Pictou mental health helpline ends as funding dries up

via The Chronicle Herald

The Pictou County mental health helpline received its last call on Tuesday evening, ushering in a new wave of uncertainty for mental health care in the region.

The last call to the non-profit group came in at 10 p.m. on May 31st. Executive director Arlis MacCallum was on the line with the caller for over an hour, lending what she calls a “listening ear.”

For 33 years MacCallum and her team of volunteers have provided this service to those seeking mental health care in the region.

“I was here to listen to the person and the issues they have been having,” she said on Thursday. “That what was so special about us.”

Now that listening ear is gone. “Mental health in Pictou County is in a very desperate state,” said MacCallum.

The closure didn’t come as a surprise to MacCallum or her staff. “We have been struggling financially for a long time,” she said, adding that she has been running the line on a month-to-month basis for the last couple of years.

The helpline was funded through various channels, including the United Way of Pictou County, the counsel of Churches of Pictou County, private donors and fundraising efforts. But MacCallum says the United Way decreased their funding over the last few years.

“There are so many valuable services looking for money,” she said. “It’s a constant struggle.”

Pictou County’s mental health unit has been out of commission since last August, and there is no word yet on whether or not it will be back.

In the interim, those suffering from mental health are being encouraged to call a provincially funded 211 number or go to their nearest emergency room.

But what about those who are not in need of medical attention?

MacCallum says the helpline logged an average of 6,000 every year, and close to 3,000 of those calls were from folks just looking for someone to listen.

“We filled so many gaps within the community as far as mental health was concerned,” MacCallum said.

“There were cases where we wouldn’t need to call the police or send them to the ER because we could talk them through a crisis.”

Pictou County Mental Illness Family Support group is another avenue for those in need of a listening ear.

Meetings are held on the second Tuesday of every month, and anyone is welcome— including family members or friends of people with a mental illness.

Co-facilitator Elaine Garland says the helpline was a fixture in the community, and is devastated by its loss.

“It’s another service we have lost in Pictou County,” said Garland on Wednesday.

She says that those who don’t feel like they are receiving the support they need in Pictou will now move elsewhere to get it.

Original publish date: Jun. 2, 2016

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