As COVID-19 takes its toll on our communities, the need for accessible mental health and wellness options has become significantly more critical. Prior to the anxiety and uncertainty caused by the pandemic, wait times and access to care were already two of the biggest challenges facing the delivery of mental health and addiction services in Nova Scotia. In an effort to provide timely and effective solutions, Nova Scotia Health, in partnership with the QEII Foundation, launched a suite of online services. Recognizing the vital importance of the initiative, the Aberdeen Health Foundation approved $50,000 in funding to support the program. The donation helped the QEII Foundation reach their $720,000 fundraising goal for the three-year investment. The project will make Nova Scotia a leader in delivering a stepped care model of e-mental health.
“We want to thank the QEII Foundation for committing to this major fundraising initiative and spearheading such a valuable program for the people of Nova Scotia,” said Michelle Ferris, Aberdeen Health Foundation, executive director. “We’re pleased to be a partner in this program that is bringing direct benefits to our community.” The Aberdeen Health Foundation’s level of support was based on the level of virtual mental health care services accessed in Pictou County.
Each online tool undergoes robust vetting by Nova Scotia Health’s Mental Health and Addiction Program (MHAP) prior to being implemented. Evidence is reviewed and all tools must meet standards for privacy and confidentiality. The province is already witnessing considerable impact. The e-mental health tools are one way MHAP is increasing access to online supports and services.
Available to all Nova Scotians, the online tools are free of charge and provide immediate and critical access for those experiencing mild to moderate distress or symptoms. Those experiencing common mental health challenges can access information, resources and help when and where they need it. MHAP’s goal is for people to receive the right care, at the right time, by the right provider – online tools and virtual care provide additional options for those who face barriers to accessing in-person resources, or are just not ready to share in person.
Virtual care has also been a key piece of the puzzle. Within the counties of Pictou, Colchester, and Cumberland, the number of virtual care appointments each month increased by nearly 4,800 per cent from February 2020 to May 2020. Numbers rose from 12 attended appointments in February to 584 in May. Pictou County made up 4.3 per cent of the total provincial usage.
Access to online tools becomes particularly powerful for rural communities in Pictou County, where online services can create access with less travel time to clinics and other barriers to care. Depending on a person’s needs, they could access tailored treatment modules online, sign up with a friend to learn new skills that lower stress, or attend a weekly webinar with trained health care providers. Or, they can access one-on-one services in person, virtually, and over the phone, according to their needs. The e-mental health tools are available via any device with internet access. For many people, 24-7 access means giving attention to needs before they escalate to a level requiring urgent care.
There is no shortage of evidence regarding the success of the e-mental health program. Participant testimonials speak of reduced stress, new strategies for coping and the overall ease of use. Unnamed for privacy reasons, one participant had this to say, “I have experienced more moments of contentment and joy as a result of being present, focusing on what is going well and being less reactive. This has been an incredibly powerful yet simple practice. Even with the unique stressors associated with COVID 19, my wellness is in a positive place – thanks to mindfulness, moving more and connecting with others.”
Aberdeen Health Foundation’s contribution aligns well with their commitment to population health. Mental health is a top priority and this initiative is about investing in a solution, not just technology. Immediate access to care is crucial as early intervention is key to preventing more serious conditions and concerns. The e-Mental Health Program supports 24/7 access to evidence-based care for those experiencing common mental health, wellness and substance use concerns. Not everyone has access to devices, data plans or high-speed internet. This is a barrier for many Nova Scotians and the Aberdeen Health Foundation is looking forward to working with its partners in the ongoing work of addressing gaps created by digital inequities. It’s important to note that e-mental health does not replace in-person services, which will always continue to be available, rather it increases the options for people to find the type and level of support that works for them. Giving people access to the right care, at the right time, means giving people the tools to manage their symptoms early, practice skills, and maintain recovery, with the goal of achieving better health outcomes and fewer people waiting for more intensive care.
Anyone in Nova Scotia can access the e-mental health tools by visiting MHAhelpNS.ca/tools. All Nova Scotians can self-refer for mental health and addiction intake service by calling toll free: 1-855- 922-1122. If you or someone you know is experiencing a crisis, you can call the Mental Health and Addictions crisis line at 1-888-429-8167, available 24/7.