This story originally appeared on United Way East Ontario’s website. As your connection to the work of United Way in our region, GenNext East Ontario is committed to bringing you stories like this to demonstrate the impact your support makes.
After a series of life challenges struck Katherine Dines’ family when her kids were young, she found herself unable to sleep due to the mounting anxiety and inability to cope.
Katherine eventually reached out to the Distress Centre of Ottawa and Region— a 24/7 crisis and support line service. The Distress Centre quickly connected Katherine to programs and services that started her journey towards better mental health.
United Way East Ontario partners with the Distress Centre to ensure people like Katherine have a place to turn and resources to support them when they need it.
An increased need
While COVID-19 has been challenging for everyone across our region, it has exacerbated many of the social issues people were experiencing before the pandemic.
Locally, various health agencies have reported that feelings of isolation and loneliness have unsurprisingly grown since the start of the pandemic, and our communities’ mental health is declining. In October 2020, 40 per cent of residents in Ottawa reported their overall mental health and emotional wellbeing was ‘poor’ or ‘fair’ compared to only nine per cent in 2017.
With the added pressures of the pandemic, Katherine needed support again this past year, and the Distress Centre was there to answer her call. And she’s not alone: calls to crisis hotlines skyrocketed 114 per cent in 2020 compared to the year before.
Adapting, innovating and collaborating
In the early days of the pandemic, many frontline agencies adapted services and collaborated to better serve isolated and marginalized communities. While United Way and the Distress Centre have worked together for many years to support our communities’ mental health, this partnership was invaluable in empowering the Distress Centre to implement new and extended services throughout the pandemic.
With help from United Way and the Government of Canada’s Emergency Community Support Fund, the Distress Centre was able to expand available services through text and chat to better serve those looking for support in a more discreet way.
Additionally, the Distress Centre’s call centre data helps paint a picture of how local people are coping with their mental health. This data has been critical to partners at United Way’s COVID-19 Community Response Table. This group is powered by stories of lived experience and data to understand in real time how the pandemic is affecting the most vulnerable people, so they can collaborate and respond quickly.
One example of collaboration, powered in part by the Distress Centre and United Way, is Counselling Connect: a website that immediately connects children, youth, and families to remote mental health services in the Ottawa area. This service offers free, culturally-appropriate 24-hour access to phone or virtual counselling with no waitlists.
An empowered voice
For many people, stigma often keeps them from seeking the help they need for their mental health. When a person is ready to take that step, it’s important that someone is there to listen and provide effective, professional guidance.
Over the years, Katherine Dines has continued to call the Distress Centre when things in her life are hard to handle. Volunteers always provide a listening ear, and a connection to the services she needs to find stability.
Katherine also uses her public platform as a broadcaster on Move 100 to be an advocate for destigmatizing mental health in Ottawa and beyond. Katherine often speaks publicly about her struggles with anxiety and depression, which has empowered others to seek the help they need.
United Way East Ontario and our partners are committed to addressing the critical mental health challenges facing our region, through the pandemic and beyond. We are stronger when services are integrated, when organizations work together, and when that collaboration shows positive results for people in need.
In partnership with organizations like the Distress Centre of Ottawa and Region and with the support of our donors, we can ensure people across East Ontario feel a little less alone.
With the support of our GenNext+ monthly donors, we’re helping people across our region get culturally-appropriate and affordable access to mental health services and programs. Join us to ensure everyone can get the help they need, when they need it.