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Jennifer’s family got immediate mental health counselling


Before the pandemic, when Jennifer went looking for mental health services for her son, she felt like she was hitting a wall.  

When she’d pick up the phone for help, she would get transferred around, or disconnected.  

Living in a rural community, she had limited options close to home for support. Most mental health services required at least a half-hour drive to meet in person—an endeavor that would require missing school and work to make it happen. 

The process left her feeling frustrated and alone.  

“When you’re in a crisis, you feel like it’s you against the world.”

This spring, near the end of the virtual school year, Jennifer was seeing new language and behaviours in her son that were alarming to her, and she didn’t know what to do about it. The process of seeking out support again was daunting.

But this time, it was much easier for Jennifer to connect with the care she and her son needed.  

So easy, that it took only 12 hours from the time she reached out for support to the moment she was chatting with a mental health counsellor from the comfort of her home.  

The second pandemic: mental health

In the early days of the pandemic, United Way East Ontario saw how quickly the social challenges associated with COVID-19 began to overwhelm people in our communities. For many, the pandemic has led to their first major struggle with their mental health. For others, depression and anxiety have been long-term daily struggles, with COVID-19 just piling on the pressure. 

Making mental health services easy to access was an early priority for our COVID-19 Community Response Table, and we knew there was no time to spare. We promptly supported Counselling Connect, a collaboration between more than 20 local mental health partners, to break down barriers and improve access to brief counselling. 

This was a gamechanger for Jennifer and her family. 

Counselling is just one click away

Unreliable internet, language barriers, or lack of transportation can make it difficult for newcomers and people in rural or low-income communities to get the help they need.   

Using Counselling Connect, Jennifer was able to search specifically for child and family counsellors, and speak with someone in less than 24 hours.   

No long wait times. No lengthy drive to meet in person. No cost. Jennifer was able to get the help she needed to support her son immediately, from the comfort of her home. 

“With Counselling Connect, I was able to feel reassured right away. I didn’t have a panic attack feeling like I had in the past, feeling like there was no one out there to help me and my son. It helped my mental health as a parent trying to support their kids because I wasn’t hitting that level of anxiety.”

Shaped by the community, for the community

United Way and our partners at the COVID-19 Community Response Table know that gender, race, sexuality, geography and socio-economic status have all influenced how residents experience the effects of the pandemic. 

Institutional oppression, systemic racism and chronic exposure to discrimination are often the root causes of the bigger impact on Indigenous peoples, racialized communities, 2SLGBTQ+ communities, people with disabilities, and other marginalized groups.  

With this in mind, we knew our response to the mental health crisis needed to be culturally appropriate, accessible, and affordable. 

Counselling Connect connects clients to a free mental health or substance use counselling session with the click of a button. Counselling services are provided by video or by phone, by more than a hundred counsellors from diverse backgrounds and experiences.  

Clients can choose mental health counselling targeted for Indigenous peoples; African, Caribbean and Black communities; 2SLGBTQ+ communities; children and families; youth and adult substance use challenges, and more.  

United Way, our allies at the COVID-19 Community Response Table, and the more than 20 partners delivering mental health supports through Counselling Connect are making it easier for anyone to get the mental health support they need, when they need it.  

“Before the pandemic, African, Caribbean and Black community members faced a lot of obstacles when seeking mental health support. A huge part of that was finding health care providers who understood what their challenges were: is the person sitting in front of me going to understand how my culture works? Are they going to understand some of the racial injustices I’ve experienced in the past? There are also financial barriers and stigma around accessing these services.”

A stronger mental health network now, and in the future

“United Way has played a crucial role, not only in supporting us to add capacity to our service, but also in providing really invaluable advice as we’ve moved the initiative forward, and guiding us through things that were new for us.”

United Way identifies the most pressing local needs, but the work doesn’t stop there. With the support of generous donors across Prescott-Russell, Ottawa, Lanark County and Renfrew County, we can provide long-term solutions to the tough challenges.  

Counselling Connect is just one way we’ve made mental health services more accessible during a time when our communities really need it. With your support, we can ensure the mental health solutions created during COVID-19 will be there long into the future.  

“I’m super grateful that the United Way is bringing these types of forward-thinking ideas to the forefront because we need it.”

Keep mental health services accessible and affordable.



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