North Island Counsellors Sustaining Community Members During the Pandemic

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While things like housing, food and water have at times been in short supply during the COVID-19 pandemic, there are a few things we have in abundance: stress and anxiety.

And while we’re all doing our best to cope, sometimes our stress can become overwhelming.

This is especially true when dealing with a history of trauma.

But that’s where counsellors like Celia Laval come in. She works at The North Island Survivors' Healing Society, a United Way funded organization based in Campbell River, and she’s been there for her clients when the realities of the pandemic become too much to bear.

“We work with a lot of people who have post-traumatic stress symptoms,” said Celia. That includes people who have been physically abused or neglected as children, or sexually assaulted as adults, as well as veterans, people who have been through accidents or medical trauma, and many other traumatic experiences.


For some, learning to get out of their house and be social again has been part of their healing. Being told to socially isolate has been a major blow.

“Isolation is a form of torture,” said Celia. “For many people who were already emotionally isolated before the pandemic, [their symptoms] have been exacerbated.”

“A lot of people are suffering – suicidal ideation increases for folks, dangerous behaviours, suicide attempts.”

But reaching out and getting help from someone like Celia can be the support and the connection people need to begin feeling better.

This was certainly true for Andrew (not their real name), a client of Celia’s.

 As a child, Andrew was a victim of abuse. However, he was doing well until a traumatic accident in his mid-20s. After that, anxiety attacks and a fear of leaving his home became his norm. With help from Celia, that was beginning to change.

“He was able to make some good progress in getting out more, gaining some confidence in himself, feeling less anxiety,” said Celia. “But then, unfortunately, with the pandemic and the shelter in place, that really exacerbated his natural tendency to want to stay at home and be afraid to go outside.”

Andrew developed an intense fear of catching the virus and stayed sequestered in his home, trying unsuccessfully to sleep away the day. Andrew had gone from getting a hold on his condition, to being suicidal.

But he did perhaps the bravest thing he could do: he reconnected with Celia and the men’s counselling program.

“We’ve been helping him to understand what’s going on, and to take practical steps to have a better sleep routine, and push himself in those small, realistic ways so he can start getting out more.”

“He’s still struggling,” said Celia, “but at least with a bit of support, he’s able to have some hope and get out and look at making some concrete goals for his future.”

United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island directed funding to this organization’s men’s program through the federal government’s Emergency Community Support Fund. But support from United Way means more than funding – we provide community development, communications and administrative support, research, expertise and real partnership to make these programs as impactful as possible.

“It is really moving to be able to support these brave guys that have the courage to reach out and ask for support, and that there is something there for them,” said Celia. “And that’s thanks to the generosity of the donors of United Way and the people at United Way who have chosen to support this program.

“It means a lot to the guys I know, and it means a lot to the counsellors to be able to be there for those folks. It is particularly hard for guys, so I really think it’s very sensitive and compassionate of United Way to fund that program, because there is a gap there, without United Way.”

People like Andrew are able to get help thanks to your generosity. If you want to make sure that your donations go to essential work like this in your community, please consider giving to United Way Central & Northern Vancouver Island.