British Columbia

Phone counselling service established during pandemic moves online due to high demand

More than 1,000 people have called the teletherapy line set up by UBCO professor Leslie Lutes in April, so they're moving services online in an effort to provide more long-term mental health care.

Online services to offer more long-term support

British Columbians seeking mental health support can get virtual care for free, through a UBCO program. (TippaPatt/Shutterstock)

When the COVID-19 pandemic was declared, Leslie Lutes scrambled to recruit psychologists for a teletherapy project that would offer free telephone counselling services to anyone in B.C., who needed it. 

In the past four months, her team has taken more than 1,000 calls, with needs relating to general anxiety, domestic violence, opioid addiction and suicide risk. 

"It was clear that we needed to do more to help as the pandemic goes on," Lutes told Daybreak South host Chris Walker. 

Lutes, a professor of psychology and director of clinical training at UBC's Okanagan campus, said the call line has been good for acute issues, but as the pandemic continues, people need more long-term support, including treatment.

The call line ended on July 31, but has been replaced by two new online services: a virtual walk-in, well-being clinic and an email online therapy program

Patients of the virtual walk-in, well-being clinic will receive a 30-minute consultation online or over the phone with a clinical psychology doctoral student and supervised by a registered psychologist. 

The email support is also run by graduate students and uses cognitive behavioural therapy to help develop coping strategies.

"Virtual support creates instant equity, access and care, and creates a lifeline for those unable to afford psychological services. At the same time, we are training the next generation of registered psychologists," Lutes said.

Lutes said both programs have been funded and put into motion thanks to an anonymous private donor, university support and partnerships with the B.C. Psychological Association and Vancouver Coastal Health.

Lutes said these different forms of mental health support are critical moving forward, because although the world's present situation has been called "the new normal," she said life is not normal right now. 

"Everybody is on edge," she said.  "It's impacting everybody but it's impacting some people absolutely more — anybody with a previous mental health challenge and addiction trauma, all those things make all of those things harder during COVID-19 to manage."

Lutes noted that this program is temporary, and given its limited capacity can only provide care to a fraction of those in need. For that reason, she said, she remains committed to working with all levels of government to find ways to support residents in more long-term, sustainable ways.

"COVID-19 has cost us family members, livelihoods, social interactions and much more," she said. "If we truly want to rebound from these catastrophic losses, investing in mental health is how we get there."

With files from Daybreak South


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