The Alberta Government is supporting improved mental health in rural Alberta with a $6.75 million investment to Counselling Alberta.
Counselling Alberta is a new division of the Calgary Counselling Centre that is focused on providing support to Albertans in rural communities. CEO of the Calgary Counselling Centre Robbie Babins-Wagner says mental health care is really important for the well-being of the individual and community both.
"Good mental health care really allows us to live good, healthy and fulfilling lives. It allows us to have good relationships, it allows us to be better parents, and it allows us to be productive in our work. So it's critical to our individual well-being as well as our relationships and communities," she said.
The funds will be given over two years to expand access to affordable mental health care. Part of this is virtual counselling, which was already put in place yesterday.
"The funds have been used for setting up the virtual counselling provincially. Anyone across Alberta can go on CounsellingAlberta.com and register. The funds were used to hire staff to be able to meet the anticipated needs of people who will call us."
Babins-Wagner expects virtual counselling to be popular, as feedback from clients indicates that virtual may be preferred to in-person for some.
"I expect that as we reopen we'll see a smaller percentage of people who want in person care. Because virtual counselling and virtual care has allowed people to participate with a lot more flexibility than they had beforehand. They don't have to travel to an office, they don't have to get child care, they don't have to look for parking. And they can do this from wherever they are, whether they're at home or at work, they can go into a private room or a park and have the call. That's what clients are telling us."
While virtual counselling is a big part of the efforts to expand mental health care, in-person counselling will also see more accessibility.
"The other part of the money is to provide some in person services at various sites across Alberta, and we're working right now with the ministry in order to determine which communities those will be. And we'll have a better sense of that in the next few weeks."
"We wanted to make sure we had opportunities for both (online and in-person)"
It's possible that virtual counselling could see more popularity than in-person, but for now, it's too early to tell. As time goes on, Counselling Alberta and the Ministry of Health will determine how to distribute their resources.
"What we find is clients who participate in virtual counselling are getting outcomes a little better, if not as good as in-person care that they would've had before COVID. So we're pretty confident moving forward about providing the combination, but I don't think anyone really knows what proportion that will be over time."
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