A walk-in mental health clinic, offering free, one-on-one counselling sessions for youth, is available one day a week in Niagara-on-the-Lake.
In an effort to be more accessible to kids in their own communities, Pathstone Mental Health began operating clinics in the Niagara Region in 2018. The most recent to open is on Concession 6, at Red Roof Retreat.
Kim Rossi, director of philanthropy and public relations for Pathstone, says the walk-in clinics in other communities, called Hear and Now, have been a huge success, but in NOTL, it’s underused, and she’s struggling to determine why.
The Pathstone model for providing mental health care for kids is shifting to community-focused, one-on-one counselling. They have learned, since opening the first walk-in clinic two years ago in St. Catharines, that in many cases, one or two hour-long sessions can provide kids with the coping skills and problem-solving needed to deal with issues such as stress, anxiety and depression.
“Once they come back three times, if it seems the problem is more complex or the issue may be continuing, they may need more intense therapy. But once they’ve walked through a clinic door, they’re in the system,” says Rossi.
Shortly after opening the first clinic in the Branscombe Health Centre in St. Catharines, near the hospital on Fourth Avenue, it quickly became clear there was a need for such a service. After a successful search for funding, it was expanded from three days a week to five, and the demand is still high, Rossi says.
Since then, satellite locations have opened in Niagara Falls, Fort Erie, Welland, Grimsby, Port Colborne, and Beamsville, and most recently NOTL, each offering counselling one day a week. In NOTL, it’s open on Mondays.
The clinics are in part funded by the municipalities, she says. In NOTL, the Town has committed $10,000 for two years, matching the same commitment from the Niagara Community Foundation — the break-even point for a one-day-a-week clinic, with donated space, is $20,000.
The clinics have virtually eliminated the long wait times for other Pathstone services and programs, says Rossi.
But the most significant improvement of the walk-in model is the ability to provide counselling when kids need it, “in the moment,” she says.
In NOTL, however, the clinic is not well-attended, and that is a concern, says Rossi.
“We’re supposed to be helping kids. If we’re not seeing kids, we’re failing. And in NOTL, we’re not seeing kids,” she says.
“Typically we have looked for locations near a high school, or in an area that kids can walk to,” she adds — the space needs to be safe, accessible and easily reached by the public.
Red Roof Retreat is providing a newly-renovated space at no charge, but it may not be the best location, Rossi says — it isn’t receiving the number of walk-ins the other clinics see.
She’s not sure whether it’s because its not easily accessible — it’s not on a bus route — whether the community isn’t aware of the clinic and all it offers, or both.
Pathstone has focused on getting the word out in each community, with a social media campaign, sending an information card home from school with every child in the Niagara Region, and in NOTL, getting it out to 8,000 homes.
At the Red Roof location, there are many Mondays when nobody walks through the clinic doors, says Rossi. Since it opened in September, they have seen only three clients.
Red Roof has done everything it can to help, she says, including putting a big sign outside.
“By February, if we’re not seeing kids, we’ll be moving. I don’t want to move if we don’t have to. I don’t want to pull the program out of there if that’s not the problem,” she says.
Youth up to the age of 18 are welcome, and parents who have concerns about young children can also receive help. Youth may be feeling sadness, worry or anger, may be bullied, getting into trouble, or feel they may hurt themselves — those are some of the concerns clinicians hear.
Teenagers in other locations usually come in on their own, says Rossi.
The reason the clinics in other communities are so successful is that kids don’t have to wait to see someone. When dealing with mental health problems, having to wait may cause more complex issues, she says.
When Pathstone first began offering its programs, it was in a small building, where clients were seen “one person at a time,” says Rossi.
Once the Branscombe Health Centre opened, they increased the number they could see to 20 at one time, but there continued to be a waiting period of eight to 12 weeks, sometimes more, from the first phone call to the beginning of treatment.
Now, only the grief program for children who are dealing with loss, and the one for anxiety, have wait times, but much shorter, thanks to the walk-in clinics, Rossi says.
“We’re seeing 21 per cent more kids, but the number of clinicians’ hours has been reduced. We’re helping more kids in less time. And we’re helping them when they need it.”
Typically, “we only talk about mental health issues when we’re struggling,” she says. It can take a lot for a child to talk to their parents about their mental health problems, so by the time they do, “it has to be really important to them. If we miss that opportunity to help them, it might be a while before it comes up again, and it can get worse in that time.”
Last year, Pathstone walk-in clinics helped about 500 kids, says Rossi.
In the month of November, the St. Catharines clinic, open five days a week, saw 106 people — kids and parents — while the others had numbers that ranged from four to eight on the one day they were open. NOTL had none that month.
While eight over four days may not seem like a lot, Rossi says they know they are not seeing the same kids over and over, and that they received the tools they needed to cope with their problems. They received validation and support when it was needed, and they didn’t end up on a wait list for help, she says.
Pathstone has a three to five-year goal of seeing 80 per cent of their clients at walk-in clinics, and the other 20 per cent through other services and programs. Although the clinics are funded through donations, as the demand for other programs is reduced, funding can be directed to the clinics, she says.
The NOTL satellite clinic is open every Monday, from 11:30 a.m. to 7:30 p.m., with the last appointment taken at 6 p.m. It’s at 1594 Concession 6, with no fee, and no appointment or health card needed.
For more information about other clinics, such as the one in St. Catharines open Monday to Friday, or on Victoria Avenue Thursdays in Niagara Falls, visit https://pathstonementalhealth.ca/walk-in-clinic/.