Many Canadians, and especially young people, have been experiencing a significant increase in mental health issues over the past year. Service providers on the frontlines shifted and innovated quickly to ensure youth could access the help they needed when they needed it most. Whether virtual, over the phone, or physically distanced, their stories are only a snapshot of the incredible work mental health service organizations have been doing across the country to “keep the doors open” and meet the diverse mental health needs of youth.

Dans la rue

Dans la rue provides rapid and comprehensive support to homeless and at-risk youth with mental health issues to facilitate their sustainable exit from homelessness and transition to a more independent life. From March to December 2020, Dans la rue served nearly 750 young people with complex needs, great psychological distress and various addictions.

While meeting basic needs such as food and shelter continued to be important, there was increased mental health strain brought on by the pandemic. The emotional and therapeutic support provided by Dans la rue counsellors was even more vital for helping their clients process the additional stress, anxiety and social isolation they were experiencing.

In 2020, the team carried out more than 1,000 mental and physical health interventions and more than 4,400 psychosocial interventions through their drop-in centre, following strict public health guidelines, to remain open and connect with youth in need daily.

“Distress is already extremely widespread among youth experiencing homelessness. Add COVID to the equation and you get increased anxiety, feelings of stigmatization and loneliness. Since the beginning of the pandemic, we were able to count on our partners to keep our essential services running so that youth can have access to food, shelter and psychosocial support.”

Cécile Arbaud, Executive Director, Dans la rue


OUTSaskatoon provides a safe space and programming to address underlying issues affecting the health and welfare of individuals of all genders and sexual orientations. One of the biggest needs they continue to meet is the provision of free, gender-affirming mental health counselling to 2SLGBTQ individuals in Saskatoon and the surrounding area.

Due to the pandemic, OUTSaskatoon pivoted to provide all education and support services online, along with the addition of a second counsellor to their team to respond to the need for counselling, which doubled over the previous year. One of the OUTSaskatoon counsellors even runs two monthly peer counselling groups for 2SLGBTQ youth, fostering community and support during this prolonged period of isolation.

After recognizing many of their clients were not accessing the city-run COVID-19 Emergency Support Services Hub for food, clothing, and basic needs, OUTSaskatoon successfully advocated to be deemed an essential service. The designation enabled them to continue running their drop-in centre and provide 2SLBGTQ individuals with basic hygiene kits, gender-affirming clothing, and assistance in securing stable and safe housing.

Atlantic Wellness Community Centre

Atlantic Wellness Community Centre provides youth in southeastern New Brunswick, who are struggling with a variety of mental health challenges and stressors, free services to develop effective and positive coping strategies. Over the past year, they adapted their services to continue helping youth, without interruption, by using Zoom and telehealth services to connect over 240 youth to their counselling therapist through video, phone and text messaging.

Technology was also used to move their group therapy sessions and Youth Mental Health Clinic online, where 70% of the youth report they would have “gone nowhere” or “gone to the hospital” if the clinic was not an option. This further illustrates how critical it has been for Atlantic Wellness to keep their operations going, despite the challenges presented by the pandemic.

First Episode Mood & Anxiety Program (FEMAP)

London Health Sciences Centre operates the First Episode Mood & Anxiety Program (FEMAP), a unique program designed specifically to treat youth living with disruptive mood and anxiety disorders.

From pre-pandemic 2020 to early 2021, young people seeking help from FEMAP increased by 100% and the FEMAP team worked diligently to ensure continuity of care despite site closures and ongoing lockdowns.

In March 2020, they surveyed all 375 active clients to determine who required immediate support from a social worker. This targeted support prevented emergency room visits and ensured young people had the support they needed to navigate increased stress and anxiety.

Over the last year, they have continued to offer support via videoconferencing and phone calls, and small in-person group sessions that adhere to strict public health protocols. With a wait list growing, keeping FEMAP operating continues to meet a critical need in the London area.

“Group participants have expressed that we have (for some) been the only lifeline and human contact they have had since the pandemic. They described that they have noticed their social skills (even the ability to greet people) have eroded as a result of social isolation. They were so happy to hear the group was going to run in person (with physical distance and COVID-19 protocols in place, nonetheless). Our attendance and participant engagement has been great. We theorized that they have been craving safe human contact and the group has provided them with that, even for the most anxious.”

A FEMAP Social Worker

Canadian Mental Health Association, PEI

The past year has demonstrated just how vital it is to have access to technology and reliable internet to meet basic needs and stay connected to community resources. Early in 2020, the Canadian Mental Health Association PEI (CHMA PEI) recognized this need and mobilized to provide tablets and internet service to their more isolated and vulnerable clients across all age groups.

This action, which included reaching seniors, enabled their clients to fully participate in CMHA virtual programming and daily check-ins conducted by the team. They could also attend online learning sessions on varied topics including wellness, cooking, employment and education, housing, social recreation and more. In total, CMHA PEI provided nearly 200 virtual social activities to decrease isolation and improve social connection.

In addition, the team ensured their 400+ clients had access to reliable internet connections for psycho-social rehabilitation and the continuation of their therapeutic programs. Normally, they would access these services face to face in Charlottetown, Alberton and Summerside.

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