Canadians struggling with mental health has been called one of the hidden crises of the pandemic. Being apart from family and friends and repeated lockdowns have left many around Canada feeling isolated, overwhelmed, and stressed—especially Nova Scotians.
According to a national survey by Mental Health Research Canada, about 27 per cent of Nova Scotians described their anxiety level as ‘high’ since the pandemic began — five points higher than the national average of 22 per cent.
The pandemic has also caused an ongoing spike in calls to the province’s 24/7 crisis line, and access to local mental health care is needed more than before.
Now, thanks to the QEII Foundation and the RBC Foundation, one million Nova Scotians can access robust mental health care and services right from their digital devices through a brand new online hub.
Verified mental health and addictions tools
Every program in Nova Scotia’s new online mental health and addictions hub goes through a strict evaluation process before going live on the site.
“They're all evidence-based, and they're all effective,” Dr. Andrew Harris, Senior Medical Director, Mental Health and Addictions at Nova Scotia Health
“Each time we get a new option, we run it through a protocol, a process to ensure that all those criteria are met before we’ll stand it up on the website,” says Dr. Andrew Harris, Senior Medical Director, Mental Health and Addictions at Nova Scotia Health. “I think that’s reassuring, that these are programs that are likely to help you.”
Nova Scotians can currently access 18 tools based on cognitive behavioural therapy — a treatment approach that helps people see negative or unhelpful thought and behaviour patterns clearly, and work to change them.
For example, there’s a 30-Day Mindfulness Challenge from the Canadian health-tech firm MindWell-U that teaches people how to lower stress and boost optimism. The course is designed for busy people who may not be able to join a month-long retreat, but who want to feel generally more engaged and present in their day-to-day lives. Each day’s challenge takes between 5 to 10 minutes to complete. So far MindWell-U has 4,000 registered users.
There’s also a Therapy Assistance Online tool, an interactive ‘library’ of life skill programs designed to help people develop resilience and bounce back from stumbling blocks and disappointments. One module is called “Calming Your Worry,” which helps people develop confidence by considering negative thoughts in a more positive light. In the past 10 months, Therapy Assistance Online has logged 2,700 self-help sessions.
Specific programs for addiction, anxiety, depression, and grief are available. While programs aren’t intended to replace therapy with a practitioner, or medication where needed, they may work preventatively or in tandem with other therapies. By helping people develop skills, they may even help people experiencing longer-term struggles with mood and anxiety.
Online hub sees huge uptake
Launched last spring, the new online mental health and addictions resource hub has had an eight-fold increase in traffic compared to before the pandemic. People are “signing up, registering, and getting help,” says Dr. Harris.
However, the plan for digital mental health services has been in the works for years, but COVID-19 accelerated the transformation. That’s beneficial, notes Dr. Harris, because “there’s still a lot of stigma around mental illness … and so merely going into a mental health clinic can sometimes be a daunting experience.” Now people can access services from the privacy of their own homes, which is a big plus for many.
So far, there have been 400,000 visits to the new site.
With online programs here to stay — and more programs on the way — the e-mental health trend isn’t going anywhere in this part of the Maritimes. Visit MHAhelpNS.ca to check out the available tools.
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