A new government-funded program procured through the Ontario Telemedicine Network (OTN) allows users to access to mental health support all hours of the day.
According to Statistics Canada, about 4,000 Canadians commit suicide every year. That works out to an average of almost 11 people across the country taking their own lives each day.
Long wait times for counselling and therapy are barriers to getting help for those who are feeling depressed or having trouble coping.
Big White Wall (BWW), funded by the Ministry of Health and Long-Term Care, is an online, peer-support platform that first started in the U.K. and is now available 24 hours a day, 365 days a year to anyone in Ontario.
BWW aims to alleviate the wait time. It doesn’t matter how remote a town a user may live in, or if they’re financially stretched. As long as they have an internet connection, they can connect and log on to BWW.
Users don’t have to worry about being stigmatized or judged. Their profiles and interactions are all anonymous, and the platform is free. Individuals do not need a referral from a health care provider to register, though clinicians may suggest BWW to patients.
“I overdosed. I basically gathered every pill in my home and took them all, one by one. But there is a way out — that’s the important part of this conversation,” John Dickson, a BWW user, told Global News.
“For me it was a really deep black cloud. I was isolated from everybody,” he said.
Addictions and Mental Health Ontario said that in the province people routinely have to wait six months to well over a year to get help.
“With Big White Wall, I can research, I can read, I can be creative, I can reach out and chat — and all of those things show me that I am, in fact, worthy,” Dickson said.
BWW reported that 67 per cent of users felt their well-being improved after using the program. Forty-eight per cent of users said BWW was their first step in accessing mental health support, outside of professional intervention. One in two members found themselves sharing an issue on the platform for the first time in their lives.
However, with the use of digital solutions, such as BWW, come security, safety and privacy risks.
BWW is not a crisis centre and Ekperigin said if there is any indication that a user has thoughts of harming themselves, then trained counsellors, called wall guides, will step in and conduct a risk assessment.
Wall guides have at least one year of counselling experience and are located wherever BWW is located — Canada, the U.K. and New Zealand. The time zones allow for a wall guide to be operating at all hours of the day. A clinical team, including a psychiatrist, supervises the wall guides.
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In regard to security and privacy issues, identity and registration information for Ontario users is stored only in the province.
“The OTN has also conducted privacy and security risk assessments of the BWW solution and included requirements in its agreements with BWW that are designed to limit access to personal information and keep it secure,” according to a press release from the OTN.
BWW also advocates for its users to not exchange personal or identifying information. There is also a “report” button users can use to report inappropriate posts or behaviour by other users.
“It is a comfort — and that’s something I was lacking for quite some time,” Dickson said.