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Embracing virtual care to support mental health

In any given year, one in five Canadians personally experience a mental health problem or illness. This startling statistic shows how mental illness can impact everyone – whether it’s a personal struggle or the experiences of family, friends, or colleagues. 

In this blog, we’ll examine how attitudes to mental health are changing and how accessibility barriers and increased demand now lead many Canadians to seek virtual mental health support. 

Finally, we’ll look at how WELL Health is going virtual by investing in tools and services that make a difference and improve access to mental health support for Canadians.   

 

Changing attitudes and approaches to mental health 

Conversations about mental health are something that Canadians are growing increasingly familiar with. And while things have not changed overnight, or without a lot of hard work, there is little doubt that awareness has risen, and attitudes are beginning to change.

Campaigns to educate people of all ages about mental illness have helped Canadians recognize signs and symptoms and chipped away at some of the stigma.  

 

“It almost feels commonplace for people to say, in casual conversation,
even amongst colleagues, “my therapist thinks this or that.’’’ 

-
Marion Adams, Focus Mental Wellness 

A WELL Health Ventures Company

 

In the workplace too, these conversations have become more common. And not just amongst employees. Employers are becoming increasingly committed to helping support better mental health amongst their teams.

These changing attitudes in the workplace are something that Shane Sabatino, Chief People Officer at WELL Health, has observed and embraced.

“There is a reduced stigma, which is a great thing! Although we are not yet where we want and need to be. There is a reduced stigma that is making it okay to say, ‘I’m not okay,’” explains Shane.“I think that’s the biggest change I’ve seen over the years is that people can actually say they need help and talk to somebody.”  

Canadians should be proud of the steps made to recognize mental health issues and empathize with those struggling. But, while giant strides have been made in raising awareness and beginning to destigmatize mental illness, there should be no doubt that there is still work for us all to do. 

 

What is the state of Canadian mental health services?  

We know that COVID-19 has placed Canada’s mental health system under extreme duress, with one in five Canadians showing signs of high mental distress by 2021

And let’s not forget how challenging the uncertainty of current political and economic circumstances can be. Not to mention the everyday challenges of navigating daily life, including work, family, and relationships.

Perhaps in this context, it shouldn’t surprise any of us that over 7 million people in Canada are impacted by mental health issues. The question then becomes, after years of raising awareness about mental health and trying to fight stigma, shouldn’t things be getting better?  

Well, as Marion Adams, CEO of Focus Mental Wellness (A WELL Health Ventures Company) puts it, “The other side of the coin is, “Why are we talking about mental health so much more?’ Well, partly because during the pandemic our mental health has been so much worse!” 

“The pandemic became something we couldn’t ignore, and a lot of us experienced a significant mental health issue for the first time,” explains Marion. 

This is backed up by findings from the Centre of Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH), which found that even in 2022, levels of loneliness, depression, and anxiety were rising back to levels found in 2020. CAMH also found a significant increase in reports of unmet mental health needs, with around 25% of Canadians disclosing that they needed mental health services during the pandemic but were unable to receive them.

So, it’s clear that Canadians are more open to discussing their mental health. But unfortunately, it is also obvious that too many are left without adequate access when they need it most. 

 

Barriers to receiving mental health support  

Healthcare should be accessible to all. However, that isn’t necessarily the case. Let’s examine why research suggests many Canadians are not receiving adequate mental health support. In Canada, your experience accessing in-person mental health services can change depending on the following:  

  1. Location 

In urban areas, in-person mental health services are likely to be more convenient. But, in rural or remote areas, there can be a lack of coverage, meaning long, expensive, or inconvenient journeys to access care.  

  1. Capacity 

If you are relying on public mental health services, you may experience longer wait times due to increased demand and a lack of resources. According to CMHA, this leads many Canadians to access mental health services via employer-based benefits or pay out-of-pocket, which can act as a barrier to access. 

  1. Care Options 

The combination of location and capacity issues can lead to there being a lack of appropriate care options for many people. For example, are the mental health services available that address individuals' language or cultural circumstances?  

Alongside stigma, these accessibility barriers contribute to an increasing number of Canadians being unable to access appropriate mental health services. However, as Canadians have seen with primary care, many of these barriers can be removed when virtual care options are available. 

 

Why virtual care mental health services are a game-changer 

Since its rise to prominence in 2020, research suggests virtual care is popular, with over 90% of people proving satisfied with virtual visits and the time and money they save. Does it make difference if the virtual care offered is mental health, not primary care?  

Marion Adams explains that while online therapy was met with a lot of skepticism before the pandemic, “the past few years have shown us that almost anything can happen online.” 

At WELL Health, our data suggests that patients seeking mental health services prefer virtual care, with 68% choosing a virtual over an in-person visit.  In other words, Canadians are not only willing to go virtual for mental health support, but they often prefer it!  

 

How virtual care can provide accessible, high-quality mental health services 

First, it’s important to note that not every mental health issue is necessarily appropriate for virtual care. In cases of severe mental illness, crisis, or emergencies, in-person care remains essential. However, for the millions of Canadians struggling with mild to moderate mental health challenges, virtual care can be a great fit. It all comes down to individual needs.  

If we think about the barriers to access that have prevented 25% of Canadians from accessing mental health support during the pandemic, virtual care offers a compelling solution to a need that is more prevalent than ever. 

For example, if you live in downtown Toronto and have the means to pay out-of-pocket for private in-person therapy, in-person care remains a great option. But many people live in areas where services aren’t convenient or rely on private health insurance. And others don’t have insurance coverage for therapy.  

In these common situations, virtual mental health services can remove location and capacity barriers to access and offer more cost-effective options, including text-based therapy. Providing more people with access to high-quality, affordable, and convenient support. 

 

How WELL Health is going virtual to support mental health 

Focus Mental Wellness, a member of the WELL Health family, is a pioneer of virtual mental health therapy and aims to make mental health support accessible to all Canadians.  

Focus offers 3 unique services that empower Canadians to choose an option that fits their needs and lifestyle, including:  

  • Video therapy  
  • Phone therapy  
  • Text therapy  

These options help to dismantle barriers to access and remove wait times, with initial appointments often available on the same or the next day. Not only does Focus offer timely mental health support, but they also do so at a fraction of the price of many in-person therapy options. And their services are covered by most private health insurance plans.

Uniquely, Focus also allows you to select your therapist or counsellor during the initial booking process. This empowers patients, wherever possible, to choose a professional that aligns with their linguistic or cultural needs and removes another accessibility barrier.  

Since its founding, Focus has been at the forefront of innovating and making mental health care more accessible to Canadians. And that spirit remains to this day, with Marion and everyone at Focus determined to further remove barriers to mental health support.

Marion’s hope for the future is that political parties in Canada continue to move towards integrating mental health services under the umbrella of provincial healthcare plans, further removing barriers that block access for Canadians.  

“I see a future where mental health support becomes a central aspect of the universal healthcare system. And where seeing a therapist becomes as ubiquitous and socially normative as going to the dentist or the gym,” explains Marion. "You don’t just go when you’re feeling down or anxious. You see a therapist to maintain your overall health and wellness.” 

Until then, Marion, Focus and WELL Health will continue to work towards making mental health support accessible to as many Canadians as possible. 

Follow our blog to read more stories about how WELL Health and Focus Mental Wellness work together to support better mental health for employees and everyone. 

 

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