TORONTO, ON., April 10, 2020 – Measures put in place over the past three weeks to slow the spread of COVID-19 will have almost certainly created stress and anxiety for many individuals, which may be compounded by financial loss and loss of critical supports. This is why yesterday the City of Toronto announced a mental health support strategy to support the mental health needs of residents during the COVID-19 pandemic.
The key focus of the strategy is to assist residents experiencing stress and anxiety due to being isolated, quarantined with a positive COVID-19 diagnosis, experiencing financial hardships or other mental health stressors. To implement this, the City has partnered with key mental health service providers to support the mental wellbeing of Toronto’s most vulnerable residents during this time.
“These are tough times for many residents,” says Mayor John Tory. While our partners on this initiative have already seen an uptake in their call volumes since the declaration of the pandemic, we felt it was necessary for the City to do what we can to better connect residents to available mental health supports.This strategy will help us leverage the experience and system of our mental health partners to provide support for children and youth, those over 70 years of age, those in quarantine with COVID-19, those working on the front line and others.
“Thank you to our partners who have joined us in our efforts to help residents manage their mental health and wellbeing during this time,” said Mayor Tory.
As part of the new mental health strategy, residents can call 211 to access support and get connected to one of seven primary mental health service partners for direct phone support. Mental health service information is also available at 211toronto.ca.
“At 211 Central, we’re seeing an increase in calls from people looking for mental health support due to isolation and increased anxiety related to COVID-19,” said Sue Wilkinson, Executive Director, Findhelp Information Services – 211 Central Region. “This new mental health strategy will go a long way to respond to this need. We’re grateful to be working with the City and the other partners on such an integrated and immediate action plan,” said Wilkinson.
To support children and youth, seniors, frontline workers, and those with intersectional identities, such as Indigenous, Black, persons with disabilities and LGBTQ2S, who are struggling with isolation, stress and anxiety exacerbated by COVID-19 measures, the City has partnered with:
• Kids Help Phone and Crisis Text Line powered by Kids Help Phone;
• Progress Place Warm Line;
• Toronto Seniors Helpline;
• Ontario Psychological Association for frontline workers in community agencies;
• Caribbean African Canadian Social Services (CAFCAN) for Black residents;
• Across Boundaries for Black and Indigenous People/Persons of Colour (BIPOC);
• Native Child and Family Services of Toronto (NCFST) for Indigenous residents; and
• Gerstein Crisis Centre.
“Our crisis services continue to be available for people who are dealing with issues related to their mental health and/or substance use,” said Susan Davis, Executive Director, Gerstein Crisis Centre. “Our services include a 24-hour telephone crisis line, wellness checks, short term follow-up support, virtual face to face support and referrals to other beneficial health and social services. Online support groups for service users and service providers are also available. Gerstein Centre is happy to take part in this collaborative approach to create opportunities for people in Toronto to access the supports they need when they need them.”
For seniors, some of the most vulnerable at this time Anne Babcock, CEO, WoodGreen Community Services says, “Our Seniors Help Line will support thousands of vulnerable seniors receive the services they need to stay home and healthy during the outbreak of COVID-19.”
And during these uncertain times the youth of Toronto are also feeling increased anxiety due to the cancellation of school, closure of parks and being self-isolated at home, and this is why there is a Kids Help Phone line available to them. Katherine Hay, President and CEO, Kids Help Phone says “To help support young people, Kids Help Phone, the City of Toronto, 211 and other local service providers are joining forces to ensure 24/7 mental health support is available.”
The City considers mental health support services to be essential for residents during this time. The services mentioned above are free to all residents.
The integrated approach of this strategy allows the streamlining of referrals to the most appropriate mental health resources and enables the City and its partners to be agile and responsive to changing needs.
This strategy complements and does not replace any existing mental health support models. Existing mental health services (Distress Centre, East Metro Youth Services, etc.) are urged to continue providing services to existing clients and to expand services where feasible.
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