CALGARY -- When it comes to mental health services, experts in the field say fast access to programs is key to success.

Especially during the pandemic, when more people are reporting their mental health is immensely impacted, getting quick access when needed is paramount. 

According to a recent study by the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) national team and the University of British Columbia, since the onset of the pandemic 41per cent of Canadians said their mental health has deteriorated and 77 per cent of Canadians feel worried, bored, stressed, lonely or sad.

Layla Messner, an artist living Canmore, says she’s been struggling with negativity around provincial health restrictions and the loss of her dog Oscar during the pandemic.

“After he passed away I also had mental health challenges dealing with the loss and the isolation that happened,” she said.

Prior to the global health crisis, another CMHA report found that one-in-five Albertans had a mental health or addiction issue and half surveyed received no or insufficient mental health care.

Shannon Kanda, a counsellor with Catholic Family Service who works with rural families says access to mental health services in rural areas is even more limited.

“Already before the pandemic it was harder to access, there were fewer choices and longer wait times,” said Kanda.

Messner says she ran into some roadblocks when she was trying to find help.

“I was told the wait was quite long and I also didn’t want to see anybody in person because I have a compromised immune system and I wanted to stay isolating,” she said.

Before the pandemic, Catholic Family Service, a non-profit in Calgary that provides mental health services to individuals and families, noticed that the wait time for access was around four to six months because they were operating on an unlimited model where services were provided to people for multiple sessions over a long period of time. 

“As we looked through the data to meet the growing demand we recognized that often the most impact we are having with people was in that first session and after six to eight sessions the impact and outcomes we were seeing would begin to plateau,” said Byron Chan, Catholic Family Service co-CEO.

To better serve the community, the organization introduced a new model called rapid access counselling. It’s a one-time, 75-minute session.

“When the client comes in to see the counsellor the focus is on the issue or the problem that the client is facing in the moment,” said Chan.

Chan says if the client needs more sessions, it’s provided, but the model is intended to give specified help in the one session in event the patient never returns. Since launching the new program, the wait time for services has decreased to within three days. 

Last fall, the organization expanded the program to rural areas to meet the growing demand. During the pandemic, the demand has been higher. They’ve been able to provide service to more than 200 clients in 30 rural communities.

Messner says she was able to find help through the rapid access counselling service and says being able to do it online was crucial during the pandemic.

“In every single session I’ve pretty much had a break through because it is that focused,” she said.

Catholic Family Service has also created an online booking tool for clients to reserve appointments anytime. They’ve partnered with several other organizations on the one-stop-shop online hub.

More information or to access mental health services can be found online.