Free mental health support available to all BC residents

UBCO collaborates with BCPA and province to offer psychological first-aid service

All British Columbians now have access to free, psychological first-aid thanks to a collaboration between UBC Okanagan, the BC Psychological Association, and the province.

The service, originally launched for front-line health care workers last week, will now provide telephone-based support to any BC resident experiencing stress, anxiety or uncertainty related to the COVID-19 outbreak.

“We’re expanding this service based on extreme need,” says Lesley Lutes, professor of psychology at UBC Okanagan and registered psychologist. “Every person is being affected by COVID-19, and they deserve access to care.”

Residents seeking assistance can access the service by filling out a short online form on the BCPA website or by calling 604-827-0847. They will then be contacted from one of 200 volunteer registered psychologists within 24 to 48 hours.

Once submitted, they will receive a call from one of 200 volunteer registered psychologists within 24 to 48 hours.

Considered best practice in times of crisis, psychological first-aid is a brief, up to 30-minute, telephone consultation designed to provide information and strategies to help people cope with mental health struggles related to traumatic events.

Lutes points to research following the SARS epidemic in 2003 to demonstrate the mental distress that health emergencies can cause.

“The study found those who experienced quarantine were at a high risk of developing post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD),” explains Lutes. “What’s even more concerning, is that the longer the quarantine, the higher the risk of PTSD.”

Lutes stresses that by offering services like psychological first-aid early on, the risk of PTSD and other mental health impacts can be reduced.

While confident this service will provide much-needed urgent support for many, Lutes is currently working to identify long-term resources that will provide the care she says British Columbians need.

“Unprecedented times call for unprecedented compassion-and it’s important that we keep helping each other the best we can,” says Lutes.

“Whether it’s the nurse who is going to care for our most sick and vulnerable, the grocery store clerk ensuring shelves are stocked to keep us fed, or families choosing to stay home to stop the spread, we all need to do our part and look after our mental health. We will get through this, together.”

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