The first step to solving a problem should be as simple as asking for help. We see this every day as startup founders work with our team on everything from funding to marketing to finding a space for their growing teams.

But there are times when asking for help can be a challenge — especially when you’re unsure who to ask. These times often arise when we’re struggling with a mental health challenge. Sometimes we’re nervous or embarrassed about asking for help. Other times, we don’t know where to start. 

For individuals and families across Waterloo Region, that starting point can be found at Carizon Family and Community Services. Carizon evolved from the merger of Mosaic Counselling and Family Services and kidsLINK in 2013, two organizations that have served the community for over 70 years. Today, Carizon supports children’s mental health, youth engagement and development, family violence services, individual and family counselling, parental support and education, credit counselling, workplace resilience, settlement support and community wellness. 

Supporting Carizon’s mission is important to our team at Communitech. They were a recipient of funds from our “This Too Shall Pass” campaign in 2020 with support from FairVentures, Interac, Rogers Communications, Sonova, TD, Thomson Reuters, Vidyard and more. There has been an increase in demand for charities and services throughout the pandemic, said Tracy Elop, CEO at Carizon. “The demand for our mental health services has been rising, and families are struggling everywhere in our region,” said Elop.

Sandra Villarraga, Carizon’s Director of Development, said a core value of Carizon is treating the family as a whole. "At Carizon we believe in a person’s right to define who family is. Your family is the people you trust, it is the people you choose to be your support system.”

When one person in a family is struggling with an issue, the whole effect is felt within the entire family. If a child is experiencing a mental health issue, their parents might also need assistance or support. “We know that when one person is struggling, the people around you are struggling as well,” said Villarraga. Carizon functions as a one-stop source for services by completing the intake and assessment process once instead of having family members complete multiple intakes. 

As with other organizations such as The Food Bank of Waterloo Region, Carizon has seen an increase in demand due to the COVID-19 pandemic. “We used to say about one in five families were struggling. Now we are talking about one in three families that are struggling with mental health challenges,” said Villarraga.

In 2020, Carizon provided services for more than 12,000 people in our region. This year, they’ve already seen an increase in that number. Villarraga said Carizon has also seen a rise in previously discharged people returning for additional help. “The pandemic generated job losses. It created situations where parents were at home with a child who is struggling with behavioural issues and now those parents don’t have the same support they had before the pandemic.”

Even with the negative impacts of the pandemic, Villarraga said she has seen positive changes in the ways individuals view mental health. “People are speaking more about mental health. That’s positive because now people are not struggling alone, they are reaching out for support.”

Villarraga said that Carizon has seen an increase in requests from people who work in the hospitality industry. “Usually people that work in the hospitality sector, they don’t have benefits. So they were struggling for a long time,” she said. “As these businesses reopen, we have seen people in the hospitality sector really coming forward and saying we need help.”

No matter what industry parents work in, there are continued challenges with managing back to school, online learning, and the anxieties that come from making significant adjustments to work and life schedules as offices and businesses open again. “We have seen a lot of people reaching out for that kind of support,” added Villarraga.

The move to Stage 3 of Ontario’s reopening plan brings a benefit to the Carizon team — they’re now able to start having in-person fundraising events again to support their mission. On Friday, Sept. 17, Carizon invites you to their annual Family Night at the Drive-In at Bingemans On the Grand in Kitchener. The fundraising event includes a surprise family, and they’ve teamed up with St Jacobs-based Fog Off Clothing Co. to create a hoodie and T-shirt with all funds going towards Carizon’s mission to support families. 

Villarraga said  Carizon predicts that the next three years will be challenging for people needing additional mental health support. “Everyone is struggling now. This is the new normal and, as an organization, we are going to be prepared to really respond to the needs that are coming.”