WINDSOR, ONT. -- Mental health experts are looking to make counselling and therapy services more readily available as the stress of public health restrictions begins to take a toll on residents.

This week, the University of Windsor plans to launch a new student-led counselling service dubbed ‘Caring for our Caregivers.’ The program will see 25 graduate students under careful supervision provide therapy services to healthcare workers from both Windsor Regional and Hotel-Dieu Grace hospitals.

“We know from anecdotal evidence that healthcare workers are suffering from a number of adverse effects like increased depression, anxiety, difficulty sleeping, increased alcohol use,” says Josee Jarry, a psychology professor at the university.

The 35-year registered psychologist says the program was created to fill the need during the COVID-19 pandemic. The idea was first proposed by Ph.D. candidate, Sanya Sagar and backed by funds from the university and the WE-Spark Health Institute.

“We have this resource that is kind of untapped which is to use graduate students, who are highly trained in therapy, give them a few supervisors and send them out to take care of people,” says Sagar. “We really need to be taking care of each other at this time.”

The counselling offered out of the university’s Psychological Services and Research Centre will be completely free. Following its initial launch, Jarry hopes to offer the service to the broader public.

“The therapy that people will get from us is really state of the art,” says Jarry. “Our students are so extensively and superbly trained; they’re very well supervised.”

The single sessions will also help students complete their practicum and serve as a research project for the university.

Going digital

The Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA) of Windsor-Essex has been hosting weekly webinars open to the public to help relay COVID-19 coping tips and strategies.

Mental health educator, Jenny-lee Almeida, points to the need for open discussion as a way of relieving built-up stress.

“It’s okay not to feel okay right now,” says Almeida. “We are experiencing so many uncertainties, unknowns and that really does increase our fear, our worry and our anxiety.”

One of the other resources Almeida has been keen to push is a new app from the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH). The mobile application takes online tools from CAMH and brings it to handheld devices to make accessing counselling tools more accessible.

Almeida particularly likes a self-assessment tool that helps people identify stressors.

“I just think sometimes it’s really hard for someone to reach out, especially when they’re going through varying degrees of distress,” says Almeida.

A key challenge right now for healthcare professionals is to improve awareness of the resources available to those struggling with mental health concerns.

Sagar points to signs such as unusual irritableness, poor sleeping or bouts of depression as potential indicators therapy may be of benefit.

Almeida hopes tools like the CAMH app can make that first step towards help easier to take.

“Someone is there, someone can listen, someone can connect you to those available supports and resources and you don’t have to go through this alone,” says Almeida.

The 24-hour crisis line offered by CMHA can be reached at 519-973-4435.

The Mental Health and Addictions Urgent Care Centre (MHAUCC) has also been opened during the pandemic to help those 16 years or older who may need immediate support and are at risk of hospitalization. The MHAUCC can be reached by phone at 519-257-5111 x77968 or throughout the week at the CMHA Windsor-Essex branch.

The Crisis and Mental Wellness Centre, located in the TSC building in downtown Windsor, is available for less dire circumstances. Supports offered include psychiatric assessment, group therapy and other educational programs.