Mental health outreach programs needed in response to pandemic

Student journalist, Nicole Fisher, practising self-care for the good of her mental health.

The Durham Region is home to many mental health resources and emergency shelter programs. However, there should be more mental health outreach programs and crisis centres available to respond to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Lakeridge Health launched a mental health and addiction clinic program to help people cope with the challenges of the pandemic. In this program, mobile phones were distributed to patients with six weeks of data and minutes in order for patients to stay in-touch with Lakeridge Health, and attend virtual appointments.

Those with pre-existing psychiatric disorders are facing the effects of social isolation during the pandemic more than those who don’t typically struggle, according to Dr. Neeraj Bajaj, chief of psychiatry and medical director at Lakeridge Health.

Even though social media and technology has become a mainstay of modern society, it is not always available to those who need it. People who rely on psychiatrists and hospitals to receive treatment for their conditions now need some type of technology to stay up-to-date with scheduled appointments.

At a conference in March, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau announced the Government of Canada will give $7.5 million in funding to Kids Help Phone to help younger people with support.

The government also committed to donating $9 million through United Way Canada for seniors who need help with life essentials and connecting to community supports.

In May, Trudeau announced more than $240 million in funding to expand the capacity for virtual healthcare, including access to online mental health supports.

Although the government acknowledges the challenges some people are facing during COVID-19, there needs to be continuous financial support in order to provide programs to those who need it – especially when it comes to mental illness.

Statistics Canada reported 46,000 Canadians participated in an online questionnaire on mental health during the pandemic. Additionally, 24 per cent of the responses showed fair or poor mental health. When asked if their condition has worsened since the onset of physical distancing, over half of the participants indicated it got somewhat worse or much worse.

Social distancing, a term that would have no meaning if it weren’t for the global pandemic, has impacted many Canadians to the point of paranoia, according to Dr. Bajaj, chief of psychiatry and medical director at Lakeridge Health.

Having a call-in or online element of a self-care opportunity given by a government-operated entity in response to the rise of mental illness and social isolation would help those who need it.

If more of the Durham Region follows in the footsteps of Lakeridge Health and launches outreach programs, patients have a higher likelihood of attending appointments and feeling support.

With the pandemic changing the way we live, the world needs to be able to keep up with the demands of mental health.

Now more than ever, awareness on just how detrimental COVID-19 has been on mental health, whether the conditions were pre-existing or not, is essential. But knowledge is not enough. Action is.

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