For those on the front lines of the COVID-19 crisis, as well as anyone else in the community plagued with feelings of anxiety and fear related to the ongoing pandemic, Family Services of the North Shore is now offering free counselling support.
As society started embracing physical distancing and self-quarantining last month as a means to flatten the curve of new virus cases, the non-profit organization, along with other local social service providers, made moves to continue serving the community by transitioning its counselling, parent support, outreach services and other programs to online platforms and over the phone outreach, according to Julia Staub-French, executive director at Family Services of the North Shore.
While the organization has offered regular counselling services – some at no cost or on a sliding fee scale – for a long time, the non-profit recently decided to launch a new program of over-the-phone counselling support specifically dedicated to helping those impacted by the COVID-19 crisis.
“You look around and see that everyone is anxious,” said Staub-French. “When you have a huge disaster and a pandemic where people are dying, it’s going to trigger past traumas, people that already have mental health issues are going to be off the charts anxious and worried.”
Perhaps most crucially, the organization’s offerings its new COVID-19 counselling support at no cost for up to six weeks, according to Staub-French, adding that they’ve attempted to remove barriers by removing the requirement for a formal intake process and offering the counselling for free for a number of weeks.
“If you’re a first responder or an essential worker, you can’t go back and forth on email trying to set up an intake, and we don’t want to worry about fees,” she said.
Family Services of the North Shore employees almost 20 counsellors, five of whom have been assigned to the COVID-19 counselling program.
Staub-French said the free counselling service is available for anyone impacted by the crisis – which could include everyone from emergency first-responders, front-line health-care workers, and essential service workers, to overwhelmed parents or people feeling anxious, isolated, depressed or grief-stricken.
“We’ve had more people who have called in who are parents right now, who are struggling right now in families – struggling with children at home, stress at home, conflict at home. We’ve had people call worried about seniors in their lives – some of it has been a referral, they’ve needed help to understand what’s going on and how to get help for themselves,” said Staub-French.
People can call the line with any concern related to COVID-19 if they feel they need some form of support. Counsellors can connect clients with resources, referrals to food supports if needed, or referrals to other mental health services.
But the most useful purpose might just be the interaction with another person whose job it is to listen, said Staub-French.
“Just having someone to talk to and share what they’re worried and scared about and normalizing it – they’re going to get through it,” she said.
Staub-French also stressed that if someone calls they’ll receive immediate support, as well as the option to book another session for the following week, for the next six weeks, with the same counsellor – someone who is familiar with the landscape of the North Shore as well the services and resources available to them.
“They’ll meet with them for a good half hour to an hour right then, as needed,” she said. “Most of the people calling us just need to know that they can have ongoing mental health for six weeks, that it’s not just a one-off."
In order to access the COVID-19 counselling support, people who live or work on the North Shore can call 236-982-9871 to connect with a counsellor. More information is available on Family Services of the North Shore’s official website.