Demands for mental health services up as groups face funding, outreach challenges

·2 min read

Many local community groups say demands for mental health services have increased while offering help has become difficult.

Some Other Solutions (SOS), a Fort McMurray-based non-profit that runs a crisis line and offers mental health services, has lost 15 per cent of its annual funding because a donor is no longer able to offer support. The organization is not saying who the donor was, but the funding was supporting youth outreach programs.

“It’s worthwhile putting it out there that we’re in need,” said Jason King, SOS executive director. “It’s getting pretty difficult with funding losses coupled with the added expenses of keeping a safe workplace.”

In October, SOS had more than 100 sessions with youth, including one-on-one meetings and in-school presentations. The organization also started workshops and awareness campaigns on self-harm and how to help struggling youth. King said the lost funding means those services could stop.

“Building a healthy community for our youth is important to the core fibre of our whole community,” he said. “Youth often don’t have another place to go and voice their struggles and having this safe space is very important.”

The demands for mental health services are also taxing other groups. Girls Inc. of Northern Alberta is in the process of bringing mental health services into its programming. A main challenge is overcoming poor internet access in rural communities. Other families in the city and rural areas share a single computer at a time when more work and education needs switch online.

“With programming needing to be online, equity barriers become a lot more evident,” said Abigail Falvey, a program coordinator for Girls Inc. “Access to reliable technology isn’t always there for a lot of our girls.”

Falvey adds she has seen many girls between the ages of 10 and 18 struggle from lost school and social life routines because of COVID-19 restrictions. The group’s Mind + Body program, which promotes mental wellness, has become one of the most popular programs offered by the group.

“Girls are obvious seeking mental health guidance at this time,” said Falvey. “You have to have some kind of motivation to be a 14-year-old on a Zoom call in your free time.”

For King, the same mental health effects from the pandemic seen in youth are also seen in adults, who have seen the stresses of work and home become heavier.

“Balancing life—now with school closed again and parents having to maintain work, worry about work and even wonder if work is going to be there tomorrow—is difficult to keep up with,” said King. “We are definitely in need of mental health services in this community.”

Sarah Williscraft, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Fort McMurray Today