The crisis calls during the pandemic have also revealed ways that the pandemic has widened and made more visible the chronic deficits in mental health services in our society, and the social inequalities — with more disadvantaged communities, such as people with less secure employment and incomes, bearing the brunt. Access to psychological counselling is partly a question of what one can afford.
To help address these gaps, the Gerstein Centre has increased a number of its services. For example, in partnership with other service agencies, it has offered new WRAP groups for people living with mental health and addiction concerns including a group for Italian-speaking seniors, a group offered in Spanish, a group for frontline workers, as well as a group tailored to those dealing with substance abuse. The Centre has also partnered with WoodGreen Community Services to coach seniors in the use of digital communication technology, with great success.
Concerning the Centre’s FRESH program, which moved outdoors this past summer, Susan observes: “I really do think the social component and connection to community are very valuable to people… especially for those who are living in boarding homes, where they may have been kind of confined to their room in terms of keeping physical space and isolation just to reduce the spread of COVID. The ability to get outside and to be with somebody, and doing physical activity, made a big, big difference for them…We’ve seen people make some incredible changes in their lives, and then other people who have been participating for a number of years now and who really value it as part of their wellness plan.”
What can residents of St. James Town do for a loved one, friend or acquaintance they think may be struggling with mental health? In addition to advising the person that they give the Gerstein Centre a call, Susan suggests they can also call the crisis line themselves to get more specific advice for the person they’re concerned about. But just as importantly, she counsels, “Sometimes we think we need to have a solution or an answer, but spending time, being with, sitting with, hearing, and listening to what somebody is going through, can go a long way toward helping that individual cope with what is going on.”