When Shannon Christensen first founded Mamas for Mamas in her hometown of Kelowna, B.C., her goal was to provide new mothers and caregivers with essential items they might not have access to otherwise. In the early days, that meant formula, diapers, strollers and bedding, all of which were either second-hand or donated by companies.
It didn’t take long before Christensen felt compelled to do more.
“As a social worker myself, I kept coming back to this idea of a place for moms to get information about where you go for a food hamper, or where you go if you’ve already been to the food bank for food; and where to go for rent subsidy or daycare subsidy,” Christensen explains. “There was nothing like it, so I just built it.”
Today, Christensen and her growing team of staff and volunteers work hard to help low-income parents and families across the country to thrive, providing mothers and caregivers in crisis with practical services like resource navigation, family law consults, access to printers for anyone filling out government forms, as well as basics like toiletries, diapers, clothing and more.
Now, with support from the TELUS Health for Good program, which connects underserved individuals to medical and mental health care, Mamas for Mamas has been able to add much-needed virtual mental health support—alongside their own in-person counselling services—to its roster of assistance.
Since 2014, Health for Good has helped break down barriers for marginalized individuals trying to access health care services. In March 2023, the program began offering free virtual counselling appointments through TELUS Health MyCare to low-income women at partner organizations, including YWCA Metro Vancouver, Mamas for Mamas and Dress for Success Vancouver. More than 1,000 free sessions have been provided to date.
For Christensen and her team, the support couldn’t have come at a better time.
“TELUS just stepped in and filled the gap for us in the same way we were filling the gaps for all these mamas,” she says. “It’s amazing to have partners that value the work that we do and help to expand it beyond what we could do on our own.”
Women and gender-diverse people experience anxiety or depression twice as often as men, yet they face more barriers to accessing care.
Mia Masand understands those statistics well, noting she wouldn’t have been able to access the support she needed for depression and anxiety if it wasn’t for the free counselling sessions she received through TELUS Health for Good.
Masand came to Canada on her own in 2022 in search of a new life and new opportunities. Through a friend, she heard about Dress for Success Vancouver, an organization that provides free professional attire, career guidance and leadership programs to help women find good jobs and achieve financial independence.
She first came to their Vancouver location as a client, looking for new clothes to help her improve her job situation. Then when things began to stabilize, she wanted to give back and began volunteering there.
Earlier this summer, Masand’s personal situation took an unexpected turn for the worse.
“I was holding it together for a really long time, things were not good with my parents, and I wasn’t happy at my job,” she says. “I knew I needed some kind of help.”
She learned about the partnership between Dress for Success Vancouver and TELUS Health for Good, and was given a code to receive free virtual sessions with a registered counsellor.
Mia had never sought any kind of therapy before and wasn’t sure what to expect. However, from her first session, she felt an immediate acceptance and ease with her counsellor that gave her the courage to speak openly and honestly.
“If I hadn't done the therapy, I wouldn't have survived,” she said. “I’m so grateful to my counsellor, for the way she helped me heal myself.”
TELUS Health for Good providing free access to counselling services will ensure more women and gender-diverse individuals will have low-barrier access to much-needed support.
This is good news for Etab Saad, Associate Director of Employment and Training Services with YWCA Metro Vancouver. In her role, Saad works with survivors of violence, refugees and racialized newcomers, some of whom may suffer from PTSD, as they search for employment.
Sometimes, there can be an initial reluctance from her clients to make use of counselling sessions, as many are unfamiliar with such services. In those cases, Saad notes, “as the client starts trusting the relationship with their career advisor or program manager, it becomes easier to introduce the service.”
What’s more, the fact that sessions take place wherever a person can use their mobile device makes accessing the service that much easier. Even clients who were initially resistant to the idea of counselling have been happy they took that leap of faith to try something outside their comfort zone.
“I think a lot of people have changed their perspective about counselling,” Saad adds. “They see it’s not a bad thing to seek help.”
To learn more about how TELUS Health for Good is helping ensure women and gender-diverse individuals of all socio-economic backgrounds have access to mental health support, whenever they need it, visit TELUS.com/healthforgood.