Chase Blodgett, All Genders Yukon president, poses for a photo in 2015. The All Genders Yukon Society has received a roughly $100,000 boost in funding to put towards its free mental health support and counselling program after seeing an increased demand for it since the COVID-19 pandemic began. (Joel Krahn/Yukon News file)

All Genders Yukon Society receives $100k for free counselling program

The All Genders Yukon Society (AGYS) has received a roughly $100,000 boost in funding to put towards its free mental health support and counselling program after seeing an increased demand for it since the COVID-19 pandemic began.

The program has seen nearly a 27 per cent increase in use since March, AGYS President Chase Blodgett said in an interview Oct. 5, something he said was likely linked to the closing of spaces where trans, two-spirit and non-binary people feel safe and can gather.

“And so with the closing down of a lot of spaces, the few spaces that folks did attend and feel safe in were no longer open, so there was this kind of increased sense of isolation,” he said.

The new money came from the Red Cross and Yukon Employees Union. It was originally allotted Aug. 1 but announced by AGYS at the end of September; Blodgett attributed the delay to the society being busy trying to ensure continuity in service.

The program has been covering the cost of counselling sessions for 90 people in recent months and is available to trans, two-spirit and non-binary Yukoners as well as people in their immediate support systems, including family members, partners and friends.

It began last year when the Yukon government moved the provision or facilitation of counselling services in the territory to its Mental Wellness and Substance Use Services branch, the Canadian Mental Health Association’s Yukon division and AGYS.

(Many Rivers Counselling and Support Services had, prior to then, delivered counselling services in the territory for years, but following a series of finance management issues did not receive government funding.)

AGYS itself doesn’t offer counselling, but instead has partnered with several service providers in the territory who bill AGYS directly.

Blodgett said the additional funding will allow AGYS to cover the cost of 500 additional counselling sessions and carry the society to March 31, at which point, with the new fiscal year, it can try to secure longer-term funding from the government.

Trevor and Stephanie, whose daughter is trans and asked that their real names not be used to protect their family’s privacy, described the AGYS program as “vital.” They’ve been using it for just more than a year now, they said in an interview Oct. 6, and prior to COVID-19 had been attending group counselling sessions where they were able to connect with other parents in similar situations and build a support network.

“It’s nice to have other parents going through similar things… We’ve lost family and friends over this, over our daughter socially transitioning, so just to have an area to talk about our feelings and, it’s just been life-saving, really, for us,” Stephanie said.

While the group sessions have stopped due to the pandemic, their daughter is still regularly attending art therapy funded via the AGYS program, which Stephanie and Trevor said has been helping her work through her anxieties and questions about her future.

“Art therapy has been amazing for us, we don’t know where we’d be without it,” Stephanie said.

Erin Legault, a counsellor with Ignite Counselling in Whitehorse, said she was happy to hear about the additional money for AGYS’s program, noting that funding stability was “huge” for ensuring clients received consistent counselling and could feel comfortable building relationships with their counsellors.

Ignite has more than 40 people who come in for services via the AGYS funding, according to Legault, and has recently been gaining about three to five clients a month.

Legault said she recently got back to work from maternity leave and began reaching out to old clients to see if they’d like to resume counselling with her; she recalled one client who wrote back enthusiastically about getting started again.

“And then at the end of their email, they actually said, ‘Is the All Genders funding still happening? Because if not, I can’t afford to come to counselling,’” she said.

“So it was really incredible to say, ‘Yes, of course, the funding is still there,’ because I really think it would limit so many people if that funding wasn’t there. I can’t say for certain of course but I think our numbers would just substantially drop if the funding wasn’t there.”

Contact Jackie Hong at jackie.hong@yukon-news.com

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