By Sue Tiffin
Isolation, disconnection from friends, nowhere to go and nothing to do.
People of all ages are dealing with the stresses of a stay-at-home-order during the second wave of the COVID-19 pandemic, but it’s these specific challenges that Mary Sisson, manager of the Haliburton Youth Wellness Hub, said are affecting the younger population in Haliburton County and leading to higher levels of anxiety, depression and substance use.
“As an agency, we have noticed the difference from the initial lockdown in that, initially, we weren’t getting a lot of crisis calls or calls for Quick Access consults,” said Sisson, of her experience through Point in Time, Centre for Children, Youth and Parents, a partner on the youth hub. “Folks seemed to be doing OK and just trying to figure out what works for them in the ‘new normal.’ As time went on, numbers of referrals went up and now we are certainly seeing the affect on mental health that this pandemic is having. For some, the challenges have been working in octomesters (in high school), online learning, lack of in-person contact has heightened their isolation and research is showing that those that experienced mental health challenges pre-pandemic are experiencing a much harder time during the pandemic.”
The Youth Hub – a space that was much-needed as a place for people to spend time with friends and access supports easily in one place according to Haliburton County’s youth – had a grand opening just a month before the pandemic shut down the province last year.
“Before COVID-19 began, we had a steady increase in attendance at The Hub and increasing referrals to all of our services,” said Sisson. “COVID-19 has been challenging for everyone. We are seeing a decline in numbers due to lockdown, challenges with transportation, and connectivity.”
Programs and services were adapted to ensure that youth aged 12 to 25 could connect and feel supported even as the province went through pandemic-related restrictions.
At the Hub, Share and Care times, in which youth can meet safely outside and pick up essentials like snacks, gift cards for food, gas or data, toiletries, personal protective equipment, information resources and check in with someone about employment supports, housing, counselling or a referral to a nurse practitioner were set up on Tuesdays and Thursdays from 4:30 to 6:30 p.m., and on Wednesdays from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. Mobile Share and Cares that meet at public spaces outside in Haliburton, Minden, Wilberforce and Cardiff to help those unable to get to the Hub at those times have also been offered.
“We can also help people access food, laundry, and help them get connected to supports they may need,” said Sisson.
At a virtual art hour once a week, on Tuesdays at 3:30 p.m., youth can spend time with other creative-minded participants to focus on creating a piece of work or staying motivated on a project.
Zee has been participating in that program, being into different mediums lately and experimenting with face painting.
“The art hour is important to me because it helps me decompress from the day and let’s me be creative and show off the art I work so hard on. It gives me a chance to be social while still being a safe space,” said Zee.
A coffee and tea hour offers a social time for youth to spend time together virtually in a safe space.
“Of course, COVID-19 has made providing programming and services challenging,” said Sisson. “Though we assume youth are the most tech savvy, we also know that the teenage to early 20’s brain needs face-to-face connection with peers and that connecting with peers is so important in development. Seeing people virtually is just not the same.”
Transportation has also been a challenge for youth – as it was pre-pandemic.
“Transportation has been one of the most challenging – with lack of ability to provide transportation for programs which are important and can increase a young person’s ability to connect with each other and make and maintain friendships,” said Sisson. “It was challenging before, but before COVID-19 we could provide transportation after Hub programs, now we can’t transport anyone.”
And also, connectivity, and the lack of it for so many in the community has been a huge issue that Sisson said they’ve been counteracting through the “Are You In,” campaign.
A photo of Sisson was posted on the Point in Time Facebook page last week, smiling under a mask and announcing that she and other Youth Hub staff were delivering phones to help youth and kids throughout the county connect to school and supports more easily.
The “Are You In” program, which is connecting students with cell phones with data or phone cards, is in partnership with United Way, City of Kawartha Lakes, Haliburton and District Lions Clubs, and local donors and volunteers. Students without access to phones or internet, can contact their school principal or Lindsay at Point in Time at 705-457-5345, ext. 301 for details.
Point in Time is also encouraging residents to join the Youth Advisory Committee to have a say in the development of programs and services at the Hub. Community hours and honorariums are available for those attending. The agency is also looking for youth Steering Committee members who are interested in getting involved.
Sisson said there has been news that Youth Wellness Hubs in Ontario will be given permanent funding from The Ministry of Health and The Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH).
“With this ongoing funding, all Hubs, including Haliburton will be adding five core services,” she said. “This will include a full-time nurse practitioner, intake coordinator, care coordinator, addiction and mental health clinician and peer support worker. Along with these five positions we will be hiring an individual placement support worker, who will deliver an employment integration program.”
Work is being done to provide more in-person services at the Hub – especially due to increased needs, said Sisson, and hours of operation will be increased, providing at least 40 hours of service a week as well as evenings and Saturdays.
“We want people to know we’re there for them and as an essential service we are here to provide the ongoing support they need,” she said.
Point in Time and the Youth Wellness Hub are offering all core services, including Quick Access clinic where people can be seen within a week or two; child and family therapy; theraplay; parent support; youth justice services; early intervention (ages 0 to six); sleep consultation; respite coordination, as well as virtual programs including parenting groups and the Home Alone Program, which teaches kids over 10 the skills they need to be at home alone. The Young Warriors and Mindfulness Martial Arts programs are virtually starting in February. The crisis service runs from Monday to Friday, 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.
“If you are struggling or just not quite sure what you need or what to do, please reach out and we will do our very best to help you,” said Sisson.
For more information about the Haliburton County Youth Hub, visit HaliCountyYouthHub on Instagram and Facebook for programming and events information, or contact Mary Sisson at firstname.lastname@example.org or Becca McClure at Beccam@pointintime.ca. A website is available at https://www.pointintime.ca/youth/haliburton-youth-wellness-hub/.
At this time, phone and virtual meetings and sessions are encouraged when possible, though some face-to-face meetings can happen if necessary, with protocols in place.