Calgary counselling centre screens for depression amid fourth wave

Mental health concerns have heightened over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, with more Calgarians seeking help, Babins-Wagner said.

Calgary Herald 3 minute read October 4, 2021

File photo: Robbie Babins-Wagner is the CEO of the Calgary Counselling Centre. Grant Black/Calgary Herald

Every year, one in five Canadians experience depression, according to the Calgary Counselling Centre. Across the city, that’s an estimated 265,000 people.

“It’s a really important number because it means every one of us will know somebody struggling with depression,” said Dr. Robbie Babins-Wagner, CEO of the centre.

While those cases of depression range in severity, Babins-Wagner said it’s important people regularly check in on their mental health so they can access supports. That’s why the centre is taking part in its 15th annual National Depression Screening Day and urging Calgarians to complete a short, anonymous self-assessment online at

Mental-health concerns have heightened over the course of the COVID-19 pandemic, with more Calgarians seeking help, Babins-Wagner said.

Requests for services at the centre are up by about 40 per cent from 2019, before the pandemic began, putting them at an all-time high. While those numbers receded a bit this summer when Alberta lifted nearly all public health restrictions, demand on mental-health resources is increasing again amid increased COVID-19 spread and pressures on Alberta’s health-care system.

“People are struggling with mental health as we’re in this fourth wave . . . We’ve never seen anything like the numbers we’ve seen the past two years,” she said.

“Things were starting to stabilize in July and August, and we think that’s because people were outside and people were optimistic, but come September, the numbers are growing again.”

Local business groups are participating in the National Depression Screening Day this year, with both the Calgary Chamber of Commerce and the Business Council of Alberta holding events this week.

The Business Council is hosting a panel discussion with local CEOs to discuss what council spokesman Scott Crockatt called “one of the most challenging mental-health workplace environments” the leaders have ever seen.

“It’s not a stretch to say that it’s more important than ever that employers have an understanding of mental health in the workplace and are putting in programs to help their employees who are struggling,” Crockatt said.

The way employers typically approach employee mental health has flipped in the past decade, Crockatt said. In the past, business leaders may have worried that addressing the topic would lead to employees taking leaves, he said, but that thinking has since evolved.

“Business leaders are addressing health first because it’s the right thing to do, but it’s not lost on them that it’s good business sense to help their employees contribute with their whole selves,” he said.

The self-assessment at will be online from Oct. 4 to 10. After completing the free, 10-question survey, users will receive appropriate resources and a suggested course of action, which may include following up with a family doctor or counselling agency. In 2020, more than 10,000 people completed the survey.

A rise in mental-health symptoms during the pandemic has also been reported in youth.

A University of Calgary study published in August found one in four youth globally are experiencing clinically elevated depression symptoms, and one in five are facing elevated anxiety symptoms.

At the time, researchers said the pandemic’s effect on youth mental health could be long-lasting.

“I think for most children who have experienced elevated mental-health symptoms, some of that will resolve. But there will be a group of children for whom that isn’t the case,” Dr. Nicole Racine, a clinical psychologist who was the lead author of the paper, said in a news release.

“For them, this pandemic may have been a catalyst, setting them off on a trajectory that could be challenging.”

Twitter: @jasonfherring