Sara Riel’s Seneca Services Receives a Generous Grant

September 3 2020

Sara Riel Inc. would like to acknowledge and thank United Way Winnipeg and the Government of Canada, for their recognition of the work that we are doing, supporting the mental health of all Manitobans, during the COVID-19 pandemic mandated isolation period – and for the generous grant they provided, to help us to continue our 24-hour telephone peer support program (Seneca Warm-Line) during the transition back to safely re-opening Manitoba.

Since March 17, 2020 Seneca Services has been providing Manitobans with 24-hour telephone peer support through both our Seneca Warm-Line 204-942-9276 and our Seneca Intake Line 204-231-0217, logging 4,665 calls from individuals requesting peer support.

Now, as COVID-19 restrictions reduce, and Manitoba begins its efforts to “re-start”, Seneca Services is looking forward to once again welcome guests in for mental health respite.

We were very aware that this would affect our ability to continue to staff and operate what has become an important aspect to COVID-19 relief – providing invaluable mental health and addictions support through the 24-hour Seneca Warm-Line.

Thankfully, we were able to convey the importance of continuing this service to the United Way Winnipeg and the Government of Canada, who provided us with a grant which would allow us to continue.

Sara Riel Inc. believes this is a very important service and many people have come to rely on it. With the support of United Way Winnipeg and the Government of Canada, we are able to staff the Seneca Warm-Line, while Seneca Services Peer-led Respite begins to open its doors to accept guests again. Both programs are staffed by individuals with their own lived-experience of mental health challenges – caring and compassionate people who will assist in the continuation of this important and effective service.

Before COVID-19 came to Manitoba, the Seneca Warm-Line regularly provided services in the evening for four (4) hours, between 7:00 pm and 11:00 pm, and callers were limited to 15 minutes to maximize the number of callers we could support. On average, we logged approximately 125 calls each month.

When COVID-19 appeared, with mandated quarantines and service closures, Seneca began to provide the telephone support through both our lines over 24 hours, and with lessened restrictions on time limit of calls. We also promoted this adjusted service delivery option, not only to persons with diagnosed mental illnesses, but to anyone struggling with issues around separation, loneliness and isolation, anxiety or depression, or the fears and hopelessness that may emerge from the COVID-19 crisis.

Since then, we have received a much higher volume of calls from people in need of that social connection or the compassionate, gentle and understanding ear that Seneca Services’ peer staff provides. From the average 125, calls jumped to 438 calls in March, 835 in April, and continued to grow each month to our ‘to-date’ total of 4,665 callers.

Many callers reported experiencing these new or different feelings for the first time in their lives, and not really understanding why, or just how significantly it was affecting mental health. Mental health is directly linked to all aspects of wellness – financial, social, emotional, etc., all of which are being affected, in some way, by the physical distancing, PPE requirements and isolation that we are undergoing.

The power of peer support, sharing with an individual who has been challenged with similar issues, is an especially important commonality that is not often represented in other mental health or crisis services, A peer support worker listens to and acknowledges an individual’s experiences, their thoughts and feelings, without being told what they should do. This compassionate approach often leads to a de-escalation of the issue, avoiding the need to utilize more formal and costly crisis services.

Many of our callers have stated that they are just so thankful to have us there, and that sometimes, we are the only connection some individuals have during the day. With so many service options limited or closed during isolation periods, people are appreciative that someone is answering their phone, talking and sharing with them.


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Members of our board and staff are gathered today to learn about reconciliation in a day facilitated by Indigenous Health (WRHA). One of the striking images we've seen is this tree illustrating the roots and the impacts of racism and discrimination on a patient's experience - the Determinants of Health. We're thankful to be able to spend this time together and to be able to discuss how we can more actively engage in reconciliation.
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