WINNIPEG -- Two organizations that assist people with mental health and addiction say they are seeing new clients reaching out for help with their struggles related to the COVID-19 pandemic.

Marion Cooper, executive director of the Winnipeg branch of the Canadian Mental Health Association (CMHA), said they are seeing a steady number of referrals for its services, and people reaching out into online classrooms related to wellness.

“We’re seeing people feeling more socially isolated, and struggling with high levels of loneliness, that for them has been directly connected to feeling the effects of the pandemic,” she said. “We see people who have been struggling with their mental health for a long time, who have been involved in our programs and services, feel an exasperation of their symptoms and struggles, and reaching out for more help.

“They had been doing well for a while, and now reaching out for help again because the toll of this certain public health crisis is starting to create more mental health distress for them.”

Cooper added the CMHA has also seen an increase in people reaching out for its employment program after they have lost their job during the pandemic, and are seeking help for economic insecurity they’re experiencing.

She added there has also been an increase in addictions calls to the CMHA.

“We are certainly aware that alcohol sales are the highest they’ve been in our province, and people are probably using alcohol in a way that is starting to create problems for them,” Cooper said, adding people are also calling about family members experiencing substance abuse issues.

The Addictions Foundation of Manitoba (AFM) said this summer they saw their numbers return to pre-pandemic levels, after experiencing a drop when the pandemic was first declared.

“We did see an increase in calls at the start of the pandemic on the Manitoba Addictions Help Line, and we’re now still seeing a steady stream of calls,” said Daniel Dacombe with the AFM.

Dacombe said during a stressful situation, people will often turn to substances as a way to help cope, even though it can cause “harm and increased stress in the long run.”

“We know that during times of stress, people do what works to cope with their emotions,” he said. “The pandemic has caused an increase in stress-related to health and other issues, related to financial difficulties, for many people, which can be associated with increased unhealthy coping.”

In August Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, noted Canada’s opioid epidemic was escalating at the same time as the COVID-19 pandemic, noting there is an increased risk of overdose with people isolating at home.

Both Dacombe and Cooper said their organizations have been adapting to try and reach people who need help, including remote options for some services, and they remain available for assistance.

“We’ve really done everything we can to maintain and increase people’s ability to access the service they need, so they don’t have that experience,” Dacombe said.

“We really want to encourage people to seek help, to not isolate, in a sense, where you don’t get the help you need during this time,” Cooper said. “Now, more than ever, people need to be seeking support for their mental health and well-being.”

If you are struggling, and need assistance for mental health calls, call the CMHA at 204-982-6100. If you are in crisis, the Klinic Crisis line is open 24 hours and can be reached at 1-888-322-3019.

For those struggling with addiction, the Manitoba Addictions Helpline can be reached by calling 1-855-662-6605.