More calls to mental health helplines in Alberta due to COVID-19

Mental health helplines in the province are experiencing a spike in COVID-19 related calls, which is encouraging for experts.

The province’s mental health line went from 30 calls a day to up to 110

Helplines in Alberta have seen an increase in more calls related to COVID-19. (KieferPix/Shutterstock)

Mental health helplines in the province are seeing an increase in COVID-19 related calls, which experts say is encouraging as people are seeking help.

Alberta's Mental Health Help Line provides 24/7 telephone service offering assistance for people experiencing mental health concerns. 

Prior to the pandemic, it averaged close to 30 calls per day.

Recently, that number has grown to anywhere from 105 to 110 calls per day.

"I think a lot of it is people who are struggling with the consequences of being socially distanced and not being able to make contact with their support networks," said Dr. Nicholas Mitchell, Alberta Health Services' medical director of addiction and mental health.

"There's a lot of concern around the economic realities and people who are worried about the future."

Mitchell says many of the calls are from Albertans experiencing financial stress and are looking for help and resources proactively.
Dr. Nicholas Mitchell says Alberta Health Services has experienced a significant rise in COVID-19 related calls to it's mental health help line. (Submitted by Nicholas Mitchell)

"People are looking for information about where to access support or services, when to be concerned, what a typical or expected reaction might be and when things might be getting to the point that they could benefit from help."

Mitchell predicts the demand for mental health help will continue to rise as the province's economy reopens.

"I would expect that we're going to continue to see at least this level of demand for the foreseeable future, if not more," he said.

Other helplines, like the Canadian Mental Health Association's distress line, are also seeing more COVID-19 related calls. 

The Edmonton region has been experiencing a similar amount of calls as it usually does at this time of year, but close to half of those calls are related to COVID-19 right now, officials say.

This is encouraging for mental health experts.

"We like to see that people are reaching out to those services in the community that are there for them," said Emma Potter, crisis and navigation support services manager for CMHA Edmonton.

Distress lines can help people connect with resources and get support in a time of crisis, Potter said. It also encourages people to reach out to friends and family for support.

"It's key, I think, especially as it is mental health week when we're really promoting people getting connected and finding out how people in our lives are really doing," Potter said.

"We'll all get through this together and so the more connections that we can make socially, the better off we are."

Coping through connecting

Brian Christianson, 72, knows the importance of finding support when feeling alone. He joined Men's Shed a year ago after his wife suffered from dementia and he started living alone.

Men's Shed is a movement catching on throughout Canada where men meet and bond through activities like woodworking, cooking, gardening, speaking about their lives over coffee or listening to guest speakers from the community.

"It's given me strength. It's given me a reason to get up in the morning and just to see like-minded people that are going through the same kind of thing," Christianson said.

Brian Christianson, 72, poses at a Men's Shed gardening event in Edmonton. (Men's Shed Edmonton)

The pandemic has forced him and the other Edmonton members to get comfortable with video conferencing in order to maintain their weekly meetings.

He's hoping men who feel alone through the pandemic will join Men's Shed as a way to cope.

The next virtual meeting is on May 15.

"The loneliness aspect of being cooped up. It's killing me," he said.

"I miss the meetings, you know. So we all have to wait I guess."


Travis McEwan


Travis McEwan is an award-winning video journalist. Originally from Churchill, Man., he's spent the last decade working at CBC Edmonton. Email story ideas to travis.mcewan@cbc.ca