In the mix of local mental health agencies sits a little-known non-profit organization struggling to make ends meet while trying to provide an array of services with little recognition, both in profile and funding.
Northumberland Community Counselling Centre Executive Director Janet Irvine recently completed a tour of the county and municipal councils looking for funding.
The centre was formed in 2007 after agencies and physicians realized the need for accessible, affordable generic counselling services. While many offer counselling for certain clients under specific criteria, the average person struggling with relationships problems or mourning the death of a family member or dealing with a problem child cannot always afford private rates.
After a decade, the centre has grown to meet the expanding needs of the community offering referrals, education, support, advocacy and clinical services for every age group from children to seniors.
It now runs provincially-funded programs on top of its original community counselling mandate, for example, children witnessing family violence, child abuse, youth violence prevention, court-ordered partner assault response programs for men and women.
Its list of partners reads like a Who’s Who of mental health, medical, social and community agencies and professionals, like the Help Centre, Health 4Cast, the public and separate school boards, Rebound youth services, Kinark, the children’s aid society, police, courts, doctors, and county social services.
Yet, its only stable funding locally comes from the United Way.
Clients pay on a sliding scale from as little as $5 to $100 based on ability. This ensures affordability, often one of the biggest barriers to getting help. And, people do not need a referral from another agency. No matter how severe the problem; whether it is drug addiction, mental breakdown, depression or anxiety, someone will assess them. If the social workers cannot help, they will refer the person to the right service.
The demand is dramatically increasing, from 20 referrals per month in 2015 to 36 referrals per month in 2016 to 46 referrals per month currently.
The critical question is funding. Health care, including mental health, is a provincial responsibility. More and more of these costs are being transferred to the local taxpayers as politicians are being asked to donate the Northumberland Hills Hospital campaigns or doctor recruitment or acting as landlords for medical clinics and so on.
Faced with increasing pressure to keep property taxes low, politicians are loathed to donate citing other priorities. In fact, the county cut its $35,000 contribution two years ago, Irvine said in a recent interview. Cramahe Township turned down a request for $5,000 in its 2017 budget.
Sadly, the benefits are underappreciated. One tiny example: a young person getting counselling for violent behavior means less policing costs (fewer or no arrests), doing better in school (less time for teachers to be spending on disruption) and less stress at home (no social workers from the children’s aid society).
The Northumberland Community Counselling Centre was born out of a need, one that has not diminished but grown. It is time for politicians and the community to recognize this hub for local mental health, as to whether or not it gets the credit, the consideration and the contributions it deserves.
Originally published: Wednesday, April 19, 2017