Youth mental health supports - YouthTalk

Normalizing Mental Health Supports

The popularity of online support services increased dramatically as the Greater Victoria community struggled with the global pandemic. The new un-normal motivated people to seek help to cope with the significant stresses in their lives: for some, this involved concerns about employment, education, and finances. For others, it meant dealing with substance use or physical abuse, depression, and anger management. This significant uptake in requests for help are where organizations like the Pacific Centre Family Services Association (PCFSA) make a vital difference in our communities.

Recognizing the impact of the pandemic across a number of United Nations Sustainable Development Goals, the Victoria Foundation approached the PCFSA to connect them with a funding opportunity offered through Green Shield Canada. The PCFSA saw it as a perfect match for the unfunded YouthTalk service, a program for youth under 30 to chat via email with a clinical counsellor.

Youth Talk

Figuring out the right channel to connect with today’s youth is almost as challenging as unpacking the trauma and terror they have experienced in their short lives. For many young people, the mere thought of a face-to-face session can trigger an emotional shutdown that prevents them from accessing the help they’re seeking. Fortunately, YouthTalk, a free service for youth to connect directly with counselling services via email, is now available through funding from Green Shield Canada via the Victoria Foundation.

“As everybody started to work remotely,” shared Liz Nelson, executive director for the PCFSA, “we saw a spike in demand for our email sessions. Youth still really liked the email format, more so than our Zoom counselling sessions. We found the number of emails we were receiving continued to skyrocket, and that’s not changing anytime soon because people have learned that this is a useful service available to them. There’s a vulnerability in sitting in a session, especially on Zoom, versus just being able to type an email. You may have to wait a couple of days before you get a response, but for a lot of youth, that’s okay. We’re finding this format enables them to get into their issues faster. It used to take six or eight or ten sessions of face-to-face counselling before youth felt safe enough to disclose issues that they’re now sharing in the first or second email.”

“I think for youth, in particular, things like anxiety and depression stop them from being able to get to an office or pick up the phone. There’s fear and stigma around mental health and so much more vulnerability when you have a voice on the end of the phone.” — Sara Radford, director, Counselling and Social Services, Pacific Centre Family Services Association

Through the YouthTalk program, the counsellors at the PCFSA can transfer youth naturally to in-person support. By creating a safe space in the email, the youth trust and feel comfortable with their counsellor and then agree to come in for a face-to-face at PCFSA, where they can often be referred to one of the other available programs as needed.

Community Counselling

While the YouthTalk program is specifically for youth under 30, the PCFSA also provides support to people of all ages. The short-term, affordable counselling service offers clinical counselling with master’s-level interns across a broad range of issues at greatly reduced rates. “Email is part of our service, but this option is more focused on in-person sessions and Zoom,” explained Liz. “It’s open to anybody, which is a bit different from our other funded programs where you have to have a substance use disorder or have been experiencing domestic violence. There are various parameters for this program, which might include where you live, depending on where our funding sources originate. This short-term, affordable counselling program is open to all, including those who can’t afford to pay a private counsellor; some clients don’t pay anything. We make it as accessible as possible. It’s a shorter-term program because we have such a long wait to access these services.”

“This program is for those who can afford it the least but need it the most.” — Liz Nelson, executive director for the Pacific Centre Family Services Association

Funding Opportunities

While the Green Shield Canada funding, via Victoria Foundation, is covering the bulk of the costs for YouthTalk over the next few months, the program is historically underfunded. If you would like to contribute to the long-term success of this hugely in-demand program, please reach out to the Victoria Foundation team to coordinate your contribution or to create a grant to facilitate success for many years to come. 

How will your donation make a difference?

  • 110 new clients have received complex substance use counselling over the past six months.
  • 1611 youth receive help through YouthTalk, our youth email counselling service, every six months.
  • Over 2000 individuals attend counselling and other supportive services each year