New rural mental health initiative launched

·3 min read

Alberta’s Government is partnering with Counselling Alberta to launch a new initiative aiming to provide affordable mental health services in rural areas across Alberta with a $6.75 million investment over two years to expand access.

The service will provide more affordable options to Albertans struggling to access counselling services, and opens more options to those in smaller areas.

“The Alberta government is providing comprehensive mental health supports, affordable, accessible, no wait times, and nobody gets turned away, to every single person in this province,” said Associate Minister Mike Ellis with the Ministry of Health during a rural media town hall on Tuesday.

Partnering with local organizations across Alberta the goal is to provide mental health counselling services across the province working towards affordability and counselling options.

“When the pandemic started in March 2020, we started receiving calls from people across the province, saying, ‘can you see us?’ and our answer is always ‘yes’. So to date, we’ve seen, since March of 2020, 28,000 individuals, and we’ve provided over 103,000 counselling sessions,” said Dr. Robbie Babins-Wagner, chief executive officer for the Calgary Counselling Centre. “We’ve now had a number of referrals from across the province. Our counsellors are providing service, there’s no waitlist at Counselling Alberta, just like there’s no waitlist in Calgary Counselling Centre. Anybody calling today, before noon, will have been assigned to a counsellor by early afternoon. Anybody calling this afternoon will be assigned to a counsellor tomorrow. We also have two spots every single day at 4 o’clock. So that if we sense, either in reading a registration form or talking to somebody on the phone, that they have concerns, we’ll ask them if they want to attend one of those slots. Because we know this business, we know the space well enough to know, that if somebody is really in distress, and they’re not ready to tell you that, and you have to wait a week, or two weeks or six weeks or 12 weeks, it’s highly unlikely that they’re going to reach out for services again.”

Many services are research and outcome based, where every client fills out a questionnaire telling the level of stress and what kind of mental state they are in.

Using that information, counsellors are able to see improvements or not and make transparent decisions to help those in need.

“They see the question, they see graphs that it produces, and if they want it, they can have a copy of it, there are no secrets. Clients really love seeing those lines on the graph go down, which means that they’re doing better and getting better,” said Babins-Wagner, noting counselling doesn’t take forever, with clients averaging six to seven sessions.

“Trying to customize the service to each individual.”

With more options opening up virtually, Albertans can access mental health services through or by phone at 833-827-4229.

“The opportunity to do things virtually, I think has really helped, especially this field when it comes to mental health. Us being able to offer virtual supports to every corner of this province, especially those in remote Northern Alberta, I think it’s been a game changer in this field,” said Babins-Wagner.

211 services will also help provide those in need with services and getting where they need to go

Ryan Clarke, Local Journalism Initiative Reporter, Lethbridge Herald

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