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Local counselling centre sees increase in demand

Stuck at home through much of the pandemic, especially during lockdown periods, we’ve had to find ways to cope in the absence of our usual activities and outlets. The latest provincial restrictions, scheduled to end January 26, have only added to the stress levels.

Not surprisingly, then, the Woolwich Counselling Centre has seen a large uptick in the demand for its services. Many more people, particularly children and seniors, have been accessing the centre’s resources, says executive director Amanda Wood- Atkinson, noting that’s led to the addition of new staff members.

“When we compare 2021 to 2019, which that would have been kind of a full year of regular service, I’d say it’s close to a 50 per cent increase that we saw in 2021. So, it’s pretty significant. I’d say we’ve definitely increased services for children and youth, and for seniors specifically. So those are two areas that we have been intentional about increasing our supports in. But the increase is really reflected overall, like across all of our demographics,” she explained.

The current situation could lead to worsening mental health conditions in some people as well as creating new stresses. Some behaviours like being quick to anger could indicate the toll that isolation is playing on people. Likewise for changes in appetite or difficulty sleeping, Wood-Atkinson noted.

“Right now, emotional stress is something that comes up for a lot of people particularly in relation to lockdown, so, feelings of fear or sadness or frustration. You’ll see things like people will mentally have difficulty concentrating or making decisions.”

Closed during the lockdowns, WCC has learned to pivot to the virtual world over the last two years, offering Zoom counselling sessions and online workshops, as well as offering many programs for children. Parents can help their child become more aware of how to identify their emotions while under stress from isolation or other changes such as remote learning, said Wood-Atkinson.

“What you’ll often see in kids is maybe not an ability to express that as an adult might be able to; you might see just irritability or getting easily upset. Not sleeping is a common one that you see with children as well, or in teens sleeping more. Maybe just feelings of anger and frustration coming up. Sometimes not eating well or eating too much or changes in appetite are something that you can see a lot in kids. I think maybe that like sense of hopelessness is something that could come up or just giving up before it even starts with online school – ‘I didn’t like this before, so why even bother?’”

Getting kids moving and active can help alleviate stress. Spending time in nature has helped many families deal with lockdowns over the pandemic, learning new skills such as snowshoeing along the way.

“That’s a really great way to combat feelings of stress. Physical activity is another one – getting outside and doing something active, practicing gratefulness or positivity. Trying to shift that mindset a little bit, thinking about what are some of the things that you can be grateful for or that are positive and focusing on those. Mindfulness for kids and being aware of helping to teach kids to manage their emotions and recognize, ‘Oh, I see that you’re feeling sad’ or ‘I see that you’re feeling frustrated’ so they can recognize what they’re feeling inside and label that with an emotion and then say, ‘OK, what can we do about that, how is it that we can help you to cope with it?’ So just keeping that self-awareness,” said Wood-Atkinson.

So far, the virtual programs Woolwich Counselling offers have been well received. According to a client satisfaction survey, some 80 per cent of clients enjoyed virtual counselling.

“One shift that we’ve made intentionally over the past two years is to really be intentional about offering workshops and online groups specifically out to the community. We’ve also been able to do those at no cost over the past two years as well, really to be forward-facing as a support out to the community. They have been really well received. They’ve been filling up quickly and they’ve all been running. So, it’s been great. We’ve been really happy to be able to provide that,” she said.

A full list of virtual programs for adults, teens and children Woolwich Counselling offers can be found on their website, woolwichcounselling.org.

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