It’s no secret that the impacts of the COVID-19 pandemic are influencing our well-being. In our homes, communities and workspaces, everyone seems to be talking about how change is the one constant amid all the uncertainty of the last year.
In fact, as you’re reading this, I’m sure that a personal example popped into your head—including what actions or individual(s) helped you address or work through this situation.
Whether it’s engaging in a self-care routine or talking with someone you trust, we all have different ways of working through tough times. You might have been a support to or provided a listening ear for a colleague, family member or friend. But what happens when the issue persists and doesn’t get resolved?
If this happens, it can be helpful to reach out to a mental health professional.
Your first thought may be, “Is it really that bad? Am I at the point that I need professional help?”
It’s not only individuals in crisis, or those with a diagnosed mental illness, who can benefit from counselling. In truth, everyone can benefit from it.
Whether it’s helping with stress, goal setting, talking through relationships or parenting… the benefits are different for each of us. But what’s similar is that mental health professionals can help us become our best selves.
Barriers to Seeking Help
There are some common barriers that can prevent people from accessing professional support:
- Is it confidential?
Whether you are going to an Alberta Health Services, private or an Employee and Family Assistance Program (EFAP) provider, the information you share is completely confidential. However, if someone is at risk of harm, the counsellor is required to take the necessary steps to keep the person safe.
- It is okay to seek professional help?
No one is an invincible and infallible education superhero. Seeking help doesn’t mean failure as a spouse, educator, parent, leader, etc. In fact, reaching out for support means you are taking care of your own well-being—body, mind and spirit—so you can support others around you.
- What is professional psychological support?
Simply put, it is a treatment to relieve emotional distress by talking through life’s challenges and seeking solutions with a certified therapist. Modern approaches involve collaboration between the individual and a professional. One common form of this is cognitive-behavioral therapy (CBT), though there are many others such as interpersonal therapy, solution-focused therapy and forms of couples therapy.
- How do I find a therapist?
In Alberta, mental health providers are professionally regulated. Regulated bodies, such as the Psychologists’ Association of Alberta and the Alberta College of Social Workers can help you find qualified therapists. Or, you might have access to programs through your health benefits coverage.
- What if I don’t “click” with my therapist?
Many psychological providers do an introduction or screening call to see if they’ll be best suited to help you. If the first contact doesn’t work for you, that’s okay! People often visit or call several providers before they find the one that’s the best fit. Visit MyHealth.Alberta for tips on preparing for your first appointment.
- What if I can’t afford it?
Most people working in the education sector will have access to some form of low-cost or free support. Whether it is through compensation from your extended health benefits or through an EFAP provider, there is someone available to help. Take a minute to check coverage provided by your employer if you’re unsure.
When someone trusts you enough to come to you
In some cases, you might be the one supporting a friend, loved one or colleague. Just like administering first aid doesn’t mean you are a medical professional, helping someone with a mental health issue doesn’t mean you are a mental health professional. Read Helping a Friend You're Worried About for in-depth tips and strategies to help someone struggling with problem that’s affecting their mental health.
If you find yourself supporting a loved one, co-worker or friend with a mental health concern, it’s important to fully listen and offer your help, but leave the rest to a health professional. In these instances, it’s important to:
- Listening calmly and without judgement.
- Opening up about their concerns can be difficult for some people. Reassure them that you’re there to listen and will keep listening.
- Sharing your own experiences if you’re comfortable to do so.
- Encourage them to seek professional help if appropriate.
We might feel like we really want them to feel better right away, and that’s understandable. However, it’s important to remember that helping doesn’t mean:
- Giving medical advice;
- Making decisions for them;
- Taking personal responsibility to solve their problems; or
- Telling them to stop feeling like they do or minimizing their feelings.
In any case, if you find yourself helping others, it’s important to keep yourself well too. It’s normal to feel some stress after intently listening or helping someone through an emotional moment. Take some time to do something you enjoy, whatever that may be. After all, we’re all walking through this world together!
If you or someone you know is crisis call Alberta Health Services’ Mental Health Help Line. If it is an emergency call 911 or visit your nearest emergency room.
Gulliver, A., Griffiths, K. M., Christensen, H., & Brewer, J. L. (2012). A systematic review of help-seeking interventions for depression, anxiety and general psychological distress. BMC psychiatry, 12(1), 1-12.