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Virtual mental health

Updated: Sep 9, 2021

August 25, 2020 1:00 pm

Accessing mental healthcare was difficult enough before COVID-19 shut down so many of our support systems. The stigma associated with mental illness makes it hard for people who are struggling to reach out, especially in small towns and rural areas where everyone knows each other. There’s often a sense of shame associated with needing mental healthcare, as if our brains were not just another part of our bodies that can malfunction from time to time. Now, many things we used to do in person need to be accomplished via distance or not at all. Fascinatingly, mental health may be one area where going virtual is actually a positive.

I spoke to a professional therapist about how COVID-19 has affected her practice. Carla Turnquist offers in-person therapy in both Stettler and Innisfail. She has actually offered phone and video therapy sessions even before the current medical crisis, when for a while her physical locations needed to close for safety. She notes that “the majority of people were initially shy to try services this way, but once they got used to them, many prefer” virtual sessions.

She cites concerns like arranging for childcare and time off work that are much less of a hassle if patients can access therapy without having to come into the office. Who knew that therapy on your very own couch would appeal to the public? It’s wonderful that virtual mental healthcare is catching on, because it can be a literal lifesaver. It can be too much to ask for someone who’s already struggling to navigate a complicated healthcare system in person, whether the pain is physical or emotional.

Turnquist would also like Stettler to know that the options for mental healthcare have actually increased since the advent of COVID-19. “From extra support via the Kids Help Phone to support from Alberta Health Services, to grants for counseling for private clinicians, there is plenty of support for Albertans struggling with the onset of COVID.”

I also spoke to Yolanda Genu at Alberta Health Services, who would like all Albertans to know about the website AHS has created for these specific needs: There, they will find a podcast by Dr. Nicholas Mitchell, AHS Addictions and Mental Health Provincial, Medical Director, who talks about reducing stress and creating new routines. There is also information about the Mental Health Helpline, Addictions Helpline, Health Link, and Text4Hope. Genu says that “Text4Hope is a free text messaging program, where subscribers receive daily advice and encouragement to help develop coping skills and resiliency.”

Both AHS and private therapists have been working hard to support Albertans through this time of isolation. Please reach out to any of these sources of help that feel accessible to you if you’re noticing a change in mood or sleep habits, lack of interest in your usual activities, or other symptoms of depression. You may also feel unusually anxious or have intrusive thoughts about the possibility of getting sick. Needing to isolate from your community can cause a lot of uncomfortable feelings, and mental health practitioners are here to help you develop the tools to work through it.


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