With requests for counselling skyrocketing, Manitoba drafts 5-year mental health action plan

The Manitoba government has launched a consultation process to create a five-year plan for the newly created Department of Mental Health, Wellness and Recovery.

Consultations with stakeholders beginning this summer, public engagement to follow

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Norwest Co-op Community Health saw a five-fold increase in demand for mental health counselling services between January 2020 and March 2021. (Shutterstock)

The director of a Winnipeg-based community health and wellness co-operative says her organization has seen a five-fold increase for mental health counselling services from January 2020 to March 2021.

"I've worked in mental health almost all of my career — about 30 years now — and during this time I have never seen a time when mental health is more important than now," said Nancy Heinrichs, executive director of NorWest Co-op Community Health.

Heinrichs spoke during a news conference on Monday, alongside Mental Health, Wellness and Recovery Minister Audrey Gordon, announcing the Manitoba government is developing a five-year action plan for the new department.

NorWest Co-op Community Health provides counselling and support for community youth.The organization continues to see high numbers of concerns about the pandemic, particularly problems related to anxiety and depression, Heinrichs says.

The new department dedicated solely to the issue of mental health and addictions, was created in January 2021, with Gordon appointed as its first minister

Since then, the provincial government has created a draft version of a five-year plan, building on recommendations from a number of reports published in recent years.

These include the "Improving Access and Co-ordination of Mental Health and Addiction Services" report by Virgo Planning and Evaluation, the Peachey report looking into the overhaul of Manitoba's health-care system, and the Illicit Drugs Task Force report.

"Now it is time to bring this work together under one umbrella," Gordon said.

The province issued a request for proposals to hire a consultant to meet with stakeholder organizations inside the government, as well as in the community, over the summer. A public consultation period will follow in the fall.

The completed five-year action plan will be released by the end of the year, the province said in a news release.