Demand for mental-health services rising; agencies want to help

This is Mental Health Week in Canada. Today The Intelligencer begins a series on mental health during the pandemic.

More people are asking for – and receiving – mental-health services as the pandemic continues, with area agencies encouraging people to get the help they need.


This is Mental Health Week in Canada. A new survey by the Canadian Mental Health Association survey found more than three-quarters of Canadians are feeling worried, anxious, bored, stressed, lonely, sad, or a mix of those.

Local agencies say more people are asking for help – many of them seeking support for the first time in their lives – and they hope more will.

“It’s really important that people don’t ignore their physical or mental health needs,” said Janet Evans, the director of mental health and housing at Addictions and Mental Health Services-Hastings Prince Edward.

“That is literally what we are here for,” she said.

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“There is nobody that’s a burden to us.”

Evans said the pandemic has put a spotlight on mental health and substance abuse, one that’s helping to “take away the mystery and negativity” surrounding them. It’s showing the impacts both have on people’s lives and may help to decrease discrimination, she said.

She said there are “people who are experiencing it who have probably never experienced it before.”

Evans said she’s concerned people think crisis lines and mental-health agencies are for “someone else.

“We really need to get out there that people don’t have to go through this alone, even if they think they are or they should.”

Dulled by routines

At the Belleville-based Enrichment Centre for Mental Health, executive director Sandie Sidsworth cut right to the chase when talking about the numbing routine of the pandemic.

“It just sucks,” Sidsworth said bluntly.

“You get up and you just rinse and repeat. It’s the drudgery of nothing changing.”

But she also sees reasons to be positive.

“I see hope every day,” she said. “You see people trying to do a little good every day.

“The pandemic is a leveler,” she said. Regardless of their situations, everyone is facing some of the same issues caused the pandemic: a disruption of daily life, separation from others, uncertainty.

She said it means those providing support can relate to the people they’re supporting.

More asking for help

An increase in requests for mental health support continues.

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Quinte Health Care’s Crisis Intervention Centre takes calls of all kinds, not solely from people in immediate crises. Its services are free.

There were a record 904 calls to the centre in March 2021.

Also that month, referrals to the centre from other agencies, health providers, and clients themselves reached 162, the most of the previous 14 months. March’s 256 appointments scheduled represented the busiest month of the same period.

The centre’s counsellors also respond to mental-health calls in QHC’s four hospital emergency departments. There were 142 such calls in March 2021 compared to 107 in February 2020.

Manager Janet Kinsey surveyed her team about clients’ most common reasons for calling.

“Overwhelmingly the answers had to do with substance use … homelessness … (and) that it’s hard to be a parent with kids doing school at home,” Kinsey said. She said problems with relationships in general are another common issue.

The pandemic also magnifies some problems as people spend more time together, face money problems, and have fewer distractions to balance their lives, she said. And there was a local shortage of affordable housing years before the pandemic; that’s only worsened in the last year.

Both the Enrichment Centre and Addictions and Mental Health Services (AMHS) also report increased demand. They now have waiting lists for some programs, though each also has other, more immediate options for helping.

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Evans, of AMHS, said in comparison to March 2020, calls for high-priority service in March 2021 doubled in March 2021. They accounted for eight per cent of all calls to the central intake line. Medium-priority calls represented 61 per cent of the total versus 51 per cent a year earlier.

Last year’s monthly average was 494 referrals; in March 2021, there were 531.

The agency has many programs, including counselling for mental health and addictions, mental-health case management (such as help finding other services or dealing with certain daily tasks), housing, and justice issues.

Coping tips

Those interviewed also offered tips for coping with the pandemic and provincial lockdown. They include giving yourself, and others, more breathing room by accepting that things are currently harder to accomplish than they used to be; maintaining relationships with others, such as by checking on family and friends by phone or online; focusing on the positives in your life instead of negatives; getting fresh air and exercise; eating properly; and getting a good rest. (Watch The Intelligencer’s series this week for details.)

But they also encourage people to call their agencies, call a primary health care provider, or seek other support if needed. Many of the services are free; online and phone options are available.

“Use all the resources in the community, and there’s a lot,” the Enrichment Centre’s Sidsworth said.

The fact box accompanying this story lists local support and more.

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In an emergency, call 911.

How to find help

Local agencies are seeing record demand for their mental-health services, and say they hope more people will ask for help rather than suffering alone.

  • To help people get the right help, agencies may refer people to other organizations.
  • Both the Crisis Intervention Centre and Addictions and Mental Health Services are good starting places because they have centralized hotlines for determining the best service for the client and connecting people with those services.
Where to call

For help, try the following. Many services are free and many agencies have a variety of programs. Don’t want to give your name? Some provide anonymous support.

  • In an emergency, dial 911.
  • Crisis Intervention Centre (24 hours): 613-969-7400 and say “crisis intervention” when prompted or call toll-free 1-888-757-7766. No problem too big or small; your situation doesn’t have to be an emergency for you to call.
  • Addictions and Mental Health Services: 310-OPEN (6736).
  • Enrichment Centre for Mental Health: 613-969-8874.
  • Youthab (ages 16-24): 613-969-0830
  • Children’s Mental Health Services: 1-844-GO2-CMHS (462-2647). Youth older than 12 may refer themselves.
  • Kids Help Phone: 1-800-668-6868. Online chat and texting available.
  • Hastings Prince Edward Public Health’s website contains long lists of tips and of other services for residents of Ontario and Canada.
  • If your employer provides benefits, you may have an employee assistance program (EAP) offering various supports. Check with your insurer or your employer.
  • Contact your doctor, primary care provider, local hospital, dial 211, or see the blue pages of the phone book for more information.
  • Suicide prevention hotline: 1-833-456-4566 toll free (In Quebec: 1-866-277-3553), 24/7 or visit
  • For spiritual support, contact your local faith leader.
Sources: Quinte Health Care; Addictions and Mental Health Services-Hastings Prince Edward; Canadian Mental Health Association; Hastings Prince Edward Public Health

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