to have the home life and the work life, but you’re right, it all comes into one.

There’s days that I deal with crises at work and helping people through their crisis all day and I think I’m going to go home and I’m just going to make dinner and watch TV and I get home and my daughter’s having a crisis because some kind of bullying or something happened at school and so then you almost have to pop back into that.

I try not to do the nursing role at home, but I’ve learned so many skills in nursing that. with her mental health. So it’s, it has to be a quick transition, I think, but it is exhausting, um, because there, there are days that you just so badly want, want to rest, but it feels like you can’t. 

[00:07:28] Sean Burke: And is that like a consistent theme, you know, that you’ve heard across other colleagues where sometimes there, there are those challenges in terms of separating the two, or is that, I’m just curious to jump into that.

[00:07:41] Jenna Schonke: Um. I’d say it’s a little bit of both. I think, I mean, we’re all different in nursing. I think some people come in with like, I have a lot of compassion. Um, sometimes I think I have too much compassion because it does lead to burnout. Um, so [00:08:00] yeah, I think, I think it goes both ways. Some people are fantastic at yet.

No, I’ve, I’ve walked off the grounds. I’m done where I, I have a very hard time with that. It’s something that I’m actually trying to, to work on. Um, yeah, it’s, I think it’s both ways. 

[00:08:15] Sean Burke: And, you know, someone like yourself who is a high achiever, who has a lot going on and pushes themselves to a very, you know, high standard, burnout might look different for you than it might someone else.

But what are some of those things like when that you’ve experienced when you have had burnout? Like what, what came up and showed up for you? 

[00:08:35] Jenna Schonke: Um, so the first thing that I start to notice is I get very irritable and very easily angered. Um, little things will, I won’t be able to react as calmly and as precisely as I normally would.

And I, I almost start to just like not care. Um, so I actually recently, I had to take three weeks off of work. Um, at that time I was working in the ER as a crisis nurse. Um, and just the, the compassionate fatigue. Burnout. It just, it got me. Um, and I was driving to work one day and, um, I made my partner pull over and let me out to walk because I was, I was like, I was just so angry.

I was like, I don’t want to be in here with you. Like, I just need to walk to clear my head before I walk in the building. And then I walked in the building and I just broke down crying. So then I walked upstairs and I was like, I can’t be here right now. So, so usually it’s irritability and yeah, just, just a loss of like, I feel like I’m losing control almost.

[00:09:29] Sean Burke: Well, in, in hearing that. The challenges of trying to show up for others when, you know, most importantly, you need to show up for yourself. Yet, that’s a consistent theme that we hear across, uh, healthcare professionals. Why do you think that is? 

[00:09:44] Jenna Schonke: I think as nurses, I mean, we all stepped in the field because we want to help and we’re all caring.

And I think we don’t, we don’t stop caring. It’s very hard to, to stop caring. Um, it’s what we went into the field for. So I, I. I don’t [00:10:00] think, and especially now these days, like we work 12 to 18 hour days just because of staffing shortages, and we’re all trying to do our best. And I think that’s just it.

We’re all just trying to do our best to make a difference in the world. 

[00:10:13] Sean Burke: And what do you think needs to change to be more supportive, to enable people to show up as their best selves? 

[00:10:23] Jenna Schonke: I think we all need to learn, um, to give ourselves compassion and that it’s okay to not be okay. And it’s okay to take a step back from health care and let the other people take the reins while we work on ourselves or let ourselves settle.

[00:10:40] Sean Burke: And, and where did you learn some of these techniques? Like I know, you know, when you’re going through some of the burnout and previously we had a chance to, to chat about this, you know, you were able to find counselling. Um, but what, what’s, what are some of the benefits of counselling and how did that sort of help you go through and, and deal with some of the burnout?

[00:10:59] Jenna Schonke: Counselling has been a lifesaver for me. Um, she, I reached out to find a counsellor after I left my toxic relationship and the whole purpose I reached out was because I wanted to, I was like, I just want to make sure that I didn’t screw up my daughter. Um, but in that, that the only way to help my daughter was to help myself first.

Um, so. The thing about counselling is it’s a very safe, neutral place, um, and as with any, um, kind of public health thing, sector, we’re not allowed to go home and talk to our families about the things that we see and hear, like, we can only give so much information, where my counsellor, it actually turns out she works with a lot of nurses, and so she understands kind of what we’re going through, um, and, and how to help us just, you know, Get those thoughts out because we don’t have that, that opportunity.

Um, and then I guess it just in my work alone, um, through the last five years in learning tips on how to help my patients, I’ve learned so much [00:12:00] about how to help myself. 

[00:12:02] Sean Burke: There you go. Well, I mean, that, that makes so much sense. Like if you’re going to be talking about it all day and yeah, you can. What do they say?

Eat your own dog food or something. Yeah. 

[00:12:13] Jenna Schonke: Yeah. I’m a, I’m a really big believer and if I’m going to preach it and I’m going to teach it, well, I better know what I’m talking about. 

[00:12:18] Sean Burke: Absolutely. Well, and what are some of those healthy coping strategies that, you know, have worked for you outside of the counseling?

[00:12:25] Jenna Schonke: Yeah. So, um, I’d say in the last probably two years is I’ve really been on an, like an upward, slope. I don’t know if that’s the right term for it. Um, but I’ve, I’ve fallen in love with working out. Um, and two and a half years ago, if you asked me to work out, I would have, I would have laughed and been like, no, I’m not coming.

Um, now I have my own gym in my home. Like I have a treadmill, I have a weight set. Um, so, um, I started with yoga, but it was a little too slow for me. I like to stretch when my muscles hurt, but that’s about it. Um, and then I just, one day, um, one of my friends on Instagram had started like her own coaching thing, and I was like, I’m just going to sign up and see how much I can do.

So I got into weights, um, and then I got into running, um, and I’m really into the, the cold plunges right now. 

[00:13:10] Sean Burke: So you got the physical outlet, um, and then the Wim Hof mentality and the cold plunge. Um, what about the mental 

[00:13:18] Jenna Schonke: side? So the mental side for me, I’m very introverted, which is surprising cause I work in a field where I have to talk to people all day, but I enjoy talking to people and solving problems with them and trying to help them through life.

But, um, I’ve learned that like. The whole my social battery, um, once it’s depleted, um, for me to have to recharge it is really getting outside in nature, um, without my cell phone. I hate cell phones now. I realize how distracting they are to to us to being able to be center in the world. Um, so yeah, a lot of outdoors, um, and to really, really recharge my battery.

I have to actually leave Prince George. Because then like my family can’t, [00:14:00] it’s not that they can’t get a hold of me, but it’s almost like nobody needs me. So I can, I can just sit back and like, whew, I’m good. 

[00:14:08] Sean Burke: Where do you go? 

[00:14:09] Jenna Schonke: Um, so my family, thankfully, um, has a house, um, just on Cal Lake. So not too far from Prince George.

Um, maybe 

[00:14:17] Sean Burke: you don’t want to share this so that your friends and family don’t know where you’re going and get ahold of 

[00:14:21] Jenna Schonke: you. Yeah. You know, I just like, I can’t show up. That’s the nice thing is I can’t show up. Um, I don’t know if that sounds wrong, but, um, so yeah, we’ve got the house in Cal Lake. I can always disappeared there if I need to.

Um, we prior to, um, the pandemic, we were big travelers. Um, Mexico was our main destination. It’s close enough to, to get away and get some sun. Um, I had the opportunity to go to Greece in June. Um, so that, that was, that was the best. I mean, I don’t know when I’ll do that again, but that was a good recharge.

[00:14:54] Sean Burke: Well, and it sounds like, again, just, you know, prioritizing yourself, taking care of your own needs, um, and putting yourself ahead of others. 

[00:15:01] Jenna Schonke: Yeah. 

[00:15:02] Sean Burke: You know, doing all of this work, hearing, you know, going from working with your patients and then all of a sudden going home and supporting, you know, your child.

Why did you want to join the CMHA BC on the board and add one more thing to your plate? 

[00:15:19] Jenna Schonke: So. My opah was a very big achiever in life. Um, he had a P apart in starting you, you and you NBC in Prince George, as well as one of the pulp mills. And so I think I get my drive from him. But within six months of nursing, I was kind of sitting back and thinking, like, this isn’t enough, like, I’m not doing enough was essentially how I was feeling.

And then, um, Um, the, the nomination or the, I don’t know, the ad, um, showed up on my, my feed and I was like, I’m just going to go for it. I had, I hadn’t even been nursing for that long. Um, and I, I was like, I’m just going to go for it and see what happens. And then the next thing, you [00:16:00] know, six months later, I’m sitting on the board of directors for CMH 

[00:16:04] Sean Burke: Well, pretty, pretty big role and importance in terms of supporting, you know, the province and being an advocate for mental health.

What do you see within this role as being the biggest or most important issue, um, that the organization can focus on? 

[00:16:23] Jenna Schonke: Oh, that’s a big question. Um, I really, I access is the, the biggest issue that I think everybody should be, um, focused on. But. Not just building more resources. It’s all about the process to accessing treatment is the longest referral ever.

They’re probably 30 pages. So if I find it hard, then a patient who’s using substances must find it extremely hard to fill out. So I think making access. More access and making it more easily, um, easy to get into. I don’t know how to word that properly. 

[00:17:06] Sean Burke: No, I think we all, like, you know, I understand in terms of producing barriers, making it easy, um, supporting people in ways that meet them where they’re at, like, why do you think it has gotten to a place where, you know, just 30 pages.

Why, why did it get to this point where there is so much complexity? And confusion within the system. 

[00:17:31] Jenna Schonke: I wish I had the answer, but what I see from my practice is everything is so virtual and over the phone now. Um, I think if an intake worker had the ability to sit down with someone who was interested in treatment and have a conversation such as we’re having now, you can gather so much more information than someone trying to fill out a 30 page referral and try to make themselves look good enough to be accepted into the program.

Um, And I think that [00:18:00] human connection piece has really been lost in the last couple of years, and that’s, that’s what people need to, to be well. 

[00:18:06] Sean Burke: And is it as simple as, you know, not, I think this is a bit of a rhetorical question, but when it comes to trying to improve access, or reduce friction. Oftentimes, those are positive steps towards people getting the support they need.

But one of the biggest challenges is the availability of those treatment spots or detox spots. What from like a policy and administrative perspective is the board at CMHA doing to try to be an advocate for 

[00:18:40] Jenna Schonke: Oh, they’re doing a lot. Um, yeah, no, they, the, the CMHA BC, I think has made, um, an incredible progress over the last couple of years.

I’ve even been on the board. I mean, they got over a hundred more treatment beds available. Um, and I think they’re, they’re low cost to no cost, which is a huge issue for accessing treatment. Um, and, um, There are huge advocates for youth mental health, which is super important. Um, yeah, I, I mean, they’re doing so much right now.

I can’t even think about what they’re doing. 

[00:19:15] Sean Burke: Well, even this podcast, right. And it’s, it’s definitely supported through CMHA BC and safe care BC, um, and all the different work workplace, um, programs that are available and just the continued, you know, importance. role that they have within the system and supporting and part of that question, I think really comes at this from, you know, a curiosity and understanding of, you know, what’s, what’s the next sort of focus point within the organization or, and I know, you know, again, you’re sitting at a board level, maybe not in the operational level.

Um, but from your perspective, where do you see the greatest opportunity? Um, Uh, to continue to to provide those supports. 

[00:19:56] Jenna Schonke: I think CMH ABC right now has [00:20:00] the loudest and biggest voice, um, about mental health care. I don’t think that it’s being assessed and evaluated as much in other, um, departments. Um, and I think because CMH is so focused on mental health care that just their advocacy for it.

Thank you. Defining what is mental health care is, is kind of the direction that that they’re going. What is needed and why is it needed? And being able to say that where I don’t feel like in the other world, it’s not being talked about very much. 

[00:20:35] Sean Burke: Well, and no doubt it’s such an important role that they do play in terms of that advocacy and delivering on some of those services.

So, um, yeah, really grateful to be a part of that. When we jump back into the, some of the challenges on the healthcare fields, Um, what are some of those biggest challenges that you’ve personally faced within the health care field and getting those supports from a mental health and wellness perspective?

[00:20:58] Jenna Schonke: Yeah, so since I’m in hospital, I don’t have a lot of connection with the community teams. And I think that’s where things are getting a little. Disjointed in healthcare is that there’s there’s not a collaborative effort a month amongst everybody, even even like not health authority programs. I mean, we all there’s all the nonprofit programs everywhere.

and I I just don’t feel like everyone’s sitting down to have an and again, I’m I’m so big about in person conversations, the emailing back and forth. I don’t think that’s effective. Um, I think there needs to be a round table discussion with with many stakeholders about where are we going with this and and how how are we going to improve patients 

[00:21:46] Sean Burke: outcome?

When we think about healthcare and we think about physical safety, psychological safety, the two can go hand in hand. And so doing your [00:22:00] work and showing up for your patients in the best way, have you been able to kind of give it some thought into how you might do that or what you might need to do to be able to do a really effective job?

[00:22:10] Jenna Schonke: So for me on an individual level, every day, I really have to just tell myself like, it is what it is. And you’re You’re only going to do the best that you can. In the environment that you’re provided with. Um, yeah, so that that’s for me is, um, just showing up the best of my ability with with what I’ve got in front of me, um, and I am super transparent with with my patients about that, um, because they, they always express their frustrations and I’ll, I’ll be the one to say, I agree with you, but this, this is how it is.

And so, yeah, we’re, we’re all just trying to do our best in a system that’s just overcrowded and understaffed. 

[00:22:49] Sean Burke: Well, and, you know, you’ve taken on a little bit of a leadership role in terms of your team lead and, um, you know, rather than necessarily focusing specifically on the patient, what does that advocacy, um, for nurses, like, how and what have you been able to sort of really bring to the forefront in terms of that advocacy work?

[00:23:08] Jenna Schonke: So my direction in my new leadership position is very much focused around nurses, um, therapeutic rapport with their patients. I think because we’re all so stressed on a day to day basis, we really lose that therapeutic compassionate, even tone, the tone, the body language, and trying to bring that into mental health nursing because the people that we work with, they, they can read every movement, every eye movement, every, they, every tone.

My first step, um, in this new role is to really bring the compassion and the care back to nursing and figure out how, how nurses are going to be less stressed and be better able to support our patients. 

[00:23:49] Sean Burke: And where do you start with that? Like, is that something that, you know, again, is before the nurse shows up to work, like dealing with some of the, the challenges that they [00:24:00] might be experiencing, or is it, you know, in the actual, Uh, hospitals where, you know, they’re dealing with different issues that might be difficult, or they’re facing those competitive demands of operational efficiency, but still trying to provide that empathy and that, that time with the patient, like, where do you start?

It feels like such a big, overwhelming challenge. 

[00:24:21] Jenna Schonke: So I think it starts both out outside when you leave your home and you’re coming into work, but also in the hospital. So I mean, I’m trying to figure out how to teach other people to ground at home before you come in. Just even those deep breaths and just those affirmations that it today is going to be okay, even though it might not be.

Um, but just, you know, So grounding affirmations before you come in, but once it comes to being in the hospital, I’m um, I’m a really big supporter of a technique called motivational interviewing. It, um, it was originally created, um, to help people who have substance use problems, not created, but kind of developed, um, and it’s a conversation style that moves a conversation forward without giving advice.

Which in nursing, we are very much taught to get, give advice, get to the end, and then that’s it. But, um, in mental health, people don’t really want a ton of advice. And even if you do give advice, it’s not that effective as them trying to bring out their own goals and their own needs. Um, motivational interviewing has kind of taken off in the world.

It’s, it’s all over, um, even in Europe and stuff. Um, and it, I use it with my daughter, I use it with my partner, just because. We’re not here to problem solve. We’re here to try and help people work through their problems. And that’s, that’s my first step is, is getting everyone on this. It’s really about, um, it’s like compassion, um, empathy, understanding.

And it’s a very cool technique. It’s very confusing at first. Um, but once you get going with [00:26:00] it, it’s, it’s, it works wonders to help people. 

[00:26:03] Sean Burke: Well, it certainly sounds like something I got to do a little more research on. Um, and you know, what I like about that is that on the one hand, you know, simply saying if we could show up for everybody and give them as much time as they needed, well, again, you have those operational efficiency demands and getting to the next patient and, you know, And going through your, your entire day, but at the same time, providing that level of care and attention is really what’s needed.

So I like how there’s a little bit of a balance there between the both. I want to jump back a little bit again to, um, some of the challenges that you’ve faced as a healthcare provider. And I know that it feels like we’ve passed COVID 19. Um, and you know, oftentimes we hear the criticism of, can we stop talking about it?

Can we just move on? But yet I’ve heard so much when it comes to the need to have processed what happened, um, the need to, You know, resolve that unresolved trauma. And I’m curious from your perspective to hear, you know, where you fall in terms of how COVID impacted you within your, your profession. 

[00:27:11] Jenna Schonke: So I actually entered nursing six months before the pandemic hit.

So CO the COVID was my nursing. Um, I don’t actually know what it was like before. Um, it impacted me tremendously. And like I said, in the beginning, like I was such a. I’m hard worker. I still am a hard worker, but I would work tons of hours. Um, I would give my all. I was like that even prior to going into nursing.

But, um, when the pandemic hit, my mom is my main caregiver for my OPA. And also when I’m at work, she cares for my daughter. So when the numbers started to rise. I actually decided in December, the very first Christmas that I wasn’t going to spend Christmas with my family. Um, because in the role that I was in, there was only three of us and the other two had [00:28:00] decided to go on leave just because of the dangers of, of, and the risks of working in the hospital and having families.

And so my mom took my daughter for probably, I think about a week and a half over Christmas because there was nobody to work. And I was like, well, if I’m not here. Who’s going to be here to help these people, because a lot, I felt that there was not a lot of attention paid to my, the population that I work with during COVID.

And so I think I gave a lot of myself then. Um, but I also think at the same time, it took a lot of me, um, working in this field, they don’t warn you how many people you’re going to lose. Um, Gabor Matei, he, he was the one I was Watching one of his podcasts or something. And he said, like, if I were in this field, if someone was to ask me how many lives I’ve saved, I would fail at my job.

And that’s because we, we don’t, we are losing a lot of our patients. And I think throughout COVID and trying to help these people, it took a lot out of us. Um, and I don’t feel that the effects of COVID on people in their mental health has been addressed. Um, There’s been a lot of financial heartache. Um, I see a lot of people who have lost their jobs.

Um, Yeah, I think, I think it, I think that’s why I hit burnout so quickly into my career actually, because of the effects of COVID. 

[00:29:23] Sean Burke: And do you feel like we are still at a place where we need to continue to process and, you know, deal with those unresolved traumas, or are we now at a place where we can start moving forward or, or do the two go hand in hand?

[00:29:36] Jenna Schonke: I’m a big believer that the two go hand in hand. I think that healing, um, comes with processing, um, and, and kind of, And the thing with trauma is just because it was only a couple of years ago doesn’t mean that the effects of it aren’t going to show up in 10 years. Um, that’s the very interesting thing about trauma is all of a sudden you feel good and then it just hits you.[00:30:00] 

Um, where, yeah, I, I don’t, I think it’s, it’s a process that’s going to be ongoing for, for a while. And I think that it should be because people’s lives were so, were affected in such massive ways. 

[00:30:16] Sean Burke: Are there any gaps that, you know, maybe we need to focus on right now to, to help people, or is it a unique, um, sort of process that individuals need to go through, or is it a systemic opportunity for, for change or learning here?

[00:30:33] Jenna Schonke: I think it’s unique only because everyone is affected in their own unique ways. Um, just because we all went through the same thing doesn’t mean that it affected us all the same. Um, but I, I do think that people need to talk about it more as, as a society. Um, even as, even as a town, like how did this affect Prince George itself as opposed to Northern BC?

Because we are all very different in, in, in our populations. 

[00:31:02] Sean Burke: Absolutely. And those needs, I mean, it’s going to change, but providing a system that supports. You know, the individual care plans and, and whatnot, I think are, you know, again, getting down to that granular level of detail to help people move forward.

Uh, I want to jump into a little bit about, you know, being that advocate advocacy role again, what are some of the benefits of the work that you do and, and why you do what you do? 

[00:31:31] Jenna Schonke: I just want the world to be a better place. I’m so I’m just so like hippie old school in that. Um, I’m not a fan of the busy lifestyle, even though I demonstrate that.

Um, yeah, I think that I think that society has gone off in that we are supposed to be. We’re always busy. We’ve always got something to do. And we, we like family used to be such a support system. [00:32:00] Family is so important to our mental health, and not just family, but any kind of connection. Um, and I think that because we’re all busy, we’re all virtual, we’re not getting that human connection anymore, that’s needed.

And so, that’s my biggest thing that I advocate, is we need more human connection, and I think that’s my end goal. Um, And that’s just what I hope, hope, hope will happen one day. 

[00:32:25] Sean Burke: Well, and it sounds like, you know, that, that, that purpose that you have, uh, that passion to get into the line of work that you did so much of it sounded like it stemmed from your, your history and your, uh, life experiences.

I do want to take us back to, um, the beginning of the conversation where you mentioned that you had a history of self harm and I’m curious to know a little bit around the progress and the work that you did, um, to be able to move through that, um, and to get into the place that you’re at today.

[00:33:04] Jenna Schonke: It’s been a long process. Um, yeah, so I, I was self harming in high school. Um, at the same time I was dabbling in hallucinogenics. Um, my dad had moved away when I was 10 or 11 and that was a huge hit for me. My dad was my best friend. Um, and then my mom married someone who was not a good person and I was in the home with her.

Um, and I, My dad always said you can come here, but I never had the courage isn’t the right word But I never wanted to leave my mom because I wanted to make sure she was safe And so in that and and being around that is what kind of led to my self harm because when you’re a young child And you want your mom to be safe.

There’s really no way that you can Um, and I think the self harm, it took away the pain for me that I was experiencing deep down. And so eventually I moved out at 14, um, [00:34:00] because I just, I couldn’t live in that house anymore. And so my self harm did, did stop then, um, because I found a moment of peace. Um, that being said, as I progressed into, um, um, The other struggles in my life being a mom at 17 was very hard when I started having an issue with drinking, I would, I would usually drink and then become very depressed and then self harm.

And so that’s when I started to, when I left my relationship, I started to connect the dots about what, what is self harm even doing for me? And that, that was what I had to figure out in order to, to stop. Um, and so. But when we stop one thing, our body and mind kind of look for something else that’s comforting.

And so the alcohol use increased, the self harming stopped, and it was kind of just this cycle of, Like I’m, I’m never feeling safe and I’m never feeling okay. And so I really, once I, I mean, I was in a horrible relationship for seven years. So the whole process has just been finding out what makes me safe, feel safe.

And what makes me, uh, be able to be my authentic self. And it’s been a process, uh, 

[00:35:13] Sean Burke: certainly a journey. And, you know, again, seeing how far you’ve come, you should feel very proud about that. What, um, what were some of those. Moments of clarity for you that help you. Take you from, you know, move on from that toxic relationship or connect those dots.

How did you go through that? 

[00:35:32] Jenna Schonke: Um, I think honestly, being in, uh, psychiatric nursing school gave me a lot of insight into what was going on in my life. , . Um, even though my, I, my friends and my family and my mom and everyone was like, like, this isn’t healthy. And I was like, you don’t know what you’re talking about.

Just leave me alone. I don’t like to listen to people. I’m not very good at it. But it, it was definitely the, the psychology and learning, the psychology that I was like, oh. This is not healthy. Um, and it kind of gave me the courage [00:36:00] then, um, to leave and, but leaving a toxic relationship also comes back down to safety.

Um, when you’re constantly being told that nobody’s going to love you because you are 20 years old with a baby, it really takes that autonomy and that, um, self confidence away from you. And so eventually. Things just kind of fell into place where I was able to leave. And once I left and I had about a month on my own, I was like, Oh, I’m okay.

Like I am safe. But when you’re leaving it, the, the idea of safety is so scary. Um, so yeah, it, it, for me, it’s been trying to find the safety and I really don’t even think like I’ve become my authentic self until probably the last year, it’s, it’s been a journey. Um, trying to figure out like, who is Jenna?


[00:36:46] Sean Burke: there’s a deep, profound question right there, um, and trying to, you know, come back into like that. Awareness stage where you started to develop that education for yourself. Um, if you look now to where you are compared to when you were that 14, 15 year old girl, what would you be telling that 14 or 15 year old girl?

[00:37:09] Jenna Schonke: Everything will be okay. Very simple, because in the moment, it feels like nothing is ever okay, and this life isn’t, it’s not worth it. But, like, and I tell all my patients this, um, in their 20s, because I’m just turning 30 in the next two months, and I’m very excited to turn 30, like, I feel like I’m turning a chapter.

[00:37:33] Sean Burke: You’ve accomplished a lot for a 30 year old. 

[00:37:35] Jenna Schonke: Yes, I’m, yeah, so I think just that one day, everything will be okay. I don’t think that the message can be too deep or too detailed because I don’t like at that time, like to a 14 year old, I don’t, I don’t know what your story is going to be, but I know that with the right resources, the right supports, the right environment, things are going to be okay one day.

[00:37:57] Sean Burke: Keep it simple. I like that. [00:38:00] What are your hopes and aspirations now, as you kind of Turn that next chapter, get into the thirties. Uh, what does that look like for you? What are your sort of hopes and next big, big pictures? 

[00:38:11] Jenna Schonke: So I have a big, big dream. Um, my mother and I, um, obviously having similarities in our life and our struggles, um, we have a goal to open up.

or start somehow, however we do it, um, some kind of crisis, not center, like not what you like, not a shelter, a crisis center for women and children. Um, that’s very much focused about feminine attributes. So comfy beds, first of all, um, I’ve slept in my car a time or two. Um, and then just like things like gardening, cooking, baking, like bringing out that feminine, um, and this stems from, I, When I left, like I, I was very jaded, rough, like I had a cage around me, um, I didn’t enjoy doing girly things because I had to have this persona that I’m tough to get through life.

And then, um, I gardened last year and I have never smiled so much in my life pulling out 33 pounds of potatoes. I was so proud of myself. So just, I think. In the world that we’ve kind of shifted where women, women are working full time and women are the breadwinners and many families now and giving them that feminine back, um, we need it.

We need to be soft. It’s a part of our biological. It’s part of our biology. Um, and so, yeah, just really focusing on that softness and that comfort for women in crisis. 

[00:39:36] Sean Burke: Well, that’s certainly, uh, an ambitious goal, but one worth pursuing. And, you know, I know, just, you know, from everything that we’ve talked about, you’re certainly someone who’s going to go after it.

So I certainly wish you the best of luck on that. Um, when it comes back to, you know, the, the more immediate future here within, um, the profession of healthcare in your role in advocating, what sort of changes do you hope [00:40:00] to see in the near future in terms of providing that those safer places of psychological safety and physical safety needs within the hospitals?

[00:40:10] Jenna Schonke: Just that I think mental health care needs more safe places that aren’t so clinical. Um, I think that’s what’s really missing from the world right now is, is that safety piece. Um, the hospital doesn’t feel safe. Um, it doesn’t to anybody, even if you’re a medical patient, right? It’s, it’s, you’ve got people all around you.

There’s only curtains between you where when we’re in a mental health crisis, like our nervous system is looking for. safety, comfort. And I think that would be, that’s my biggest piece is, is that crisis, crisis and crisis comfort for, for people. Um, yeah. And then just really, I think, I think we all need to sit down and define what is mental health care.

Like what, from a, from a healthcare perspective, what does that mean? 

[00:40:56] Sean Burke: And that’s something that again, we consistently hear, right? Which is the, the question around. There’s a lot more questions that are needed. And what are those questions before we start jumping in and trying to figure out the solutions as we’ve sort of talked today, I’ve started to understand a little bit more of, you know, again, balancing that, that desire for the advocacy, but then also to um, living in the moment and doing the best with what you have for somebody who might be struggling, um, themselves in the healthcare profession and, you know, haven’t put up their hands for support yet.

What might you, you offer in terms of guidance towards that, that person? 

[00:41:35] Jenna Schonke: Reach out to your colleagues. Um, I think sometimes we’re too scared to tell our colleagues that we’re struggling. I think that’s a good safe space to start. I encourage all nurses, anyone in healthcare, to, to seek a counsellor, um, just because, like I said, it’s that safe, safe place to talk about everything that’s going on in, in the world of healthcare.

Um. Yeah. Finding, finding your people who you [00:42:00] can, who you can express yourself to, because when we’re holding things in, it’s actually worse for us. And it does have that Coke bottle effect where eventually it is going to explode. And then when it explodes, things get worse. So if we catch it while, while it’s still minimal, we’ll have better success.

[00:42:16] Sean Burke: Find your people. I love that. You know, again, I think it comes back to that simplicity, but, uh, absolutely. This has been a pleasure to have you on the show here, Jenna. There’s so much more that we could go into, um, but we are out of time. So we appreciate you taking, taking a moment here and sharing your insights, your story, um, and, you know, just wish you all the best in your future endeavors.

And thanks again for taking the time here today. 

[00:42:39] Jenna Schonke: Thank you for having me. 

[00:42:43] Sean Burke: Thanks for listening to this episode. Be sure to visit the links in the show notes for resources and supports from the Care for Caregivers program. If podcast, please reach out to us at careforcaregivers. ca forward slash podcast.

And don’t forget to follow us on your favorite podcast platform to be notified when new episodes are released. Thanks again for joining us and see you next month.