‘Don’t wait:’ Locals, government assure there’s mental health help through pandemic

Mental health supports are still in place during the COVID-19 pandemic. However, because of physical distancing measures, most has gone virtual. (Herald file photo)

A Prince Albert counsellor is voicing the toll the COVID-19 pandemic is putting on people’s mental health and assuring anyone struggling that help is available.

Catholic Family Services’ Eric Bailey said the pandemic is building up stress in a number of ways. 

“There’s a general sense of uncertainty that impacts people,” he explained, “and then there is the complete change in the normal access to the normal things that you do.”

He used an illustration to explain how symptoms of stress arise.

“You have a glass and you start pouring a little bit of water in it and that’s just general day-to-day stress. As you keep adding water, the glass fills up until it overflows and that’s where the problems show up,” he said.

With a 10-person limit for gatherings and facilities temporarily closed, such as gyms, Bailey said many of the common means of coping have been taken away. Those activities help to drain some of the water out of the glass.

How do we drain it, then? Bailey said it’s all about finding other ways. 

A key aspect of nurturing your mental health is maintaining a routine.

“As people, we are drawn to routine,” said Bailey.

“Routine, it comes to the three basics of mental health, which is eating regularly and eating healthy, getting a good sleep, so still being disciplined around bed time and waking up time, and movement.”

To satisfy your body’s craving for movement, simply walk up and down the stairs or stretch in your own home, he said.

“We also need to reach out. We can’t connect to people face to face right now, so we need phone, we need internet, we need to connect whatever way we can to other people.”

Bailey said counselling is still available at Catholic Family Services virtually.

Executive Director Louise Zurakowski said administrative staff aren’t in the office on Tuesdays and Thursdays; however, they’re checking messages daily. She said someone will get back to you either the same day or the next.

“A lot of our (clients) already had high anxiety and stress. We want to make sure they reach out because it’s elevated,” she said.

“Don’t wait.”

Catholic Family Services continues to provide ‘walk-in’ counselling, just virtually. If you’re in an emergency situation, you can call (306) 922-3202 and speak with a counsellor immediately.

If you feel you need long-term counselling, you’ll be referred to the appropriate therapists.

Even through teletherapy, both Bailey and Zurakowski assured clients that the personal information you share remains confidential through federal and provincial privacy laws.

Catholic Family Services is working on adding other resources to its website to help parents and children develop a greater understanding of mental health.

The Prince Albert branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association is closed to visitors, said Executive Director Doug Kinar. Staff are, however, still offering support to those in the independent living program.

“We’re connecting with them two or three times a week just to see how they’re doing, making sure everything’s okay,” said Kinar.

He, too, offered some advice on nurturing your mental health throughout the COVID-19 pandemic.

“Take a step back and have a look at the perspective lens that you’re looking through,” he said.

“Now that we’re told we can’t socialize, we suddenly don’t appreciate that time that we had to sit back on the couch and watch TV like we’ve been doing all the time.”

Province reminds residents of mental health supports

The provincial government is reminding residents of the mental health supports available in Saskatchewan.

A news release said it’s working with health sector partners to ensure these services are especially available to vulnerable populations.

“Living through this uncertain and distressing time has caused some level of worry for us all,” said Premier Scott Moe.

“Whether you’re coping with the loneliness of self-isolation, concerned about the health of your loved ones or worried about what the future may hold, there are mental health supports available to help you through this difficult time.”

The release said Saskatchewan Health Authority mental health inpatient units for adults, children and youth remain open for admissions.

Community mental health sites remain open. They offer most services by phone, but can assist clients in person if necessary.

HealthLine 811 has mental health services available 24/7 for assistance and referrals.

Other mental health resources available to Saskatchewan residents include:

• The Farm Stress Line provides support for farmers and ranchers and is available 24 hours per day, seven days per week. To get help, call 1-800-667-4442.

• Kids Help Phone offers professional counselling, information and referrals by phone, text or online chat. It’s confidential, free and available 24/7.

• Mobile Crisis centres are located across Saskatchewan and operate 24/7.

• Employee and Family Assistance Programs can assist with mental health supports and counselling for qualifying employees and their dependents.

Ministries across government are also providing mental health resources and supports. These include:

• The Ministry of Education continues to offer Mental Health Capacity Building support for staff and students in five schools during school closures, through online and social media platforms.

• Ministry of Social Services staff are supporting clients, service providers and Approved Private Service Homes. All CBO agencies continue to offer counselling by phone or virtual technology.

• Indigenous Services Canada Mental Health Therapists are available by phone or Telehealth to residents of First Nations communities.