The Alberta government is giving grants totalling more than $710,000 to seven mental health and addiction support programs in the Fort McMurray Wood Buffalo area.
The funding, which will be distributed over three phases, comes at a time when many mental health advocates say people are struggling with the effects of the pandemic.
Edwin Rideout, chair of Legacy Counselling Centre (LCC) and a pastor at Family Christian Centre, said the organization will use the funding to hire a children and youth counsellor. LCC is receiving $100,000 to support a six-month contract for the position.
“There is a significant shortage of services available for children and youth in Fort McMurray,” said Rideout. “Given the stress that’s been on our youth and kids during this season, we felt the need to ramp up our services.”
Last year, LCC offered 576 child and youth counselling sessions, up from 329 sessions in 2019. The most common issues children and youth faced were self-esteem issues, substance abuse, suicidal thoughts, self-harm and communicating with parents.
“We consider these issues to be extremely, extremely distressing,” said Rideout.
Like the LLC, the Nistawoyou Association Friendship Centre (NAFC), hired a mental health support worker in August because the organization also saw increased demands for mental health and addiction support services.
“Once we had some staff, they have been really busy,” said Stacy Gillingham, executive director of the NAFC. “It’s continuing to increase in the amount of people that are requiring the support and the help.”
Gillingham hopes the $100,000 grant will help expand the current mental health support system. Many challenges Gillingham sees are often related to the isolation brought on by the pandemic. Being away from family and friends, financial burdens and addictions also challenge many people.
“They are facing some tough times and they need someone there to help them get through,” said Gillingham.
Rideout noted the pandemic has had a unique effect on mental health locally. He recently spoke to a couple who had been working in the oil industry for nine years. With added stresses, such as children staying at home, shift work has been more difficult these past 12 months.
“I hear this constantly that the industry is not making adjustments for people’s mental health,” said Rideout. “This adds another layer to the complexity of managing relationships and changing dynamics.”
Rideout has seen clients still recovering from last year's floods and the 2016 wildfire. Many people are waiting on insurance settlements to rebuild homes, he said.
“While most of us have forgotten the fire and it’s a thing of the past, many people are still living through that,” said Rideout.
Kevin Garbuio, coach for the Saints Football Association, said mental health stigmas in Fort McMurray’s athletic community need addressing.
A Community Funding Grant has helped the organization provide a series of online mental well-being seminars for players and the community. The first session was held March 9 and focused on fostering skills for parents to talk about mental health with their children.
“The big thing we took away from it is to really focus on building relationships with your child and knowing what your child wants,” said Garbuio. “We also talked about building relationships between parents and coaches so we can work together to support our kids better.”
Garbuio said these seminars have been a success with over 40 parents attending the first session. He hopes Saints Football can focus on advocacy more in the future and can continue to support players and families with mental health resources.
“It shows that his community wants to be healthy, they want to acquire the skills to help their kids,” said Garbuio. “If we’re on the right track and know what our goals are, we can inspire change in a lot of people.”
Pastew Place Detox Centre Society: $228,735
Nistawoyou Association Friendship Centre: $100,000
Chipewyan Prairie First Nation: $100,000
Fort Mckay Metis Community Association: $100,000
Legacy Counselling Centre: $100,000
Fort City Church: $75,346
Saints Football Association: $9,075
Sarah Williscraft, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort McMurray Today