Making life-changing counselling sessions available for Alberta youth, young adults

During the COVID-19 pandemic, Tara, an Alberta youth, began to experience the early symptoms of a debilitating fear of the unknown. Even a shopping trip to Wal-Mart caused nervous stomach pain. Her anxiety escalated to the point that she missed school when unknowns or stressors like tests became overwhelming. By now, Tara’s brain was in constant fight-or-flight mode, causing a sensory overload that made daily life, including bedtime, a struggle.

Fortunately for Tara, a new mental health program launched by BGC Wolf Creek and the Ponoka Youth Centre earlier this year gave her timely access to the expert care she needed.

The program’s counselling sessions have already proven to be life-changing for youth and young adults aged 12-25 and their families in Ponoka County, Alberta.

To date, 34 young people and/or their parents have received free, credentialed mental health services in rural areas where services are not readily available.

Access was made possible by an investment of Medavie, through the Medavie Foundation, to fund a new counsellor position and the staff time required for booking appointments.

Tara’s mother says since her daughter started to meet with her counsellor Joan in February, she has “gained coping skills to attend school regularly, and her belly aches have become almost non-existent.”

“This is huge because, since Grade 2, Tara has suffered from anxiety-induced belly aches.”

The staff at BGC Wolf Creek are encouraged by the early results of counselling sessions like this. Positive outcomes already include an:

  1. increase in the number of youth and young adults using healthy coping strategies to manage anxiety
  2. a decrease in the number of youths refusing to go to school
  3. an increase in awareness of social interactions and boundaries with peers.

Tara’s mother says her daughter is “still working on bedtime but has learned skills from Joan to know that not every noise is scary and worth reacting over."

“Tara has learned to talk to her anxiety and tell it to hold on a minute so she can evaluate the situation before she reacts.”

She recalls that “a great victory came during a family trip to West Edmonton Mall when Tara was able to actually go through the mall without being death gripped to my arm. She was able to vocalize when she was starting to feel herself ‘flip her lid’” and tell us that it was time for her to leave the mall.”

Tara herself is pleased with the improvements she is seeing in her mental health ― progress she credits to the knowledge and guidance of her counsellor.

“Joan has taught me the skills to work through my anxiety and help me know I will be okay even in moments when I don’t feel like I will be. Joan made me feel safe and that she cared about me right from when we first met.”

The program is well on its way to improving the wellbeing of many more youth with mental health challenges in Ponoka County, like Tara, over the next year.

Note: The names in this article have been changed to maintain confidentiality.

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