New mental health support program available through University of Alberta

New mental health support program available through University of Alberta

The COVID-19 pandemic has created increased concerns about mental health, and a new program from the University of Alberta looks to provide support in response.

Peter Silverstone, a professor of psychiatry at the University of Alberta, said the ongoing pandemic puts a variety of stressors on people's lives stemming from isolation, health concerns, economic stress and uncertainty about the future. All of which can lead to mental health problems such as anxiety and depression.

The Centre for Online Mental Health Support, a new program Silverstone launched on Tuesday with colleagues at the U of A, provides three-to-five-day programs offering mental health advice and support.

"It's very important to have good evidence-based advice," Silverstone said.

"It is things about maintaining communication, maintaining mood, looking at distraction, adding some sense of purpose instead of sitting at home feeling down and anxious about the uncertainties, looking at things you can do."

The initial program available through the site is called Preventing and Reducing Anxiety and Depression Symptoms for Adults, a five-day program that will be free during the website's first week. Silverstone said the site will cost $10 per program after the first week.

He said the service will offer techniques related to cognition, meditation, mindfulness, exercise and more.

Other programs that could be made available, depending on resources and interest, would help teenagers, parents with children at home, pre-teens and young adults, people living alone, couples, seniors and a general program on the science behind stress, anxiety and depression.

The idea for the online centre came together, Silverstone said, after he heard from colleagues there wasn't much out there in the way of a central service for people to access live information to help them deal with isolation during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Anxiety is the biggest mental health concern for those in isolation right now, Silverstone said.

"We shouldn't underestimate what social creatures we are, and how much that isolation really does impact mental health in a negative sense," said Silverstone, who recommends setting regularly scheduled times to video chat with friends through apps like Zoom.

For those isolated at home with romantic partners or roommates, Silverstone said, it's typical for people to get on each other's nerves. He said being able to walk away is important, as is setting up time alone for yourself.

Going outside can help with mental health, Silverstone said, so long as it's done in a safe manner that maintains social distancing.

But the number one thing to do, Silverstone said, is to talk with other people.

"Increase and make sure they have regular social interaction," he said. "Linked to that is scheduling and a third suggestion is a minimum amount of exercise and try to increase it every day."

Along with the new Centre for Online Mental Health Support, other mental health services available to Albertans include the provincial government's text line, where people can text COVID19HOPE to 393939 for daily uplifting messages from Alberta Health Services, or the province-wide mental health help line at 1-877-303-2642.

Silverstone also praised the programs available online through Anxiety Canada. The Canadian Psychological Association is also providing free mental health assistance to front-line workers during the pandemic.