Mental health challenges grow during holidays, pandemic

Important to check in on loved ones’ wellness this holiday season

MANITOULIN—Island mental health workers are emphasizing that there are many services available to help people who need mental health support, a need that often increases around the holidays and into the new year and which will also grow due to the global COVID-19 pandemic.

“We’ve had a lot of community members reaching out with mental health concerns, feeling like there aren’t any resources on the Island. We think the issue is that people don’t necessarily know how to access them and they need to be better advertised,” said Melanie Stephens, a member of the Manitoulin Mental Health and Addictions Partners Table and the manager of clinical innovation and partnerships at Manitoulin Health Centre (MHC).

To that end, a group of Island health providers has united to advertise the availability of their services through a central, unified hub—ConnexOntario.

“The holidays, especially, can bring up a lot of trauma, whether past family traumas, addictions, health, financial pressures, and now with the factor of isolation (due to COVID-19 restrictions), that will definitely be something that will play a toll on how people will be feeling now and into the new year,” ConnexOntario spokesperson Amelia Lomat told The Expositor.

ConnexOntario is a provincially run 24-hour-access database of mental health, addictions and problem gambling support services. Anyone seeking support in the province can visit its website (ConnexOntario.ca) to view the directory or access live chat support, can call 1-866-531-2600 or email the organization for assistance.

Ms. Lomat said ConnexOntario receives more than 70,000 contacts per year—an average of nearly 200 per day.

Knowing what mental health services are available is important, not just for people who have battled such issues in the past, but for friends and community members alike.

“A lot of our calls come from people concerned about family members and loved ones. That’s another way that people can help care for themselves and the people they care about as well,” said Ms. Lomat.

There is also a mobile app available, called ConnexGO, available in the Apple App Store or Google Play Store.

Many Island supports available

Manitoulin Island service providers have been working to get all of their service offerings posted on the database to make it easier to find help,  especially during a crisis. By accessing ConnexOntario and entering one’s location, users get a listing of the most appropriate services near them. They can also reach  an operator.

The Island’s mental health and addictions partners group includes health providers, the Manitoulin-Sudbury District Services Board, Manitoulin Family Resources, Mnidoo Mnising Crisis Response Team and other community-based organizations.

Noojmowin Teg offers mental health and violence support services and will continue to offer support during the holidays on weekdays from 8:30 am to 4 pm (except the statutory holidays of Christmas Day and New Year’s Day, both Fridays this year).

Its services are available to Indigenous and non-Indigenous people ages 12 years and older and can be accessed by calling 705-368-2182, extension 222.

Interim mental health and addictions manager Delaney Campbell told The Expositor that Noojmowin Teg has seen a steady and increasing need for such services on the Island.

“Once we hit the fall and the second wave, we saw similar (increasing) trends in the mental health field. People are struggling and for people who had already struggled before the pandemic experience, it’s exacerbated their mental health struggles as well,” Ms. Campbell said.

Ultimately, she said, the most important thing is to reach out to someone, regardless of whom.

“It can seem intimidating because some organizations may seem to have separate criteria and different catchments, but on Manitoulin, reach out (to an organization) and even if you’re not necessarily in their mandate, they will help guide you toward the most appropriate service,” Ms. Campbell said.

Many of Noojmowin Teg’s support services have transitioned to a virtual model this year, though it is still offering some in-person help when appropriate. She said the digital model has created some flexibility, though there are constraints for the many people in the Manitoulin area without reliable, fast internet connections. However, regional groups may be able to help users with connectivity challenges.

Canada improving crisis response

The federal government is moving toward improving access to crisis services for those at risk of dying by suicide. On December 11, the House of Commons unanimously supported a Conservative motion to consolidate all suicide crisis hotlines at a single, easy-access phone number: 9-8-8.

CBC News reported that the United States is also in the process of setting up its own national 9-8-8 crisis line, a process that it projected to take four years.

Where to get help

Any Islanders seeking mental health or crisis support should consult ConnexOntario.ca, the ConnexGO mobile app or call 1-866-531-2600, available 24 hours per day, seven days per week.

A Sudbury counsellor support line is available from 6 pm to midnight at 1-866-856-9276 and a 24-hour local crisis line is available at 1-877-841-1101.

For children and younger adults, contact Kids Help Phone at 1-800-668-6868 or visit KidsHelpPhone.ca.

Anyone in an immediate crisis should dial 9-1-1.