Provincial funding expands rural mental health options

·3 min read

The Covid-19 pandemic revealed shortfalls in many social services and health-care resources. Mental health, particularly in rural communities, was (and remains) one prominent issue.

Recognizing areas to improve, of course, helps lead to that improvement, which is why the Government of Alberta announced June 9 it was partnering with a Calgary clinic to expand counselling services, particularly in providing virtual counselling sessions to rural Albertans.

The province will provide $6.75 million to the Calgary Counselling Centre over the next two years, which has allowed the centre to create a new division called Counselling Alberta.

The Calgary Counselling Centre is a non-profit organization that has operated since 1962. With the help of donors, partnerships and grants, the CCC offers clients a scaled counselling fee that accommodates their specific financial situation. The centre also ensures new clients are able to see a counsellor right away without having to sit on a wait list.

“I’m really excited because I think this is a huge opportunity for the centre but more importantly it’s an opportunity for Albertans to get the help they need in a timely and affordable fashion,” says Robbie Babins-Wagner, the centre’s CEO.

Livingstone-Macleod MLA Roger Reid says the funding is one way the provincial government is addressing mental health needs, especially those found in rural communities.

“The centre offers high-quality, affordable counselling to individuals and couples, parents and families, youth and groups,” he adds. “I know that many rural Albertans have expressed the need for accessible and affordable counselling options. This funding will help to create this much needed support.”

While the counselling needs of people have remained similar since the centre first started, Babins-Wagner notes reduced stigma around getting help, coupled with problems associated with the pandemic, has resulted in an influx of people seeking help, necessitating rapid growth in the centre’s capacity.

“I’ve been here for about 30 years. When I started, we were five people,” she says. “Now we’re 120. We didn’t really have a plan to grow until five to seven years ago.”

Since 2019, the CCC has nearly doubled the annual number of sessions delivered, from around 22,000 to over 43,000. The pandemic alone has resulted in 100,000 hours of counselling services being delivered.

Many of those seeking help the past two years did not live in Calgary, which helped the centre adjust its practices for out-of-town sessions. The centre’s work caught the attention of the Ministry of Health, which approached the CCC last December about a potential partnership. Talks progressed until the $6.75-million agreement was finalized.

The money is helping the CCC staff and expand the technological infrastructure needed to run the Counselling Alberta division. The funding will also allow the centre to increase its data collection and analysis, particularly in gathering information from its clients’ communities to work in co-operation with local organizations.

The provincial agreement, says Babins-Wagner, will really help accelerate the progress the CCC has been able to make by helping Albertans through the pandemic.

“Covid gave us two years of experience doing this. The outcomes we’re achieving are fantastic,” she adds.

Virtual counselling sessions are private, secure, and available in 17 different languages for all Albertans. Counsellors are assigned according to individual needs, and appointments are offered weekdays, evenings and Saturdays.

Registration can be completed online at bit.ly/counselling_AB or by phoning 1-833-827-4229.

Sean Oliver, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Shootin' the Breeze

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