With the pandemic taking a toll on mental health, a group of community-based agencies is now offering a free session of online or over-the-phone counselling services to members of the LGBT and African, Caribbean and Black communities.
Not only are the sessions free, they're offered by mental-health workers from those communities.
"Our communities experience some barriers to accessing inclusive mental-health services," Merissa Taylor-Meissner, who works for a LGBT-specific walk-in clinic, told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning on Monday. "They might worry about being misgendered, having their identity misunderstood or having their pronouns gotten wrong.
"With somebody who has those experiences – because I'm a queer-identified social worker – they know that I have experience and training with this and they're gonna feel welcome in the space," said Taylor-Meissner.
Similar backgrounds can lead to stronger connections
Counselling Connect, composed of 22 partner agencies, began to offer free sessions to the public at the start of the pandemic and has provided 4,600 sessions since then.
In late January, which saw the biggest demands for appointments since the spring, Counselling Connect received $311,000 one-time funding to provide, among other things, services that better targeted specific communities.
Nagad Hersi, an African, Caribbean, Black mental health outreach worker at Somerset West Community Health Centre, said facing similar challenges as her clients builds a stronger connection with them.
"Just knowing that you're seen and heard and understood," she said.
The sessions last typically between 45 and 90 minutes, Hersi said, with the group's research showing that many people find a single appointment helpful enough to allow them to work through some of their issues.
If that's not the case, clients can be referred to other services – whether that's additional counselling, a community-support group or resources for medical transitions – that counsellors feel are inclusive.
Hersi said being part of the community she helps acts as an antidote for the isolation many are facing during the pandemic.
"Knowing that this is a part of my story," she said. "It's a part of my loved ones stories. Sharing knowledge – it's really important for the community to sort of come together and find ways to support one another."