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A federal mental health portal is shutting down soon. Here’s where else Albertans can get help

In just over a month, the federal government is shutting down Wellness Together Canada — a free mental health and substance use health portal it launched during the pandemic to provide urgent support to struggling Canadians.

An Alberta-based social worker is among a sea of advocates across the country who are concerned for people who have relied on the resource for years, and are now left to navigate complex support systems on their own.

Sima Chowdhury, who works as an in-patient therapist at a mental health hospital in Alberta, says Wellness Together is the go-to resource she recommends to clients, family and friends — and she even uses it herself.

“It’s going to leave them, I think, high and dry. I’m worried about it. Whenever we lose any resource, it’s a blow. But when we lose critical infrastructure, you worry, right?”

“It feels like a political play somehow. Anybody who’s in the mental health field knows that we need this more than ever,” said Chowdhury.

Photo of person sitting at table with mountain lake view in background
Sima Chowdhury is an in-patient therapist at a mental health hospital in Alberta. She’s worried about what the end of Wellness Together Canada means for people who have been relying on it for years. (Submitted by Sima Chowdhury)

According to an emailed statement from Health Canada, the federal government is shuttering the website and its companion app PocketWell on April 3. It said the government has made historic investments in health care and mental health since the launch of the website.

“Now that the emergency part of the global pandemic is over, provinces and territories are best placed to support the mental health and substance use needs of their communities,” said the statement.

But Chowdhury and others say the best part about Wellness Together Canada is that it has something for everybody — from free counselling, to substance use health peer support, to progress tracking — all in one place.

They say it’s going to be difficult for people to navigate provincial resources, especially if they’re already struggling with their mental health.

‘Fractured system of care’

National organizations are also sounding the alarm, including the Canadian Alliance on Mental Illness and Mental Health (CAMIMH).

In a press release published last week, the organization called the move a “bad mental health and substance use policy.”

Anthony Esposti is a board member of CAMIMH, and the CEO of CAPSA. That organization hosts free peer support meetings, focused on substance use health, directly on the Wellness Together Canada website.

Esposti says the reality is that people’s mental health and substance use health have not rebounded to pre-pandemic levels.

In 2023, Statistics Canada reported an improvement in adults saying they had excellent or very good mental health compared with the height of the pandemic two years before. But symptoms of depression, anxiety and post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD) remained unchanged, the agency said. 

“I understand that the federal government is not in the business of delivering health care. That’s the responsibility of the provinces. The problem is that there isn’t time for the provinces to respond in providing a replacement for this portal,” said Esposti.

“With that gone, people are back to a very frustrating and fractured system of care that just doesn’t meet their needs.”

The closure is also affecting his organization. With the website soon gone, CAPSA’s funding from the government will be, too. He says they’re seeking alternative funding to keep the meetings going, but likely at a lower level of service.

Where to get help in Alberta

For any Albertans who feel overwhelmed or lost, Karen Gallagher-Burt with Distress Centre Calgary says the easiest thing to do is text or call 211.

It’s a 24-hour service — run by the Distress Centre in southern Alberta and CMHA Edmonton in northern Alberta — in which real people provide support and connect people to services in over 200 languages.

“We’re often helping people navigate and I think that’s what’s most important. We’re not just referring and giving numbers, we’re helping with the navigation for that,” said Gallagher-Burt.

She says the Distress Centre offers up to six counselling sessions for free. Counselling Alberta is also an option.

For anyone struggling with suicidality, or concerned about a loved one, Gallagher-Burt says they can call or text 988. They will never wait for service, she says.

Chowdhury says Alberta Health Services also offers free programming, including Better Choices, Better Health — which she teaches — for Albertans struggling with a chronic health condition, including mental health.

The federal and provincial governments say Albertans can access mental health and substance use resources under the “Alberta” drop-down on this website.

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