The Mental Health System is an Essential Part of the Frontline Response to COVID-19

Thanks to donors, the Mental Health Foundation is supporting the mental health of Albertans.

From the beginning of the COVID19 pandemic, donor support for the Mental Health Foundation has made a difference to staff, patients and the community who rely on public addiction and mental health care.

Anticipating negative impacts on mental health due to social isolation, the Foundation worked alongside Alberta Health Services psychiatrist Dr. Vincent Agyapong to develop an easily accessible tool called Text4Hope. A free subscription service, Text4Hope provides daily text messages to Albertans feeling stressed or anxious as a result of the pandemic.

The program launched two weeks into March lockdowns. Donors and Foundation partners made it a reality, enthusiastically rallying behind the much-needed service. 30,000 people subscribed in the first week. Since then, over 50,000 Albertans have received Text4Hope support.

“The mental health effects of the pandemic cannot be underestimated and will strain Alberta’s health system,” says Dr. Agyapong. “Virtual interventions like Text4Hope bring relief, support and therapeutic skill development to thousands of people.” 

In May, Text4Hope expanded to include a six-month extension called Text4Mood, as well as options with tailored messaging for those with cancer or struggling with substance use issues, and a youth-friendly version called More Good Days

 

Research data from the program is helping ensure ongoing understanding of the pandemic’s impact on mental health. In initial survey results, nearly 50 per cent of subscribers were considered likely candidates for anxiety disorders, more than 40 per cent were likely clinically depressed and almost 85 per cent reported moderate to high stress. While concerning, tracking information like this is fundamental in planning services to support Albertans post-pandemic.

Donor engagement and influence helps the mental health system adapt to serve the community in new ways.

With donor funding, community outreach teams are providing emergency essential care packages to Edmonton’s vulnerable addictions and mental health clients. Packages include food and household items that can be difficult for these patients to access, given heightened anxiety around public transportation, the economic consequences of the virus and lack of in-person program support.

Foundation supporters fund resources Albertans are now accessing from home, including an online suite of high-quality programming for parents and caregivers of children and youth, and the coming launch of a virtual clinic for youth through a new organization called Kickstand.

Donor-funded initiatives like Addiction and Mental Health Access 24/7 continue to provide around-the-clock services to Edmontonians needing assessment, navigation support or treatment in person or by phone.

Alberta Hospital Edmonton (AHE), Edmonton’s psychiatric hospital, has played an important role in the fight against COVID-19. To free up beds for people requiring acute care, mental health patients from the University of Alberta and Royal Alexandra hospitals were relocated to a newly outfitted unit at AHE. AHE’s staff had the unit ready only weeks after lockdown began.

Home to many of Edmonton’s mental health inpatients, AHE is a growing hub of innovation, with ambitious plans. Its suite of specialized services and highly skilled clinicians, researchers and practitioners is supported by the Mental Health Foundation.

COVID-19 has changed the in-hospital patient experience, with face-to-face programming reduced, visitations limited and day passes cancelled. But with creative approaches, the hospital has increased meaningful patient engagement despite limits on in-person interaction.

iPads supported virtual visits between patients and family members, individual activity packages were created to enrich personal time, and staff put innovative strategies into action. Staff and patients covered the distance across Canada through a Campus Walking Challenge on the site’s therapeutic grounds. 

As the healthcare system battles COVID-19 cases, anxiety and depression in Alberta remain high, with serious implications for the future. Canadians are not accessing mental health support at pre-pandemic rates. Not only are they less likely to get in-person help from a mental health professional, they are also less likely to speak to their family doctor.

Through the challenges of 2020, one shift has occurred: mental health is being noticed. Our collective struggle is normalizing conversations about mental health. Donors to the Mental Health Foundation turn these conversations into action with impact.

Learn more about the impact of donor support in our annual review, and donate today.