An increase in mental-health related calls to Thunder Bay police this summer doesn’t surprise the staff of a local counselling centre.

The city police service had issued a public safety alert identifying an increase in apparent and attempted suicides in July.

The Thunder Bay Counselling Centre has seen a 57 per cent increase in the number of people it’s seen seeking help for anxiety and depression from April 1 to July 1 of this year.

They have also seen a 102 per cent increase in the amount of help clients have been accessing.

“What we heard from the police doesn’t really come as a surprise to any of the counsellors at Thunder Bay Counselling (Centre) because we’ve been seeing people really struggling during the pandemic,” said Julia MacArthur, manager of addiction and mental health with the counselling centre.

The centre has expanded its walk-in counselling from just one day a week to five days a week.

All of its programs are running, said MacArthur, adding all types of organizations are trying to be open and dynamic in offering people help during the COVID-19 pandemic.

“The impact of the pandemic hits different people differently at different times and no two people have felt it the same way,” said MacArthur.

The economic fallout of the pandemic as well as the isolation from physical distancing are really hitting people in the community.

“It’s just been such a major adjustment,” said MacArthur.

Some people have lost their jobs and while some have been able to access federal support programs, the change has had an impact on everyone, she noted.

“I don’t think I’ve met a single person who says, ‘No, I’m going about my daily life,’” MacArthur said. “People struggle with adjustment. Adjustment disorder is a thing.”

That stress has also been triggering for people dealing with substance issues, whether it be the isolation or not being able to see more people, she said.

On the same day the police issued the warning about the rise in suicides, they also released a public safety alert on an increase in overdose deaths linked to fentanyl use, also known as pink down or pink dizzy.

Naloxone, which can counter the effects of an overdose, didn’t seem to be working with this drug, warned police.

The pandemic has affected the whole world and while change is constant, it can also be an opportunity, said MacArthur.

“There is help and with help, you can find your hope again,” she said.

The rise in suicides is a tragic side effect of the pandemic, said Patty Hajdu, MP for Thunder Bay-Superior North.

Hajdu, also the federal minister of health, said the community has seen an increase in suicides, overdoses and other social challenges, including domestic violence.

When lives get disrupted, whether it’s because of the isolation or losing work or having a business struggle, that can increase anxiety and depression, Hajdu said.

“We have tools available federally,” she said, referring to the website, which can connect people to therapists and other mental health services.

With no concrete end to the pandemic in site, Hajdu is reminding people to respect each other.

“We understand that everybody is struggling in their own way and kindness can go a long way,” she said. “Let’s just remember that as a principle, and then we will really get through this together.”

Police are encouraging people to reach out to anyone they know who may be struggling with mental health or addiction issues.

Anyone struggling can reach out to the Thunder Bay Counselling Centre or the Canadian Mental Health Association, whose crisis response services offers mobile crisis response, crisis support residence and 24/7 telephone service to both youth and adults at 1-888-269-3100.

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