Social connection is something we all need. Whether it’s grabbing coffee with a friend or spending time with our families ­– interactions and connections are what makes us human.

COVID-19 has physically separated us, making social connection more important than ever. We need to look out for one another and make sure we’re reaching out to those who need connection most right now. That’s why this year’s theme for Mental Health Awareness Week is social connection.

Mental Health Awareness Week runs May 4 – 10 this year and is encouraging us to #GetReal about how we feel. It’s a chance to look at our mental health and how we can better connect with people and resources to make us feel our best.

There are many options to find support during this challenging time. If sitting in a room with a counsellor is the only thing that comes to mind when you think of getting help with mental health, you‘re in luck! There are plenty of online/virtual resources available to you, some of which are free for you to use. Free online counselling has been available for a while, but has recently been growing in popularity because of the COVID-19 pandemic. It offers a great way to access services without physically having to meet with a counsellor. You can connect by video, text or online chatting. Whatever works best for you!

One of the most recent resources made available to Canadians is the Wellness Together Canada portal. Top mental health organizations partnered with the Government of Canada to provide this at no cost. Services include:

  • Wellness self-assessment and tracking.
  • Self guided courses, apps, and other resources.
  • Group coaching and peer support.
  • Counselling by text or phone.

Beyond this, the Canadian Mental Health Association has articles on all sorts of topics to help you through multiple mental health situations.

One of the biggest misconceptions about online counselling is that it somehow won’t be as effective as in-person counselling. If you’re in that belief boat, here are a few reasons why free online counselling is a great option.

  1. Online Counselling Works and The Research Proves It

Many studies have been conducted that show that online counselling is helpful across a wide variety of common mental health issues.

  • A 2009 Study found that online counselling was helpful for the treatment of bulimia nervosa
  • In 2014 research found that online counselling helped people who had obsessive compulsive disorder
  • Another 2014 study found that online counselling was effective for people who had anxiety disorders
  • People who were dealing with depression found help with online counselling according to a study done in 2014 and another study in 2018 found that it helped with both anxiety and depression
  1. Online Counselling Is Private

Another common concern people have with online counselling is that it may not be private. You might worry that because this type of service is online that someone could access it.

Reputable online counselling services hire mental health professionals who follow the same codes of ethics as a counsellor you would see face-to-face. That means anything you share with them is confidential. You can know that you’re in a safe space even when online, where you can trust the person you’re talking to.  

  1. It’s Very Accessible

Free online counselling is great for people who may not otherwise be able to access mental health resources.

People who live in rural or isolated areas aren’t able to get therapy or mental health services as easily as someone in a city. Depending on where you live, those resources could be hours away. Small communities are also very close-knit, making it hard to speak openly when you personally know your counsellor or your counsellor may know who you’re talking about. Your mental health shouldn’t have to suffer because of where you live.

It’s also a great option for differently-abled people. If it’s difficult for a person to physically get to a therapist or resources, online counselling can fit their needs. Just because you have physical limitations doesn’t mean you shouldn’t get the benefits of counselling.

It isn’t just online counselling that’s accessible, but other mental health resources as well. Whether it’s an online assessment tool, an app that helps you calm down from a panic attack or just being able to chat with someone via online messaging, all of these resources become more accessible online.

  1. It’s Really Convenient

Using the internet makes our lives easier. From ordering takeout to shopping for a new outfit – going online makes life convenient.

That’s why so many people choose online counselling. It makes scheduling an appointment much easier. If you have a hectic schedule, online counselling allows you to still find time to take care of your mental health. Online sessions are also less time consuming because you don’t have to worry about travelling to and from the location.

  1. It Cuts Out the Social Stigma

Even though 1 in 5 Canadians have a mental health issue, there’s still stigma that surrounds talking about it. Online counselling can help if that’s something that’s been stopping you from accessing resources.

You don’t have to physically enter a counselling center, which may be holding some people back from getting help. You may fear running into someone you know. At your home, you’re in a familiar setting that can make you feel comfortable when you’re getting help.

  1. Different Way of Communicating

People who suffer from mental health issues such as anxiety disorders may prefer online counselling because it’s an easier form of communication for them. Not all people enjoy interacting face-to-face and this offers an alternative.

For young people, communicating online is often the way they do things. Free online counselling and mental health tools offer a comfortable way for young people to access the help they need.

Of course, there are also many paid options too if you need extra support. If you can’t find free online counselling, a good insurance plan should cover online mental health tools or coverage to see a mental health practitioner. At GMS, we have our Employee Family Assistance Program (EFAP), provided by Homewood Health, that is automatically part of our Group Advantage plans, which includes a full range of online mental health resources.

Online counselling may not be for everyone, but it’s good to know it’s an option. The most important thing is that we’re taking care of our mental health in a way that works best for us. Even though we’re physically apart, we can still stay socially connected. So, make sure you #GetReal about how you feel this Mental Health Awareness Week and throughout the year.