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'Monumental' OPP Mental Health Fair opens up 'great opportunity'

'We are seeing youth from all spectrums and in every school in Orillia. We are seeing a lot of anxiety and depression,' says youth outreach worker

The Orillia OPP hosted a Mental Health Fair on Wednesday at the Orillia Public Library.

Members of the OPP’s Mobile Crisis Response Team (MCRT) and Crisis Outreach and Support Team (COAST) were on hand along with representatives from more than 20 community organizations to spread awareness and share information about mental health.

“In talking with our partners and clients, we noticed that there is a need in the community,” said Matthew Cooper, a mental health and crisis worker with the Canadian Mental Health Association, who was one of the organizers of the event. “The Mental Health Fair was proposed and it’s something we ran with.”

Cooper says the fair quickly grew into a bigger event than what organizers originally imagined.

“I’m hoping this event makes people realize that there are supports in the community,” he said as a steady stream of people sought information from the various booths set up at the library. “We want people to see that there is a lot of need and a lot of support out there.”

Mental health is a significant issue everywhere, exacerbated by the COVID-19 pandemic, Cooper says.

“We are starting to see the aftermath,” he said. “All service needs have increased.”

He suggests those who need immediate and various supports call the Simcoe County Mental Health Crisis Line at 705-728-5044. He also says people can connect with Information Orillia to find the resources they need.

Dnaagdawenmag Binnoojiiyag Child and Family Services was one of the community partners at Wednesday’s event. The organization’s communications manager, Rebecca Rivers, says the it was a great way to spread awareness about mental health resources.

“We are here today to build awareness in the community and to let Indigenous youth and families know who we are,” she said. “We want people to know the types of services that we offer.”

As people emerge from the pandemic, Rivers says, availability of mental health resources is more important than ever.

“In-person relationship building is not something you can get virtually,” she said. “Things are returning to somewhat normal, so we need to be in person and connecting with community members.”

She says there are a many Indigenous people who could benefit from resources such as the Mental Health Fair.

“Given the history and colonization, there is a lot of distrust,” she said. “There are people in need of service but are reluctant and hesitant to reach out.”

Rivers hopes the presence of Dnaagdawenmag Binnoojiiyag Child and Family Services at the fair will help Indigenous people in need.

“When you are accessing any kind of service, you want to see yourself reflected and represented in that service,” she said.

Catholic Family Services of Simcoe County was also represented at the event. They were promoting their new county-wide program, Youth Call, which serves people aged 14 to 28.

“This is our first time being in Orillia,” explained youth outreach worker Dave Ward. “Events like this allow us to get our feet on the ground and get our name out there.”

Ward says issues with mental health are prevalent in Simcoe County right now, especially among youth.

“We are seeing youth from all spectrums and in every school in Orillia,” he said. “We are seeing a lot of anxiety and depression.”

He says youth were deprived of the resources and outlets they needed through the pandemic.

“Youth haven’t been supported the way they need to be,” he said. “We are seeing an uptick in youth who need help.”

There will never be enough support for those who need it, Ward says. However, with events like Wednesday’s Mental Health Fair, he believes the community can take a step in the right direction.

“An event like this is monumental,” he said. “Especially after the pandemic, a lot of people might not know about the programs that are here today. This is a great opportunity to get to know the community and who the players are.”

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Tyler Evans

About the Author: Tyler Evans

Tyler Evans got his start in the news business when he was just 15-years-old and now serves as a video producer and reporter with OrilliaMatters
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