HomeDomesticNeed for mental health services within Saskatchewan LGBTQ2 community continues to rise

Need for mental health services within Saskatchewan LGBTQ2 community continues to rise

For Jamie Stoodley, OUTSASKATOON is a safe space. Its services helping him get to where he is today.

“They don’t knock you down, they don’t think that you have a problem,” said Jamie Stoodley, Gay Male. “They help you get through it and that’s what they did for me.”

Stoodley said growing up was difficult. He didn’t come out until he was 37 years old.

“It was a war because I knew who I was and I wanted to be who I was but I couldn’t”

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According to experts, 50 per cent of LGBTQ2 youth today have suicidal thoughts — something Stoodley understands first hand, having attempted suicide himself three times in his 20s.

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“I had a very good friend help me through it,” said Stoodley. “He was more out than I was but his journey was similar to mine. If it wasn’t for him, I probably wouldn’t be here today.”

Iris Akbar, a counsellor at OUTSASKATOON, said this reality leaves many of her clients within the community having to overcome trauma.

“There needs to be a lot of interaction and trust building, so we are looking at a lon- term intervention and unfortunately in mental health services there is not a capacity for that in some centres,” she said.

Three years ago, Akbar was the only counsellor at OUTSASKATOON. Now there are two other full-time counsellors ready to help with the growing need of mental health services. But, even then, its not enough.

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This reality is what inspired Emily Ritenburg to open Aroha Pride Counselling & Consulting.

“There are a lot more queer people in Saskatchewan than we think,” said Ritenburg. ” And that stigma that still lingers still has a profound impact.”

Ritenburg said other things that people may take for granted is that Queer people often find when seeking services, especially mental health services, they are spending a lot of their time describing, explaining, defining, and justifying their identity.

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“There’s a growing frustration that so much time and energy is dedicated to that,” said Ritenburg. “One thing I like to mention to people seeking services through Aroha is that you can expect to come to a session and not have to go through that kind of emotional labour — that we are here and we get it.”

Ritenburg added that those in the LBGTQ2 community suffering from mental health issues are existing within systems that make it really difficult .

“If there is one positive that came out of COVID,” said Ritenburg, “(it) is that a lot of rural people gained access to services that they otherwise couldn’t access when they were in-person.”

Ritenburg knew that there was a gap in services but was shocked at just how quickly her caseload filled up.

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“I have a lot of colleagues,” said Ritenburg, “especially other social workers who are at least part-time or full-time who are doing counselling and they were not receiving the sheer volume of referrals that I was.”

Ritenburg opened Aroha Pride Counselling & Consulting in May of 2021 and within only a month her caseload was full. It left her turning people away.

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She now works collaboratively with other counsellors like herself across the province which includes Iris Akbar from OUTSASKATOON.

For Stoodley, he is grateful to places like Aroha and OUTSASKATOON.

“They helped me through some of the problems I am going through and have been really great. They’ve been a blessing in my books.”

© 2022 Global News, a division of Corus Entertainment Inc.

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