With just over a year into the pandemic, the Canadian Mental Health Association Sudbury/Manitoulin recently celebrated the opening of its Integrated Health Services Hub at 200 Larch Street.
Not that it was brand new, but after waiting for roughly a year with all the ups and downs of the pandemic, it was just time to celebrate the fact the hub was up and running, said Stephanie Lefebvre, director, programs and planning at CMHA Sudbury/Manitoulin.
Lefebvre said it is an important link to providing mental health services to the wider community.
The CMHA website said individuals in Sudbury’s downtown core were not getting their needs met and key services were lacking. Emergency and hospital services were also in high use and shelters were not accessible for those using drugs and alcohol. This created negative outcomes for individuals who were homeless and struggling with addictions.
"We created 200 Larch with the goal to address mental health, addictions, and homelessness issues downtown. Using an integrated service delivery model, vulnerable individuals now have access to mental health and addiction services, supportive housing, and primary care all under one roof. The supports provided at the right time and the right place, have proven to have a positive impact on the health and safety of our community," said the website.
Lefebvre said the pandemic has taken a toll in the past year on people's mental health.
"Part of the fallout of COVID-19 simply beyond the disease itself is those other health and wellness pieces that people are now struggling with; mental health being first and foremost," said Lefebvre.
She said it was also important for people to know that no one is alone when it comes to mental health concerns.
"Absolutely I think it is really important to validate for everyone. This is an extremely challenging time and the experiences of stress, of anxiety, of loneliness, of isolation are very common for all of us," said Lefebvre.
"To some extent we are all in this number and if there is one thing that CMHA promotes is that it is not just people who have diagnosed mental illness that require support," said Lefebvre.
She said all Canadians need to be mindful of the full impact of the pandemic which she said has been a significant and traumatic event for most of us, requiring more empathy and understanding.
"So validating it and being mindful and really being proactive about letting people know where they can get support and where they can reach out. Different people are going to need different things. But we are really working hard across the community to ensure there are supports there when people need them," said Lefebvre.
She said issues are not necessarily increased because of the pandemic, but the CMHA is seeing more people with more complex issues.
She added that people are needing help especially at the street level among the homeless.
"On any given day, individuals who are homeless face a degree of complexity in their lives that most of us can't even imagine," said Lefebvre.
She said the pandemic has made things difficult because so many rules and situations are evolving, making it hard to stay attuned to changes.
"What we've seen throughout the pandemic is that things are changing constantly. so it is hard for any individual to stay on top of the changes especially when they are balancing the stresses of being homeless, along with possible stresses of mental illness and maybe addiction," said Lefebvre.
"What I said about complexity for those accessing our services is probably tripled for individuals who are homeless. The complexity of factors influencing their wellness has skyrocketed," she added.
Lefebvre said every effort is being made to make things easier for the homeless, but she admitted that the use of substances, the continuing overdoses and the opioid crisis is still "very troubling."
Lefebvre added that the integrated health hub at 200 Larch Street is valuable for so many people who still feel the need to have in-person consultations with a health professional. For those who are a bit reluctant to step forward to discuss mental health, Lefebvre said there are online resources.
"Go to our website. We've got a quick link to something called "Here2Help" and that takes people to a few options, so they can do a self referral online which connects them with one of our intake workers within 24 hours.
"They can go to a provincial program called Bounce Back which is immediate support provided online. There are certainly a whole host of new options virtually that have been opened up to people. It's fantastic. It's fantastic that people do have access to these things,” said Lefebvre.