$600K donation to boost online mental health programming in Nova Scotia

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Dr. Andrew Harris says some people can find the support they need through a number of new tools on the N.S. mental health and addictions website.  (Stanislaw Mikulski - stock.adobe - image credit)
Dr. Andrew Harris says some people can find the support they need through a number of new tools on the N.S. mental health and addictions website. (Stanislaw Mikulski - stock.adobe - image credit)

Nova Scotia Health's mental health and addictions program hopes to offer more online support to people across the province after receiving a significant donation this week.

The QEII Foundation announced that RBC is contributing $600,000 toward the province's e-mental health programming.

"It's particularly important for the current time under all the strains of COVID," said Dr. Andrew Harris, a psychiatrist and the senior medical director for the program.

The plan for online programming has been in the works for years, he said, but the pandemic expedited the push. Last June, the department launched a number of applications that can be used to help those with anxiety, depression and addictions.

Since then, as many as 3,000 Nova Scotians have used the site to access mental health services.

"There's a persistent difficulty in accessing services," Harris said of traditional models in Nova Scotia. He said those who don't need intensive therapy may find the support they need through the online programs.

He uses the example of someone who can't take time off work to speak to a clinician.

"It's better for them to be able to access a service after hours or on the weekend. So our e-mental health services are tailored a little bit to meet that need."

Calls to crisis line increase

Harris said the province's mental health crisis line continues to see a 30 per cent increase in calls for help, so he's trying to raise awareness that services can be accessed immediately online.

"I think everyone is aware that for a lot of people it's much easier to talk about a physical illness than a mental illness. So there's an allowance there for privacy, for some anonymity but still making available things that can help the person who is struggling in the community."

The online portal has a list of programs that people can use, covering things like reducing stress, solving problems and becoming mindful. It mirrors a site in Newfoundland and Labrador that Harris said is used to help people in remote areas.

Harris said the donation from RBC will be used to continue to evaluate more services, and pay for the licensing of the products that are mostly developed by other organizations.

He encourages anyone who is struggling to test out the site, and use it as an entry point into the mental health system.

"It's important for people to acknowledge when they're struggling. It happens to all of us through our lives in different times."

Anyone in Nova Scotia looking to access the tools can visit: https://mha.nshealth.ca.

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