Increased access to mental health services for youth during COVID-19

The Cause

Through challenging times like the Southern AB floods, Slave Lake/Fort McMurray fires and recessions Calgary Counselling Centre has been there for the community. COVID-19 is no different. Our idea is to increase access to mental health services for adolescents (ages 12-17) in Calgary and area at this time of high stress and anxiety due to the extraordinary circumstances created by the pandemic.
This is a one-year initiative to increase our capacity for offering affordable counselling for youth in need to help increase their resiliency to deal with the challenges and uncertainties they are facing, and to improve their short and long-term mental health and well-being.
Adolescents’ lives have been affected in many ways, and many are clearly struggling. Overnight their world was turned upside down. They are coping with several losses in their everyday lives: the loss of familiar everyday routines, school, sports, planned summer activities and vacations, or simply socializing freely with friends and extended family. For many, there were no year-end or graduation celebrations, and planning ahead is full of uncertainty. Months of isolation has also taken its toll on teens’ mental health. At this time of heightened stress, anxiety and vulnerability, it is crucial that teenagers have urgent access to mental health services. With wait times often stretching on for months for publicly funded services, and private counselling unaffordable for many families, Calgary Counselling Centre is addressing a crucial gap in mental health services at this time of pressing need.

Who Will it Benefit?

Both youth ages 12-17 and their families will benefit from increased access to mental health services. Calgary Counselling Centre offers accessible counselling to youth and their families with no referral, no waitlist and with financial subsidies available for those might otherwise not be able to afford services. We will never turn someone away regardless of their ability to pay. On March 16, when the stay at home order was announced, the Centre quickly pivoted to safely deliver counselling remotely through online, phone or text sessions.
Anxiety and depression are the two most common issues for which youth seek help; both issues potentially made worse by the isolation and uncertainty teens have been experiencing over the last several months. Fortunately, both anxiety and depression can be treated effectively by counselling. Of the 316 adolescents between 12 and 17 that we saw in 2019, 94.8% recovered, improved, or experienced more stability in their lives after counselling, as measured by our standard mental health questionnaire. Our goal is to make sure that all teenagers who need help can access it, regardless of their ability to pay.
In 2019, 44% of teens who turned to us for help were not in the position to pay full fees and they required financial subsidies. Of the 1,147 counselling sessions we provided to this age group, 491 were subsidized. With many families impacted by the current economic downturn, this number is expected to increase.
Adolescents are one of the most vulnerable age groups when it comes to mental health. Even when life returns to a new normal, the effects of the pandemic will likely linger, and their mental health needs are expected to remain high for months or even years to come. Funds from Field Law will help these vulnerable young people access the help they need when they need it, regardless of their ability to pay.