Severity of mental health cases increasing in Haliburton County

By Mike Baker

Since April of last year, the Canadian Mental Health Association of Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge has offered support to 160 individuals from across Haliburton County.

Unsurprisingly, the organization has seen a “slight uptick” in the demand for services since the onset of the COVID-19 pandemic last spring, but more concerning for Jack Veitch, manager of community engagement and education with the local CMHA branch, is the severity of many of those cases.

“We have supported quite a number of people – for Haliburton, I would say 160 people is a pretty strong number,” Veitch told the Echo. “We’ve seen a slight uptick in volume, and we’re seeing that both for our general service, and also our crisis service. I think what’s most important to note, however, is that it’s not even that the general volume is increasing, it’s that the volume of intensity of need is increasing too. Even if it’s not necessarily a huge spike in the number of people requiring our services, the needs of those who are reaching out are becoming much more intense and complex, especially due to the pandemic’s effect on our health and wellness.”

Thursday [Jan. 28] marks the 11th iteration of Bell Let’s Talk Day. Over the course of the day, Bell will donate five cents from every text message, mobile and long distance call made by Bell wireless and phone customers and five cents from every tweet, TikTok, Snapchat and Instagram posting containing the hashtag #BellLetsTalk.

All money raised through the initiative will be reinvested back into different mental health programs and initiatives all over Canada. Since launching in 2010, the event has provided more than $113 million to 775 organizations nationwide. Last year, Bell committed to funding its Let’s Talk initiative for a further five years, a move that is expected to take their total investment to at least $155 million.

Some of that money has trickled down to the CMHA here in Haliburton, Kawartha, Pine Ridge in previous years, Veitch says, supporting much-needed crisis intervention clinics and other programs. He confirmed the association would once again apply for funding in 2021.

“It’s definitely our view to be applying again to support some of the programs we want to deliver. I don’t have anything I can share right now, but in a more general sense organizationally, we want to look at all avenues to continue doing what we do, and expand our services across the region,” Veitch said.

CMHA offers a wide-variety of programs and services in Haliburton County, including the At Work/Au Travail Employment Program, designed to provide specialized vocational assistance to those seeking opportunities to enter or reintegrate into the workforce; Four County Crisis, which provides a continuum of comprehensive crisis response services to individuals with serious mental health illness, mental health concerns and individuals in crisis; Gender Journeys, which provides programming, education and support services for those who are transgender, 2-spirit, gender diverse and individuals who are questioning their gender identity; Peer Support, which brings an individual who has experienced a mental health concern, or have a close relationship with someone who has experienced a mental health concern face-to-face with an individual who is struggling in the hopes it can help provide better outcomes; and various community engagement and education workshops and training sessions designed to teach people about mental health.

The local association is also one of eight partner agencies involved in a four-county rapid response treatment and education service for young people called Lynx – Early Psychosis Intervention. Designed for individuals between the ages of 14 and 35, the initiative works on the basis that early identification, assessment and treatment can lead to significantly improved outcomes for individuals suffering with a psychotic illness.

“We assist anyone 16 years of age and older, to help them with whatever goals they may have. We help people manage symptoms of serious mental health concerns or illness. We help people with housing, with their vocation, we help people involved in the justice system,” Veitch said. “We have a 24-hour crisis line that’s open seven days a week, 365 days a year that people can call if they’re struggling, or need help, whatever the case may be.”

Veitch said the local CMHA also has a “boots on the ground” case manager who works intensively with people one-to-one to help them through their issues.

While he believes those who need mental health supports should absolutely seek them out, Veitch says he doesn’t buy into the idea that mental health can only be improved by way of professional assistance.

“I think there is certain credence to the idea that we can do things independently to benefit our mental health. I would think if I’m exercising, keeping active, making sure I’m eating properly, making sure I’m connecting with peers and getting adequate sleep – those are things I can do that are going to take care of my mental health,” Veitch said.

“What I would suggest though, if it’s becoming problematic, the last thing you want to do is bottle things up, or not reach out for help. Mental health is like any other illness. Most illnesses left untreated over a period of time, more often than not, the symptoms will get worse. Mental health is no different,” Veitch added. “If you leave those symptoms untreated over time, they’re going to worsen.”

There are some easy-to-spot signs that can indicate someone is struggling with their mental health, Veitch points out.

“There are always thing – the one people can often look to is isolation, or withdrawal. Changes in appetite is another big one, or lack of interest in appearance or activities that would otherwise have caused excitement,” Veitch said. “The one I always come back to and remind people of is a major change in baseline behaviour. Seeing a person change their behaviour in a way that may be abnormal for them is a major red flag. That may be an indicator, to me, to start a conversation and see how they’re doing.”

When it comes to mental health, now more than ever, every action counts. Whether big or small, our actions can make a big difference in moving Canada’s mental health forward.