With many of us having returned to school and/or work ‘in person’ in 2022, the need for mental health services has continued to be substantial. This has resulted in many services creating or expanding their waitlists, particularly for those seeking later counselling appointments following the school or workday. This is an unfortunate reality for many clients, as a mental health clinic we have seen the additional stress that can be placed on one who is already struggling personally and in need of immediate help. A primary obstacle for many looking to not only begin their counselling journey, is having the ability to book and attend sessions consistently. Many are hesitant to miss school and/or work to attend daytime appointments.

Due to the demands of school/ work schedules and their requirements,  the majority of people feel they are unable to attend daytime appointments. They feel they aren’t ‘allowed to’ by their school and/or employer. Some may also be unaware of the laws regarding missing school or work for counselling appointments. In an ideal world, no matter what someone’s job is or when classes take place, occasional missed periods of time  for the purposes of attending counselling appointments would not only be permitted by employers and educational institutions, but promoted.

For the average working person, there are often two main reasons why it is difficult to attend daytime counselling appointments. The first reason would be the stigma that still exists around seeking mental health treatment, especially within the workplace. While many employers have made positive steps towards reducing this stigma, I have heard many accounts by clients regarding their feelings that their employer doesn’t care and provides little to no support. Due to this, employees often don’t view counselling appointments as a priority compared to other common medical appointments. Another reason people often see it as difficult to attend daytime counselling appointments is the belief that one can push through their stress while holding the belief that work comes first.

In North America, at no fault of our own, we have developed the belief that we wait until we are unwell to seek help, as opposed to practicing a healthy lifestyle (which includes a work-life balance, mental health care, etc.) Just as with any other health issue, the earlier one seeks counselling can correlate to how effective the treatment can be. This can help reduce the impact on our employment, schooling, friends, family, physical health, etc.

Students face similar challenges to the one’s discussed above, but also have their own unique ones. If we look at the impact the COVID-19 pandemic had, and continues to have on children/teens when it comes to their mental health and success in the school environment; factors such as altered brain development, inconsistent in-person social interaction, teacher burnout, and family/home stressors, have played significant role in their struggles today. The impact of the above factors on children and teens’ mental health includes: increased instances of depressed mood, irritability, sleep disturbances, increased need to spend time alone, decreased attention span, heightened anxiety, a poor outlook for the future, and inconsistent interpersonal relationships (with friends, family, teachers, etc.).

While it is essential for children and teens to attend school in Ontario, now more than ever, their ability to do so in a consistent and healthy manner has been impacted greatly in the last 2 years. The main concerns that I see from the students that I work with at Brant Mental Health Solutions include but are not limited to;  consistent absences, inability to pay attention and absorb information in the classroom, school anxiety, poorer relationships with peers, irritability and a lack of concern, or in some cases overconcern, for course grades. It is clear to me that these experiences have intensified by the pressure students not only feel or perceive from teachers and school administration), but also by the pressure they place on themselves to be normal and be successful as a student. It has become a tricky scenario when it comes to attending school consistently and obtaining passing grades while managing one’s mental health (particularly since the start of COVID-19). Not to mention the addition of navigating where to seek help for a child’s mental health issues, the availability of services, and available/suitable appointment times.

Many have experienced obtaining a counselling appointment in a timely fashion to be a difficult and stressful task, especially if one is seeking services with a not-for-profit community service/agency. It is a sad reality that many of these services and agencies, due to increasing demand for free and immediate mental health services (especially for children and teens), are struggling themselves to manage their counselling wait lists and to come up with alternative solutions to helping those in need.

Another option for those who are seeking immediate counselling services is to contact a private mental health clinic. Due to the increased demand for mental health services and suitable appointment times that work best families’ schedules, many private services have had to turn to waitlists, for times falling between 3:00pm to 8:00pm. However, if a parent and their child are open to attending some counselling appointments during daytime hours, faster and more consistent services can be provided. I consistently encourage clients to view mental health appointments just as they do any other health appointments that schools and/or employers tend to be more understanding of. Anyone has the right to keep their attendance in counselling appointments private and confidential as they are similar to other types of medical appointments.

 I encourage the philosophy that – ‘‘A good life does not exist without the opportunity to consistently manage, treat, and sustain one’s health… and that includes one’s mental health… therefore, health must be our #1 priority if we are to get the most out of our education, family, social life, friends, etc.”

During this crucial time in physical and mental development, it is essential for a tween/teens overall health and success to have access to mental health services. Ideally seeking services should be done as soon as a parent or teen recognizes and/or voices concern.  It’s my belief that optimal care can be successfully done when as many professionals available to the child are involved in their treatment. This  includes medical professionals, and mental health practitioners employed by a child’s school/school board. Social workers, behavioural counsellors, child & youth workers, and psychologists that work for school boards are available to provide help to all students who are struggling. Communal support from all aspects of life (workplace, school, medical professionals, caregivers/loved ones) is essential for consistent and effective mental health support.

Written by Jordon (RSW/MA)

This is an opinion based blog post that is in reflection of this author’s experience while working for BMHS.