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Mental-health crisis line sees surge in calls due to pandemic

Nova Scotia’s crisis line last month received 35 per cent more phone calls than in July 2019
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Nova Scotia’s mental-health crisis line last month received 35 per cent more phone calls than in July 2019, as people with psychological issues continue to be impacted by the effects of the coronavirus pandemic.

Prior to July, the call volume was 20 to 30 per cent higher compared to the same period last year, Samantha Hodder, Nova Scotia Health’s senior director of mental health and addictions services, told Monday.

Last month, 2,485 calls were made to the crisis line, she said.

Regarding appointments with clinicians, Hodder said most patients’ sessions with staff (62 per cent) are being done virtually or by telephone.

“We are now seeing the number of face-to-face visits beginning to rise,” she said via email.

Hodder said before the COVID-19 outbreak reached this province, “approximately 8 per cent of ... outpatient visits occurred by virtual care.” 

At the height of the public-health crisis, 76 per cent of all attended appointments happened that way.
Hodder said the determination to see a client in person or virtually, when possible, “is a clinical decision made by the provider and based on patient needs.”

She said staffers at Nova Scotia Health (formerly the Nova Scotia Health Authority) are doing their best to provide care to those with mental problems during the virus crisis. But it’s been a big challenge for patients and providers, Hodder acknowledged.

“Increased levels of psychological distress can be attributed to the immediate health impacts of the virus and the consequences of public protection orders,” she said. “Fear, loss, economic hardship, misinformation about the virus, and deep uncertainty about the future are other common sources of distress.”

Hodder said that “like others in the health care system, over the past number of months Nova Scotia Health’s mental health and addictions program ... has been working to meet the extraordinary challenge presented by the COVID-19 pandemic.”

She said “ensuring people have access to the right service, at the right time, in the right place, by the right provider is critical to their readjustment and recovery.”

With respect to the future, Hodder said it looks like “there could be a long-term upsurge in the number and severity of mental health problems.” 

The Canadian Press reported recently that a study from the consulting company Deloitte estimates between 6.3 million and 10.7 million Canadians will see a doctor for mental health reasons in the years to come, even after the pandemic crisis is over.

Mental health services in Nova Scotia have been criticized by patient advocates as being inadequate to meet the demand. In 2017, the provincial government earmarked funds to hire dozens of mental health workers, CBC News reported earlier this year, including 10 new staff members for the IWK Health Centre.

(A government news release from three years ago said $8.6 million would lead to “almost 70 more mental health-care providers” in the province.)

The Canadian Mental Health Association’s website says that “in any given year, one in five people in Canada will personally experience a mental health problem or illness.”

In June, the association released a policy brief on COVID-19 and the emotional health of Canadians. The brief included eight recommendations for the federal government.

The Nova Scotia chapter of the CMHA has information about coping with the coronavirus pandemic.

Nova Scotia Health’s mental health and addictions intake line is 1-855-922-1122 (toll-free).

If you’re in mental distress or experiencing a crisis, here are phone numbers for the 24-hour, provincial mental-health crisis line: 1-888-429-8167 (toll-free), or, if you are in the Halifax area, call (902) 429-8167.

The Kids Help Phone number is 1-800-668-6868 (toll-free).

Medical personnel at hospital emergency departments can also help.

Nova Scotia Health announced in June the launch of a mental health and addictions website.

Hodder told the new site “offers accurate, up-to-date information about mental health and addictions, services available, locations, self-management tools and other resources ... in the community.”

Ottawa has developed an online program offering Canadians free mental-health resources.

Michael Lightstone is a freelance reporter living in Dartmouth


About the Author: Michael Lightstone

During a general-news career lasting close to 30 years, Michael LIghtstone has covered such things as politics, health matters, courts, labour issues and jazz concerts
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