October 2, 2018 6:52 pm

Options available for Canadians seeking mental health help who face financial barriers

WATCH: Mental health coverage varies widely in Canada, from minimal coverage to thousands of dollars a year. Tomasia DaSilva speaks to a Calgary family about their experience and explores options beyond employer-funded benefits.

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As Canadians mark National Depression Screening Day, some people who are trying to access mental health services are facing financial barriers. But there are several options available for services not covered by benefits.

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According to the Calgary Counselling Centre, employer-funded benefits typically only pay for up to three sessions with a private psychologist or social worker, and centre officials said research shows that’s not nearly enough.

Calgary mother Sheri Easterbrook said she ran into that very problem when her 11-year-old son needed counselling to deal with bullying.

They had benefits through her husband’s work, but they didn’t last long.

“They are good benefits; we were well-supported through his benefits,” Easterbrook said, “but they’re finite. They put a cap on everything.”

According to the centre, 20 per cent of people in the city will face a challenge that impacts them emotionally, which — if left untreated — can lead to serious problems.

The centre’s counselling fees are “determined on a sliding fee scale, according to annual family income and ability to pay.”

Mental health coverage varies widely in Canada, from minimal coverage to thousands of dollars a year.

For example, Starbucks Canada gives its employees $5,000 a year, while Manulife Canada’s 12,000 employees get $10,000 a year.

READ MORE: Manulife increases mental health coverage for employees to $10K per year

“So the cost of the benefit for us has increased about 400 per cent,” Manulife head of global benefits and wellness Maria Fraga said. “But we are also seeing extremely good results in what I would say is a very short period of time.”

Manulife said those results include that mental health disability claims have dropped six per cent, while prescription drug costs related to mental health have also come down.

But the company said what has really been exciting is the percentage of employees returning to work following a mental health claim is now at 86 per cent, compared to the 55 per cent before the coverage was increased.

WATCH: New mental health centre gives Calgary families hope

There are other avenues Canadians can access for mental-health care, including employee-assistance programs, online programs and local distress centre resources.

The Calgary Distress Centre offers a 24-hour helpline at 403-266-4357 or 266-HELP, and provides a daily online chat.

Morneau Shepell, which serves approximately 20,000 clients including Corus Entertainment, recently launched its Internet Cognitive Behavioural Therapy or iCBT. Most of it is online, but there are opportunities to speak with real people.

“It is a digital framework but there is a counsellor available 24/7 if you need access to somebody,” vice-president of consulting Joy Sloane said.

Canadians also have access to publicly funded mental health services at local hospitals.

But unless they’re dealing with an urgent issue or crisis situation, wait times for certain services can be long.

“By the time you’re in a crisis situation, you can’t wait,” Easterbrook said. “You don’t have time to wait.”

– With a file from Global News’ Shannon Morrow

© 2018 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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