A Call to Be Kind: How Easy Access to Mental Health Counselling Helps Youth Move Forward

Once a week, Tatiana Portelli-Graham, Covenant House Toronto’s Solutions Focused Brief Therapist, runs a counselling group for youth. In a recent session, a youth confided that she was afraid to move out of our shelter and into a place of her own. This was difficult for her to talk about because being housed is the goal – a reason to celebrate.

“There was this space for me to say that change is uncomfortable for anyone because we don’t know what we’re walking into,” Tatiana says. “There was this validation that it’s ok to be uncertain.”

According to the Canadian Institute for Health Information, mental health counselling waitlists are longer than average for young people in Canada, and the ones that are low to no-cost stretch even longer. This is why the solutions-focused therapist role at Covenant House Toronto exists: To ensure youth experiencing the stressors of homelessness and trafficking can have access to mental health support when they need it.

“My title is a mouthful, so I normally tell youth what I provide is “quick counselling,” Tatiana says.

She is someone CHT youth can come talk to about anything – “good, bad, big or small.” They’ll go for a walk, out for coffee or have a more formal one-on-one session. She also runs group sessions where she helps young people learn about their mental health – how to navigate difficult moments or show themselves compassion and then offer a crucial space to share and process their feelings.

Having the chance to get mental health care when they need it aligns with Covenant House’s values of immediacy – making sure that young people who are going through so much are met quickly with the care and compassion they need.

“It feels really reassuring to them.”

Youth often share their anxieties about the future, and about whether they’ll be able to access housing or be ok moving out on their own. They also carry a lot of fear of the unknown, Tatiana says.

“A lot of what I do is validating their feelings,’” she says.

Many of them are also struggling with low self-worth and self-esteem and worry about squandering the opportunities they have to move forward in their lives.

Some have never heard that it’s ok to rest, it’s ok to take a day off from working so hard to build and rebuild their lives.

The kindness inherent in being there with mental health support when youth need it is a call that staff like Tatiana answer every single day.

“It’s so rewarding to work with youth in this way,” she says. “I do feel sadness and frustration that many didn’t have this support before, but it also invigorates me to keep going – there is obviously a very big need.”