SUDBURY -- Taking care of peoples' mental health and well-being has been at the forefront of the pandemic. Now the hospital in Sudbury, Health Sciences North (HSN), will begin offering Ontario’s Structured Psychotherapy Program.

"What we’re really seeking to do here is to create equity and access to a part of the mental health service that really hasn’t been available through (the Ontario Health Insurance Plan) in the past," said Jodi Hickey, a clinician in HSN’s Mental Health and Addiction’s Counselling and Treatment program.

The program will provide access to evidence-based, short-term, cognitive behavioural therapy (CBT) for people with mild to moderate depression and anxiety and anxiety-related disorders. CBT is a form of talk therapy that helps people reduce their psychological distress.

"It really focuses on really helping people develop alternative ways of thinking and behaving to be able to cope with various stressors," said Mel Ducharme, regional lead for the structured psychotherapy program for northeastern Ontario.

Hickey said to pay for this type of treatment through a private therapist would cost Ontarians between $100 to $200 an hour, "and so you can imagine even for those folks with insurance coverage…insurance coverage at those kinds of rates can run out pretty quickly."

This isn’t the only publicly-funded program to offer CBT, however, Hickey said even with those existing programs in place, the demand is high.

"So that we don’t have to see those long wait times and that we have that service available in every community across the northeast. Because existing programs, while they’ve been amazing, have been hit and miss in terms of where they’ve been available and have not been able to keep up with the demand. So this should add capacity to assist a system that so dearly needs it, and really improve care for Ontarians with a therapeutic modality that’s been well tested and well shown to be highly effective for most people," Hickey said.

Health Sciences North will act as the centralized access point for referrals and delivery of psychotherapy services. However, it won’t be the only place being used in the northeast region.

"The selection of our service delivery sites will include a variety of different types of organizations. So community organizations, mental health and addictions agencies, and perhaps in some cases that might be hospitals. However, we’re not quite there yet," Ducharme said.

It's unclear when HSN will begin accepting referrals for the psychotherapy program. However, both Hickey and Ducharme said they are hopeful this will help to address long wait times and will provide easier access to these types of services for people across the region.