Emblematic of the feeling that we’ve reached the end of the pandemic, it was a packed house outside the new location of The Grove Wellington Guelph Hub at the University of Guelph to celebrate its grand opening. In the midst of toasting this new Grove outpost though was the reminder of why it’s there in the first place, the growing, desperate need for mental health support for young people.
“Although the pandemic has hit us all, it hasn’t hit us all equally,” explained Helen Fishburn, the CEO of the Canadian Mental Health Association Waterloo Wellington. “We know that there are people who have suffered and struggled more than others in our vulnerable populations, people who have been impacted by systemic racism, medical issues, and people who have are vulnerable because of mental health and addiction issues. Of course, I include in that category children and youth.”
According to Fishburn, the counselling and treatment stream of the CMHAWW has seen a 146 per cent increase in child psychiatry, a 96 per cent increase in those seeking more intensive services, and a 34 per cent increase in general family supports. Where as pre-COVID one out of five youth lived with mental health or substance use issues, it’s believed that number is now closer to four out of five due to a number of different factors and causes as a result of the pandemic and repeated lockdowns.
“The silver lining is the renewed empathy and compassion that we have felt for our community, our children, our youth, and for each other,” Fishburn added. “We have seen that at the Groves through the pandemic, and I will say that I’m just so proud to be a part of Guelph and Wellington County where we see such incredible innovation, kindness, and incredible partnerships.”
The Grove is based on a integrated wellness model where young people between the ages of 12 and 26 can get help they need at a “one stop shop” that provides counselling, workplace wellness, mental health and other facets of well-being. Sometimes that simply means giving young people a place to plug in their phone, or study, or hang out with friends, and showing them that the door is open.
Cyndy Moffat Forsyth, the executive director of The Grove Wellington Guelph, explained about one young man who visited another one of the Grove locations where he started to engage with one of the staff members. One Thursday he came in and was fine, but on the Friday night he went into crisis and called the 24/7 helpline where the operator was able to get access to his file and talk him through.
“The operator was able to stabilize that youth because they knew about the youth’s history, they were able to talk to them as a human being without asking them to start at the beginning,” Forsyth said. “Being able to provide that holistic service, to stabilize the youth over the weekend, and then on Monday morning reach out to the youth and say, ‘Hey, I heard you had not such a great Friday night, why don’t you come on in after school and let’s continue the conversation? That is why we’re here.”
Alison Burnett, the director of student wellness at the University of Guelph, said that having a Grove location on campus will enhance other mental health services for students who often face the normal pressures of moving away from home, or the rigours of university academics. She also anticipates that the need will be greater in the coming months as we continue the return to pre-pandemic activity.
“We’ve seen heightened levels of depression and anxiety in youths during the COVID-19 pandemic, and that certainly extends to the students that we see at the University of Guelph,” Burnett said. “We have at student wellness seen an increased need for formal mental health supports and services, and I can anticipate that continuing to be the case as we move into this new academic year.
“The efforts and the growth in collaboration with student wellness I think will be a positive light for students and something that they can really feel a part of,” Burnett added.
One of the students that has benefited from the Grove and its programs is fourth-year psychology student Nida Ansari, who not only serves as a youth ambassador, but helped organized much of the training for the other youth ambassadors who followed her.
“As a young person of colour, it’s not always been easy finding my place or voice in the world, but the Grove gave me that safe space to develop that voice and speak for myself and on behalf of youth in the community,” Ansari explained.
“I like to think that the youth ambassadors are the heart of the Grove. They’re the friendly faces people see when they walk into the hubs, they create a safe space for youth to seek the Grove’s services and provide assistance in navigating the hub’s various resources and staff,” she added
Mayor Cam Guthrie and other members of Guelph city council were in attendance at the ribbon cutting. Guthrie told the crowd that this isn’t the end of the journey, but another beginning. The Grove and its various locations will need ongoing support, and it also needs governments to act and treat mental health and addiction as the crisis it is.
“One of the number one issues that our cities are facing is the mental health crisis. It’s something that we often talk about at city hall, and the impacts are being felt by our citizens and our businesses,” Guthrie said. “As the chair of the Ontario Big City Mayors caucus, we passed a unanimous motion to call for an emergency meeting with the Province on the mental health and addictions issues that are happening in our community. They need to step up, and step up urgently.”
“I think this says what can happen when service providers, all three levels of government, community members, the university, mental health service providers, and CMHA, all come together and say, ‘We are going to fill the gap, and deliver the vital services that people in our community need,'” added Guelph MPP Mike Schreiner. “The Grove hubs that are opening up here in Guelph and across Wellington County are a testament to what we can do as community members when we all come together, and get the job done.”
The University of Guelph Grove location on 50 College Avenue West joins four other Grove locations in Erin, Fergus, Palmerston, and at the YMCA-YWCA on Woodland Glen Drive. New locations will be opening up a the Shelldale Family Gateway in 2024, and the Centre of Children’s Mental Health is expected to be complete by early 2023.